Does The World Need Artists?
Rachel Cronin - Professional Artist
I actually googled this because, honestly, I have no idea! I know that it needs more activists, more helpers, more doctors and nurses and better, more altruistic people, but does it actually need artists? Because, as a professional Artist, over this last year I have felt, at best, like a massive inconvenience and, at worst, entirely selfish.
For those of us who spend our lives working with our hands, we know that it is essential for our wellbeing and our mental health. Art literally saves. Certainly, during lockdown, it became obvious to me that the act of putting a brush to a canvas had the same soothing ritual function as kneading bread, making a cake or clapping outside my front door on a Thursday teatime. What is perhaps not so obvious is the way that art connects, not only people, but moments in history. Music, writing, art, film and TV offers an alternative visual and aural narrative to the events of the day, the month, the year.
As a self-employed artist, I was eligible to receive the government grant. I have been unable to teach my regular classes over the last year due to COVID-19, so it actually felt like I received money to take a creative sabbatical in my own home. Please don’t tell Boris. He would certainly want his money back if he knew it was being used in such a way. I painted. Worked in my sketchbook. Got clear about what I was painting and why (well, kind of), tinkered with my website, and finally sorted out e-commerce options. By the end of 2020, I had won prizes, sold a considerable amount of work, and completely reinvented my painting style. Refinements in process and ability that would have taken years alongside gainful sensible employment took a few months in pandemic-time. I clung steadfastly to my dreams and carried on moving forwards, albeit indoors, eating biscuits. That being said, I also worried constantly that I was self-centred, and that my existence was almost entirely superfluous. I feel certain that Jeff Bezos did not concern himself with such thoughts.
Clinging to the dream of the artist’s life has seemed like something that belongs to another era, one populated by the Bloomsbury set during the first half of the 20th Century, or similarly the St Ives School of painters. And that seems correct until you remember that those creatives lived and worked under the shadow of two World Wars. Artists have always been most influential during times of upheaval, and they inspire not just with their work, but in the way they choose to live, generous with their talents, and somehow outside of class and convention.
Perhaps our problem is not that we only give ourselves permission to be artists during times of relative peace, but that we also believe we have evolved beyond life being any other way. Surely wars and pandemics are a thing of the past? Or at least something that should not trouble us in our little western bubble. And when they do arrive, we are left facing all sorts of existential questions; who are we to want to make art? What should we be doing instead? How can we be useful human beings? Can we be part of the continuum of creating a natural visual documentation of social history? A conduit for healing?
So, I will continue to paint and develop my work. I will continue to offer up my paintings for sale in the hope that they give someone as much joy as I felt painting them. I will remind myself that I do not need to make political statements with my art, because we are all political, meaning making creatures anyway. And when this time is past, and the hospitals are quiet again, we will create a new humane reality and begin to interpret a new visual language. Not from the wastelands and mushroom clouds of war, but the endless graphs, the upwards and downwards curves, and the dark red and baby pink maps of infection.
We cannot all battle, win, and heal all of time; some of us need to make and to build. If only to say, ‘We were here, we were alive when all this was happening’.
The Bloomsbury Set
The St Ives School