Many years ago, I was sent a picture of a piece of paper stuck to a cement pole during the Dublin Contemporary 2011 Art Exhibition, it said: ”ART WON’T SAVE THE WORLD. GO VOLUNTEER AT A SOUP KITCHEN YOU PRETENTIOUS F#CK.”
I’m a passionate advocate for the arts.
Not just the high end, fine art, classical ballet, Julliard trained, couture aristocracy type of art, but also - and possibly, more so - the other end of the arts.The “I started creating on my kitchen table”, “busked on street corners”, “drew pictures in math's class”, “paint after the kids went to bed”, “did photography for fun”, “I was just doing it as a hobby and I kind of just fell into it”, scrappy start-up kind of arts.
I think that’s why I liked the Dublin Contemporary flier so much, it was scrappy; in medium, and language. I am unsure if it was posted as part of the exhibition, or by an anti-art protester taking the piss, but either way, I thought it was brilliant and sent it to all my creative friends. It was also my screen saver for many years.
To me it read as a reminder on two topics;
1. Don’t take yourself too seriously,
2. Find a way to give back through your art.
I think the arts do provide many volunteers in the proverbial soup kitchen.
To me the soup kitchen is finding a place you are accepted. A place that makes sense of what you are feeling. A place that connects you to something so that the isolation you might be feeling dissipates a little as you realise that someone else has felt the exact same pain / joy / darkness / confusion (etc) that you are experiencing.
The soup kitchen is the safe place. And I think there are many unique ways the arts provides this.
How can we recite countless song lyrics but impossible to recall what was taught in a traditional classroom? Art has the power to reach people. Art can reach people in a way that politicians and much of current society cannot.
Taylor Swift’s posted asking her 100m+ fanbase to “….educate yourself on the candidates running in your state & vote based on who most closely represents your values.” This saw an increase of 65K+ new vote registrations within the 24hrs after she posted it.
Art can have influence.
Aussie actor/comedian Celeste Barber has over 5m+ followers on her Instagram account. She uses her art to remind us of the ways we have been subconsciously trained on social media to compare our bodies to what we see on Instagram and in mainstream media. We have become somewhat of a society broken by comparison to unrealistic ideals.
Through her art, which is based on communicating healthy actuality, as opposed to toxic fantasy*, Celeste is contributing greatly to the rebuilding of women’s self-esteem and sense of worth
Art can rebuild what has been broken.
Aussie musician, Missy Higgins explains how in high school the school’s music room that brought her calmness in many areas of her life. Her music now provides calmness through connection to millions of people. She shares this story beautifully in an interview with The Australia ABC
Art can provide a mental safe space.
In 2014, Western Australian artist, Madelyn Jenner had an audience of about 45 people. They were her classmates. She was 7 years old.
Madelyn reached out to (in comparison to the previous numbers) an only-slightly-more-known artist (me), who had an audience of about 60K at the time.
Two years prior Madelyn’s sister, Aliyah had passed from this world.
Madelyn sent me her hand drawn art of Aliyah in heaven and of the nurses that took such good care of her on earth at Perth’s Princess Margaret Hospital.
Along with the drawings, Madelyn sent me a lettertelling me she had just had a birthday and had requested that instead of presents that year, she had asked her friends and family to donate to the hospital that cared for Aliyah “so that other kids didn’t have to lose their brother or sister.”Madelyn told me they had raised hundreds of dollars and she proudly donated it to the Princess Margaret Hospital.
Madelyn drawings featured lots of purple (“It was Aliyah’s favourite colour”, she told me.) I was so taken with Madelyn’s artworks and her generosity, we decided to create our signature SAMANTHA WILLS Bohemian Bardot ring in purple with 100% of the proceeds go towards Madelyn’s (belated) birthday donation fund.
Our community (you!) got around the initiative, and within hours the item sold out.
As it was her art and idea that started the initiative, we asked Madelyn if she would present the cheque to the hospital. And so in 2014, a 7 year old artist stood shaking hands with a senior representative from Perth’s Princess Margaret Hospital as she handed over a cheque in her name for $15,000.
Art can have impact.
Madelyn wrote me a few days after she presented the cheque to the hospital - five years ago now - and told me that when she grows up, she had decided that she either wanted to be a nurse so that she could help make sick kids better…. or a jewellery designer.
I wrote a letter back telling her I thought she would be brilliant at either (or both!) and that regardless of whether she decided to go into medical or the arts, thatwhichever field she chose, with her kindness of spirit, she would be helping people either way.
If you have a studied the arts and have a degree (or more), I truly applaud you and your work (and please know, I am often very envious of you!).
If you want to do something creative - be it for a hobby or career path - and you don’thave any framed certificates,please don’t let that deter you.
It’s OK to be scrappy.
I believe art helps. It can help the artist, which in turn can help others. It can be a language that reaches often to where others don’t.
So if you pick up a paint brush, jewellery pliers, cookbook, camera, pen or musical instrument - whether as a hobby or wishing to pursue a career in the arts, and someone tells you that art can’t save the world or to go get a real job! Maybe suggest to them kindly, that they might want to go volunteer in a soup kitchen….
….Up to you if you want to add the second sentence that was on that brilliant flier during Dublin Contemporary.
I would - but that’s just me. I prefer scrappy.– SWx
*The toxic fantasy I refer to is best explained by someone much more articulate than me, ThirdLove CEO, Heidi Zak. You can read her brilliance