It is funny how opinions change based on situations. Not for any reason other than sometimes things happen that allow people to take a different perspective. A recent poll in The Times suggests an interesting viewpoint on what is considered useful during a pandemic. The top five non-essential jobs ran as follows 5. Human Resources Manager, 4. Business Consultant, 3. Social Media Manager / PR Specialist, 2.Telemarketer and Number 1 . . . any ideas . . . . . Artist! I shall return to this marvellous result in which art finally comes out at the top of a poll later.
Before I do that though, I shall give you the run down of the top five most essential jobs; this time from Number 1 Doctor / Nurse (as you would expect), 2. Cleaner 3. Garbage Collector 4. Hawker???? 5. Deliveryman. Leaving aside the presence of hawker in all of that which I really do not understand, there are a number of entries that nobody has ever mentioned as essential services before in a public forum.
Twenty years ago I quit my job, after 11 years of working in a supermarket, I had had enough. What was apparent in the time that I worked there, was that I was considered unambitious; a loser who stacked shelves, the butt of many jokes of those who knew me. Whilst others did interesting jobs, that they had trained for since school, I had effectively become stuck. In 2000 I packed it all in to resume what I had started in 1989 at Withens Lane Art College on the Wirral, and went back into education. Having packed up lock, stock and barrel I moved to Leeds to attend Leeds Metropolitan University to study Art. Twenty years later I find myself having very similar feelings to those experienced in my early twenties, only now from the point of working in the arts; gaslit by the society that produced me “no, we never said you were unambitious, you were a key worker, what makes you think we ever thought otherwise, we always said artists were not necessary.”
Of course as I reach the half century mark rest assured I care about none of these opinions. Opinions, so they say, are like a***holes – everyone’s got one. Neither am I going to look back nostalgically on my time spent doing working in retail. What does interest me though is the fact that art comes out at the very bottom. The shortsightedness of a society that can proclaim with such authority -71% of those asked- that they really do not need art at such times is part of the explanation as to why it is so easy to disabuse artists of their right to earn a living during more normal times. Yet one thing that I know from working as an artist, and working with many other artists, is that regardless of income which is often pitiful or non-existent, the effort to produce work, the hours put in and the attention to detail is more than many people would be prepared to put in to something which they suspected that they would probably make little or no money from.
People have little understanding of what kind of impact art has on the modern world. Imagine living in 1918 at the outbreak of the Spanish flu pandemic; you have just gone through World War I and then, whilst things are still incredibly difficult, you are asked to isolate away from everyone else without any of the trappings of modern day comfort. No computers, no TV’s therefore no soaps or Netflix and such like, no phones so no contact with the wider world, and if you were poor probably little access to books and none to music. All of a sudden things start to seem a little bleak. The arts are incredibly valuable to society. Once it was the preserve of the rich but now many more have access to the arts than ever before, yet claim they are unnecessary. Without the arts none of those previously mentioned things would be available to us now. They may not be a matter of life and death but they are the light at the end of the tunnel, the things that make life worth living for.
And so, as BasementArtsProject’s public projects are temporarily furloughed whilst we are unable to access the real world, work carries on in other ways. Grant applications for projects continue and all of this year’s programme is now laid over until 2021 when we can all gather once again at BasementArtsProject and consider that not everything we do as a race is essential but it all has meaning, even if we do not see it at that very moment in time.
In the meantime we continue to post online our virtual diary project looking at the lives of artists during this pandemic, the things that they produce and the feelings that go with it. This week I bring you work by Raksha Patel, and artist from West Yorkshire now living in Battersea. During lockdown she has been able to visit a piece of sculpture in her local park by, another Leeds artist Henry Moore, and has made a series of drawings of which this is one. You can view the rest and read her essay at https://www.basementartsproject.com/studio-journal/2020/6/30/lockdown-journal-covid-1946-raksha-patel
Another socially distant walk around the South Leeds Area reveals to me another instance of peoples interest in art as a thing that can be appreciated just being what it is in the form of yet another submission to SlungLow’s LS11 Street Gallery
Bruce Davies | July 2020