The Philosophy of Life and News and Art
Alain De Botton is a new find for me. I watched a new program today where he gave a very interesting talk about how he sees the presentation and publishing of news to the world and how we react to it.
As an artist you may think, what does this have to do with me? I wondered that in the first few seconds and then quickly changed my mind. It was not only from the parallels he drew with the church and the Renaissance, or even the use of art as political messengers through history so much as it was the dissection of how the news is gathered, how so much of it is discarded as uninteresting or irrelevant for the sensational and the “if it bleeds it leeds” mentality.
Alain got me thinking about our education system, because in a lot of cases we are not taught how to think, how to analyse but more likely, how to parrot back what has been fed to us or how to follow the main stream so as not to be in that fringe group that no-one wants to talk to or be seen associating with.
Recently in a talk after an artist chat at Chisholm I did get a bit carried away going on about being so sick to death of being told that my art should reflect what it going on today, the spirit of the times – the “zeitgeist” if you will. I got angry because for one I am sick of having political correctness shoved at me from all different directions, I am also tired of people thinking that as an artist you must have similar political views to them so they can rant and rave on with little facts about whatever is the biggest headline of the day and assuming that you will not only stand and listen to them but nod in agreement.
Stop it I yelled, stop telling me my art has to reflect someone’s idea of what is important or wrong with society today. Stop telling me to dip into the depths of my worst moments in life to drag them onto the canvas for all to see.
Alain was right when he said that many of the things we see in the news today can easily be explained by philosophers going back as far as Plato and Socrates. The advances in technology do not seem to have changed to a great degree the basic nature in humans. The themes get repeated by a new generation in a new suit.
Does this mean I am saying to ignore what is going on around us? No. Am I saying that art has no part in telling the story of our society? Not that either. Like Alain said in his speech, it is all in the telling of the story. People are not interested in certain types of story in the news, not because they don’t care, or they are mean, or cruel. It is because the story is not being presented in a manner that helps them to care. The stories don’t help people want to become better, they don’t help us to stop and see the little things around us in the world and in our lives. They don’t help us to start appreciating or thinking in a broader manner. They are often bombarded at us to the point where we can’t take a breath between them. We are kept on the edge of our seats, one disaster after another, as if we are being kept distracted from all the other things going on in the world on purpose.
Sometimes as I walk about doing a message or whatever I take note of the people in the street, in the shops or wherever. How many genuinely happy faces are out there really? So many people seem weighed down, even miserable. Some look angry, others look despondent. A few look as if they just don’t care about anything. So many people look hurried. Getting the next thing done is so important, getting somewhere is like a life threatening situation.
Getting back to art and the news part of this story, what art can be is a story. News of the Middle Ages and Renaissance came in the form of art in a lot of cases. If you wanted to know how to live a better life you went to church and looked at the art all around you. A bit like advertising signage is for us today for those that could not read over four hundred years ago. “If you want to go to heaven, live like this” for example.
As art went away from the control of the churches and influential in society, artists took on more daring paintings of what they saw wrong in their world. Disasters at sea, the slave trade, wars, rebellions, dictators and all the cruelty humanity could force on itself became the topics of art. I have had discussions with tutors about some of these subjects in reference to my own work. Personally I don’t see that I need to reflect on the negativity in the world or my own past to bring empathy or any kinder or “better” part of human nature to the fore in my paintings. Like the news, I feel that there has to be other ways of presenting my message without rehashing the same theme in a different suit.
Like quoting or referencing the philosophers of the past (or even present) rather than rehashing or inventing a new crisis, my art refers back to things in history, things around us that we can often overlook. There are little things going on around us all the time, there is more to creating a painting than trying to make up my version of the bleeding edge.
My current body of work the “Lost” series I hope is a start on reflecting my interests, what I see in the world in a manner that helps the viewer stop and think a little about what it is, where it is, why it is still there and what use it had or may still have. Like environmental archeology, the little things left behind reflect on those that have gone before, what has been left for us, and what we are doing with it. I see the beautiful and the significant in these small moments, these often passed by items. “What are you doing that reflects the time you are living in with your art?” I was asked. Well this is my life and my time. This is what I am seeing and how I am interpreting it and understanding what I am seeing.
Unlike the much of the news, it is not bleeding edge, hopefully it will not make you cringe, or sad or hopeless for humanity. It doesn’t yell out that people are cruel, or call to action to save the planet or anything else. It is just there, like a good story for you to look at and think about and take what you will from viewing. It is my story from my point of view. Take it or leave it.