The necessity of Art

Well, it has been some time since I last wrote an entry. Much has been going on. I have been way too busy. Things are changing. Shifting. A move is afoot. And I have found it difficult to find the space to write. Sitting in cyberspace are numerous drafts of pieces begun but abandoned unfinished. Cast aside as life comes storming forward brandishing some new emergency that steals my attention and demands my time. My health has been up and down. The Parkinson’s exerting pressure upon the family dynamic. The Parkinson’s limiting the amount of time I have available.

Time has started to run short. Time has to be given to various ways of saving or making money. Time comes to be associated with money. Time is Money. Time is Precious. Then Time is held tightly. Time becomes a Pressure. No longer enjoyed and savoured. Time is rushed or endured. The presence or absence of Money determines whether Time is Work Time or Leisure Time. Leisure Time is your own Time, to do with as you please. Work Time is the Time you sell to someone else, to do with as they please.

Except, it’s not that simple, is it?

Why does our Leisure Time often feel like Work Time? Do we ever truly do as we please with our Time? Any Time? Or do we end up spending our Leisure Time doing things we somehow feel we should. Because we have been told that it is Good For Us. Because we feel guilty if we don’t get certain jobs done. “I just have to do this. Then I can relax.”

And, when we finally do have Time when no demands are made of us and we stop making demands of ourselves, do we find ourselves at a loss. So unused to the freedom to choose that we are unable to make a choice. So out of touch with our own needs and desires that we just don’t know what we want.

No worries. There are plenty of advertisements everywhere to tell you what to want. No need to give attention to your own desires. That would be wrong. Selfish.

I think our civilisation’s sense of Time is very limited. And limiting.

We are taught from an early age that our Time is not our own. Time is not Free. It has to be earned.

Finish your homework. Then you can watch the programme you like.

That lesson must end when the bell rings. No matter that you were engrossed in what you were doing. Enjoying the activity. In the flow. The bell has rung. You must stop. Go to the next lesson.

And so it goes on. In the school. In the factory. Bells and hooters. Clock In. Clock Out.

This is Measured Time. It is so prevalent that we absorb it totally. Accept it as Natural. It is just Common Sense. The Way Things Are. It becomes the way we think. I call this way of thinking Economic Thinking. It has become the dominant mode of thinking in our Age.

In Economic Thinking everything has its price. The value of a thing equates to its monetary price. A Good decision is a decision that puts money in your pocket. A Bad decision leaves you poorer.

In a recent Governors meeting at my son’s school, a proposal was put forward that a Good Subject to study was one that would get you onto a Good Course at a Good University
where you would come out with a Good Degree that would get you a Good Job – one that would earn you lots of money. There was a direct line drawn that equated Education with Money.  Success in Life equals Money. More Success. More Money.

It was quite shocking to hear it stated so bluntly but it is, if we are honest, the underlying assumption of our Age. The basis of Economic Thinking.

But there are other ways of thinking.

In my former life, I was a Drama teacher at an urban comprehensive school. On many occasions, I was called upon to defend a student’s desire to study Drama at GCSE exam level to an anxious parent who found it difficult to see the point of studying a subject that had no obvious purpose – no earning potential. Drama wasn’t a Good Subject. The Good Universities did not recognise it as such. Too easy. It didn’t count.

“I suppose it will build up his confidence. That would be useful.” the parent would say.

I am slightly ashamed to admit that I would concur: “Oh, yes. Drama does wonders for their confidence.” Prepared to submit to Economic Thinking: Study Drama equals Get Confident. A fair trade. A payment for Time spent.

In truth, I just wanted to get the student on the course. To get them doing Drama. But not to earn more confidence. Or any reward. Drama doesn’t work like that. None of the Arts subjects do. The Arts don’t deal in Economic Thinking. The whole point of the Arts is that they allow you to think in a different way. And I don’t just mean valuing different things. Things other than money. It is more profound than that. The Arts engender a whole different mode of Thinking. One where the obsession with measuring so central to Economic Thinking is absent. In Artistic Thinking the question is no longer How Much Is This Worth To Me? That question is replaced by How Do I Express Who I Am?

How Do I Express Who I Am? Surely this is an important question that all young people should have opportunity to ask themselves. Is it not vital for a person’s healthy growth that they have a clear sense of who they are and the confidence to express it? Is it not a sign of a healthy society that people have the freedom to express who they are?

It is pretty easy to spot the people that have had the chance to develop their Artistic Thinking well. Just visit their homes. The places where they live will reflect something about the people they are. There will be objects within the home that were chosen for reasons other than their economic value. Tools which don’t work properly. Things that have no apparent purpose or worth. Things that do something else. Hold a memory. Tell a story. Embody an idea. Reveal a beauty.

I have in my home an old radio. It doesn’t work very well. It has valves. They take a long time to warm up. It is big and heavy. It takes up a lot of space and fails to fulfil its basic purpose. It is useless. Out-dated. I have newer DAB radios that work much better and are smaller. But I refuse to get rid of my old radio. I would rather get rid of the new radios that actually work.

Why? Because the old radio serves a different purpose. Many purposes. It holds memories. It has been with me since I was a teenager. Before that it belonged to my grandmother. I wasn’t particularly fond of that grandmother and I cannot recall how I came to end up with her radio. I think it was simply because I said that I liked it. I don’t think anybody else did. But I always loved it. I loved that it was curved, rounded. I loved its depth of blackness. That it was made of Bakelite – a mysterious substance that was already antiquated when it came into my possession. It seemed to speak of an earlier, steadier, more dependable age. It made me feel safe. It endured, then so could I. Throughout my turbulent teenage years, that radio was a constant companion. Each night I would lie in bed and tune in to the John Peel show. The strange and wonderful music I heard there consoled me. In the midst of an outside world that I could not relate to or understand, it made me feel less alone. Like someone understood me. That radio was a friend. And I just found it, as an object, to be beautiful. A device designed and made with a care and attention to detail that seemed to be lacking in its more modern equivalents. Its presence in my home expresses my dislike of the modern, throwaway age where everything is made with a built-in obsolescence, where a new phone is cheaper than a new battery for the old phone.IMAG1312

My decision to keep my old radio is a decision made by a process of Artistic not Economic Thinking.

Now, there is a Time and a place for Economic Thinking. Times when careful measuring and weighing up of points for and against is sensible and good. But it is far from being the full story. We need order and balance. But we also need chaos and anarchy. They hold a special kind of energy that we need to feel truly alive. Too much order stifles a person. Deadens the senses. Prevents creativity. Look around. Look at the Natural world. Nature is messy and chaotic. Doesn’t move in straight lines. Isn’t confined by boxes. Stop cleaning your house for a day or two and, all by itself, it will become chaotic. The spiders will move in. Spinning their webs to capture flies and dust in fragile tableaux of random beauty. Once you stop sweeping it away, Life will take over your house. Messy, chaotic, you cannot control it. Just keep sweeping it away.

Or, you could just accept the chaos. Accept it and start to see it differently. Give up on Economic thinking. Apply Artistic thinking. Accept it and begin to see the beauty in the old, the useless, the broken, the chaos.

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