Should We All Be Making More Art? 2022

Should We All Be Making More Art? 2022

It is easy to see art as a superfluous practice – a stratified sector, home to a select few genius painters and sculptors, or award-winning musicians. But the truth couldn’t be more different. Art is a communal practice, both individual and collective, with roots in storytelling going back tens of thousands of years. Today, the arts and culture sector is worth £10.6 billion, but worth so much more in the wonderful things it can do for the mind. Art is not the reserve of the rich – it belongs to everyone. So should we all engage more with artistic practice? And if so, why? contemporary art

Transporting Past the Present

Art, and practical engagement with it, can have a transporting effect, away not only from the present moment but from the internal thoughts that the present moment brings with it. When inspiration strikes – whether considering the flowers of spring, painting a woodland scene or writing a musical composition about a certain feeling – acting on that inspiration pulls you out of the room, out of your head and towards something else entirely.

Reducing Anxiety and Stress

Devoting time and effort to an artist practice is known to reduce feelings of stress in people. Artistic endeavours require a degree of focus – something which, when acquired, can be deeply infectious. This focus amounts to a version of mindfulness, wherein feelings of worry and stress melt away in service of the work at hand, or of realising a singular artistic vision.

Should We All Be Making More Art? 2022

These benefits can also be found with regard to more medical concerns; making art is scientifically proven to reduce the effects of depression and Generalised Anxiety Disorder. A recent project called Arts on Prescription gave sufferers of poor mental health the opportunity to attend weekly art workshops, over the course of which they were shown to have experienced a 71% decrease in feelings of anxiety – and a 73% decrease in depression to boot.

Stimulating Creativity

Art begets art! The act of creating something is infectious and addictive; the more you do it, the more you’ll want to do it, and the more you’ll invest – whether in time, energy or equipment. First time sculptors or graffiti artists might catch the bug, and choose to invest in better materials and PPE such as safety goggles, while musicians might track from writing a 30-second composition to completing an album.  

Should We All Be Making More Art? 2022

Improving Cognition

There is also empirical evidence to suggest that frequent artistic practice and expression can improve your cognitive skills, in a variety of interesting ways. For starters, regular and continued engagement with a creative practice can train your brain’s attention pathways, leading to increased attention spans and fewer feelings of being scatter-brained. Engagement with art can also improve memory recall in certain scenarios, and specifically engaging with making or playing music can even improve your communication skills.

Given the ideas explored here, it seems there can only be one answer to the question “should we all be making more art?” – and that answer is an emphatic yes. Even for people who feel they do not have a creative bone in their body, some simple explorations of the ways in which they can express themselves can make all the difference for focus, self-esteem, and more besides.

Many strange days, much has been said and written about the importance – even the need – of art during this health, social and economic crisis. A quick reading of newspapers and magazines, national and international, leads to grandiloquent, demanding, simplistic phrases. 

They are the only ones who cannot shut up”, “art will save us,” or the headline “Art stands up to the Coronavirus.” Furthermore, it is striking that most of those who make these claims are not artists themselves. How did we get to the point of demanding so much? How do we imagine that such a precarious sector could “stand up” to a virus?

The obsession with attributing tangible utility to art dates back to Thatcherism and its obsession with economics in the 1980s when Arts Council England commissioned John Myerscough to write a government report on the economic importance of the arts. 

It marks a profound change in public cultural policies: Gone are the days when the arts were considered for their artistic value or as civilizing and educational artifacts. Myerscough’s report argued that the arts should be financed based on their economic value, which begins to condition the delivery of funds for cultural initiatives to the social impact of each work or project. 

Should We All Be Making More Art? 2022

The question becomes how much capital they can generate, how many jobs they can create, and how many slums they can regenerate. To be financed by the State, an artist had to demonstrate her usefulness, reducing alcoholism, preventing crime, or contributing to mental well-being, social cohesion, and national unity.

Should We All Be Making More Art? 2022

 In a society obsessed with the economy, this was easy to understand for governments fanatical about fiscal austerity. In situations like this, the only way to justify art is by considering workers and works of art as tools for social and economic development. 

More than 30 years have passed, and Myerscough’s ideas persist in Chile’s public policies and our collective unconscious. Today we consider, even without realizing it, the artist as a commodity of this society of the spectacle: a product ready to be consumed, digested, and forgotten, quickly moving on to the next.

An extractivist cycle is typical of our neoliberal system, where the resource has exploited the person himself. The argument behind demanding therapeutic or relaxing qualities from art is that it distracts busy people who have to perform. It is already daunting enough when art is reconfigured as a tool to increase productivity, like setting the thermostat in an office to a specific temperature to make people work longer or more attentively.

 It is even more discouraging to see artists submit to these performances, often necessary for later financial gain. We constantly demand and question artists, feeding that insatiable hunger for “content,” that unstoppable 24/7 news cycle typical of the attention economy; 

We transform the idea of ​​the artist into an absolute category, in which one is easily interchangeable for another, and that erases all those differences that are so significant when creating art, both social (race, class, sexuality, ethnicity, gender, age), and personal (interests, processes, referents, means).

It is still impressive that the incredible precariousness in which most artists live is still unknown. Almost 60% have incomes of less than 501,000 Chilean pesos; a third is the only financial supporter of their household; 85% have lost work due to the COVID-19 crisis, and 81% do not have access to medical leave because they do not have a contract.

 And so many still do not understand that artists survive the pandemic as we all do: anguish, fear, and fatigue with good and bad days. Sensations are probably aggravated by dedicating oneself to such a precarious profession were asking for help has a high degree of disapproval.

 As conventional wisdom says, you are responsible for having chosen a creative career – if you took the risk despite the dangers when something goes wrong, the only one you can blame is yourself. 

It is part of a neoliberal discourse that appeals to an eternal personal improvement, in which all failure is the result of not having tried with enough effort, of the meritocratic dream in which “he who can want,” “he who gets up early will be helped,” or that responds with a disdainful “and why not do a bingo.

There is still the romantic notion of the artist as someone eccentric, enlightened, even mystical, who goes up to his ivory tower and comes down imbued with visionary ideas. It is an image intimately linked to a conception of the “universal” artist, that is, a white man, middle or upper class, with the privilege of strolling, thinking, expressing his opinion -of being a flaneur who freely walks the city, immersed in his thoughts with no more responsibilities than that.

Should We All Be Making More Art? 2022

 In recent decades, cultural studies and feminist, queer, and anti-racist thinkers have begun to dismantle this one-dimensional perception of being an artist. It has been possible to think and give space to female, black, marginalized artists, artists of sexual dissidence, migrant artists, and indigenous artists.

 Groups of society that, incidentally, rarely can dedicate themselves to being “full-time curious,” either because they take care of the house, take care of a loved one who is bedridden or sick, their children, or because of the impediments that create the racism, masculinity, classism.

Without a doubt, art has a lot to say these days. Some dedicate themselves to “art for art’s sake,” favoring technique and pushing the limits of plastic arts, creating beautiful objects that invite contemplation, stop, and rest. Others dedicate themselves to more conceptual or political art; without a doubt, they will develop necessary works, dream up new imaginaries, and confront us with our failures. 

Let’s think about the severe structural problems, so normalized until a few months ago, that this virus has forced us to look at: such as inequality and its impact on the quality of health to which we have access, on the option of being able to work from home, and in even the possibilities that a home can offer as a safe space.

 Or the fragility of the economy, and the radical difference between the real economy and the much-revered world stock markets, Even the painful preference of specific sectors for a robust and functional economy, even if it means condemning others to illness and death – utilitarianism and the cult of progress taken to their ultimate consequences

Should We All Be Making More Art? 2022

To expose these fractures to create objects worthy of contemplation, the artists need time, light, water, and stability. They will need to embark on long, thoughtful, experimental processes, being able to assemble and disarm, dream and despair, to arrive at the perfect formula. Demanding immediate responses (beyond personal opinion or intuition) from such a tremendously precarious sector is enormously injustice and blind. 

Crises are not, at least while they occur, educational opportunities. They are events that happen to us that harm us. They target everything about us, including our powers of learning and reflection.

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