Over the last several weeks I’ve been working on a portrait commission. It was painted from life, squeezing sittings into spaces in the subject’s busy life. It’s painted in oils on canvas, though the underlying bluish wash is acrylic. Here are some photos of the work in progress:
Some people are driven to make things, to paint pictures, to make sculpture, etc. These are activities that often are engaged in for their own sake, not as a means to an end, like wealth or security. They are definitely not high on the careers officer’s list of job recommendations.
Some people value the products of these activities and may be willing to spend money on them, if they have money to spare on such luxuries. Many of the people in the latter group are also in the former (at least that is how it seems to me) – which is a problem in economic terms. Clearly if only artists buy art, the system cannot support itself; exchanging art for art cannot produce a surplus to pay for more mundane necessities. Unless there are some non-artists spending enough money on art it is an unsustainable practice, or at least it can only continue if the makers of art either do something else as well to make a living, making their art more like a hobby, or are independently wealthy themselves. It seems that both the making and the owning of art must be seen as luxuries.
Must we accept then that the possibility of some people making art as their primary activity is dependent on an art market ultimately funded by the rich? On wealthy patrons (or wealthy artists) whose taste will therefore determine what is made and who makes it? That is, is the art world we have got, with galleries and collectors at the top selecting the lucky few artists whose work is deemed good enough to invest in, the only way it can be?
A fantasy world:
There are jobs that are essential to this fantasy world, which are shared among its fantasy citizens. Everyone who is able has to do some essential work (from growing food to caring for elderly neighbours perhaps), in exchange for a fantasy citizen’s wage, but this leaves them some spare time to do other, non-essential things. Maybe some people use their spare time to do other jobs to increase their income.
Some people make things in their spare time, not to increase their income but just because they choose to. All the things they make are put in a library of things, from which people can borrow the things. The makers whose things are borrowed most often are rewarded by being given more time to make more things. That is, they are released from some of the essential jobs – or rather their making is recognised as part of the essential work. Because in this fantasy world, art is not seen as a luxury but as a necessary part of the good society, to be accessible to all. And incidentally, money is not the primary reward – that is time.
(I did say it was a fantasy world…)
And here’s an irrelevant image:
Copyright ©2014 F. Watts
In between too much proofreading work, I spent Monday teaching a portrait modelling workshop at Greystoke Cycle Cafe. Here are a couple of photos of the rough demonstration head I made in the process, with apologies to the model for the poor likeness! (And now I must get back to that proofreading…)
Outlining possible solutions to the crisis, he suggests there is little we can do about escalating population and the global economy. He pins his faith in greater energy efficiency and a growing dependence on renewables such as wind farms and solar power.
This comes from Michael Billington’s review of 2071, a theatrical ‘documentary’ on climate change, featuring Chris Rapley, a man with a distinguished career in science. Billington describes the production as ‘better than good…necessary’.
(image from Guardian article linked above)
The quoted statement made me think. It seems to be an example of how the scientific community contributes to our political and social failure to take the problem on. It encourages us and our political leaders to believe that science and technology can get us out of this, without changing our economic systems and cultural assumptions. The global economy can go on its merry way, pursuing endless growth, and population can continue to expand, because the scientists will save us.
Some scientists may be happy to take on this messianic role, but it might be better if they, along with the rest of us, acknowledged its hubris. Billington’s phrase ‘pins his faith‘ is telling. It is faith, not science, that supports the idea that science can protect us from catastrophic climate change, and it is a faith that seems to be driven more by the thought that it’s the only option; we can’t change economic and social forces, even though we know they are hugely significant, so we have to solve the problem technologically. A scientist, who naturally looks to science for solutions, sees that population control or global economic trends are not within the remit of science. So the scientist focuses on the aspects of the problem that he or she can address, and hopes that that will be enough.
The other elements of the problem, population, economic growth, consumerism, involve changes in the behaviour of masses of people. This is why it seems so intractable and why people often resist calls for more sustainable practices on the grounds that one individual’s actions can have no effect, or even one country’s. ‘What’s the point,’ they say, ‘when China is building all those coal-fired power stations?’* Human behaviour on this scale falls under the scope of the humanities, sociology, history, etc. The only branch of the humanities that we tend to look to for solutions to anything is economics, but in this case it seems that economics is part of the problem.
The things that do influence behaviour on such a large scale are religions and ideologies, which are even more remote from current individualistic and scientific outlooks. But perhaps this is where we should be looking. I do not mean to say that some traditional religion or god can save us, any more than science can. Rather, the kind of change in world-view and values that we need is akin to a religious movement, an ethos, both in content – a vision of how we ought to live – and in that it needs to provide a basis for a new social, cultural form of life, for individuals and communities in a global ecosystem.
This train of thought may have got carried away to a rather sweeping, utopian place. Another, smaller inference might be that (in spite of what I said in the previous paragraph) existing religions could have a role to play, by offering alternatives to prevailing economic orthodoxies and by reaching large sections of the population. But that would require global religions to seek common ground among themselves and with science, rather than enabling conflict – to act as unifying forces, not as divisive ones. History is not terribly encouraging on that point.
So let’s be wildly utopian and imagine a Green Reformation, where scientific solutions combine with social change, rather than being an excuse for social, political, and economic inertia.
*Shortly after I wrote this, the USA and China announced their agreement on deadlines for cutting carbon emissions – so that’s a step in the right direction and dare we hope a sign that change is coming? At least it makes it harder to give the ‘what about China?’ excuse for apathy.