We are living in unprecedented times, as people keep saying. We are in a state of constant emergency. We rush towards ecological collapse while worrying about ‘rebuilding the economy’ once the pandemic has brought our system to its knees. A renewed anger in the face of institutional racism fills the streets, overriding any instructions to ‘stay home’. Our politicians seem to be handpicked to do a bad job on the most urgent issues, while they pursue absurd self-inflicted quests for border walls and Brexit.
The sense of obligation to ‘do something’ felt by many of us is expressed mainly in signing petitions and sharing things on social media. We try to be diligent recyclers, eat less meat and use public transport when we can, donate to good causes – all those individual actions which feel so ineffectual when what is needed is system change.
Some braver and more committed souls dedicate themselves to serious activism – they march for change and camp out in trees to hold back the bulldozers. They give up their life plans in hope or despair for a better future.
How can I then sit in my ‘studio’ painting still lifes and wishing for the pandemic to end so that I can get someone to sit for a portrait again? Surely all art should somehow be addressed to these emergencies? Though I am inclined to think polemical art, art with a ‘message’, is usually bad art, does that matter? How can some idea of the self-sufficiency of ‘Art’ (ars gratia artis) outweigh the urgency of the climate crisis, the vast injustices of racism and colonialism? Check your privilege, indeed!
No answer I’m afraid, just a confession that, in spite of everything, I am still sitting here looking at stuff, putting more paint on (reused) surfaces. Feel free to attribute meaning if you like.