Thursday, March 14, 2013


"The Blessing", handmade collage by Vivi-Mari Carpelan, copyright 2008

Is art important to everyone, and is there a truly positive attitude towards art within the framework of society? I've been giving some though to some of the prevailing attitudes towards art and creativity in general in modern society.

Firstly, there certainly is a lot of art around! In fact, we're truly saturated with images in modern society. The fact that any images we may want are so readily available, and that we're also bombarded with images that aren't significant to us personally, surely has a negative effect on people's perception of the value of images. Secondly, as people have been made redundant or find themselves out of a job for other reasons, or even on disability allowance, suffering the consequences of the recession and the fast pace of modern living, they often turn to arts and crafts. Authorities usually care very little if people make art while they are living off benefits, as it's generally speaking not regarded as work. There may be the illusion that we have freedom to do what we want because basic needs are met, but does it help if the attitudes within society aren't supportive of creative freedom and nobody wants what you do? Perhaps this is one of the reasons why there is such a great flux of creativity within modern society but not a truly deep and overarching appreciation of it.

I would say that neither creativity nor art is being held in great regard because it's usually not supporting the economy in any significant way. In fact many in the higher ranks of society consider it a unnecessary evil that sucks money. I'm not an economist but it's pretty obvious to a lay person like myself that there is a deep seated attitude within society today that pure labour that creates goods that in turn are easy to sell is still more valuable than anything else. Perhaps the future will see a different attitude, where robots have taken over all the labour and people are being given the blessing to be creative in any way they want. I myself have experienced the kind of pressure authorities put on their citizens in order to force them to perform like marionettes in a predetermined reality show. Unless you have independent means of some kind, you will be subjected to pressure. If society gives you anything, you must give back what society wants from you. And it's probably not going to be a work of art.

We often tend to forget that society consists of real people. Some of them are career minded go getters and others are numb clerks who only work nine-to-five because they don't see any other option. What we can safely assume is that most of them were not encouraged to be creative while they were at school. As long as the school system promotes logic and productivity over intuition and inspiration, attitudes aren't going to change. If the foundation of society isn't supportive of the "deviant personality", then art is not going to be considered a necessity. It's quite obvious that the artists who thrive are the ones who are also go getters and have an entrepreneurial mind (for instance Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst). They make millions because they have the talent to make money, not necessarily because they are artists. The rest of us are paddling against the stream.

When Martin started to work out the details for our artistic enterprise "Wow! Look what I got!", we naturally discussed the possibilty of selling the idea to the general public that anyone can become an art collector. Do people want to be art collectors for very little money? Do people prefer to sustain the myth of art as a luxury product that only the rich can afford? Or do people simply not care about art at all? By asking people to share our project with their friends, we were in fact encouraging them to make a statement, to have a standpoint... While we need money in order to make it all happen, and the fundraising campaing is crucial to the business idea, we still feel that checking out the attitudes towards art is our main objective. Obviously, we can't start a business without a state-of-the-art printing press, which we hoped that in these dire times, we could acquire through the support of many, many members of the public. There are deeper questions at stake. What we really want to know is whether the art that we make actually makes a difference, and what manner of consumption we should expect from the audience. Does the general public want our art in the first place? Is it in any way meaningful to them? Is it at least meaningful to some of them? Is it meaningful as a body of work, or are only single pieces meaningful? And finally, are potential friends of our art willing to commit to paying subscriptions in order to get a print every month? 

We knew that market research is of the essence when you're building up a business, but we didn't have the resources for that. Instead the market research has been built into the project. The crucial bit is whether people feel interested and impressed enough to share the idea with their friends. It's a gamble, but we felt that this idea just had to be tried and tested. If we didn't try this then we'd never know whether an alternative to the typical way of selling art through galleries was an option at all. The campaign is still running so there is still time for reactions from the general public. 

We feel that there may be a lot of creativity about, but I feel that it doesn't necessarily involve many deeper, philosophical musings about the nature of art and life. Why would that be? Well, most people's basic necessities in life may well be met (cf. Maslow's hierarchy of needs), but most people are still struggling to survive. Survival may be a relative terms so for some people it means managing on £ 1200 a year while for other it's £ 40 000... Sums are not of any importance in this respect. What matters is the sense of struggle, the sense of not having enough time or energy for the deeper layers in life. People generally speaking live with a sense of dissatisfaction with life's basic set up, are jaded, and will possibly be paying for a Sky TV subscription each month rather than for any kind of artistic product, let alone a subscription for art. I would love to be proved wrong!

In fact, I would suggest that people are fleeing the deeper questions in life, whether they be religious/spiritual, moral or artistic. From this point of view, it's not about the money, i.e. it doesn't really matter what art costs. In this kind of setting, art is definitely a luxury product that people only pay for because it raises their status within a particular peer group, or because their inner longing for something more soulful becomes strong enough to put them on course for an exhibition of some kind. I would like to think that the soul's yearning will gradually override a lot of the kind of "noise" we are subjected to in today's world... I would like to think that there are already a lot of people out there who feel this yearning and who realise that hanging on Facebook all day or watching X Factor or Eastenders every day is not satisfying a hunger that stems from deep within a human being, on the level of what I would call essential humanity. I like to believe that there are infinite dimensions within us all that call out from the deep, with persistance and pure passion for that which sustains human life through art, culture and other expressions of creativity. This is where art comes from, and also where it goes to. 

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