by Philly Hunt, posted on October 13, 2013
I’ve been wondering about the different sorts of art I would like to make, not in terms of whether I shall make sculpture, paintings, performances or prints, or whether I will focus on social balance issues, environmental issues or therapy (I will do all of these), but more wondering about the attitude I will use to communicate.
A few certain practitioners, artworks or figures I think are very successful in saying what they want to say. Today I’m mainly thinking of the following two gentlemen.
I visited Austrian painter Gottfried Helwein’s exhibition in The Albertina in Vienna this summer. He uses the persecuting imagery of violence towards children and paints extremely photorealistic figurative pictures. He doesn’t use abstract concepts or compositions, he uses blatant, unreserved suggestion to shock the viewer. The sheer number of paintings which depict such sickening scenes does much to put into perspective the bystander victims of war; one is slightly repelled by Helwein’s ability to paint one after another, but he turns this repulsion back on the viewer, asking them why these paintings disgusts them so, when they can view newspaper images and TV broadcasts one after another. His lifelong dedication to the subject suddenly drives home the realisation that this has been going on that entire time, and that one moment when we see a child killed by war on TV, is our only access to that suffering, but for them it continues. Helwein seems as if he has tried to access this continuation himself in order to keep us from allowing our distance from the situation to justify our passivity. This is a negative but powerful address of passivity. Helwein’s reversal of responsibility back into the audience’s hands is a tactic I’ve been playing with, and I think it’s one of the most successful. Sadly his method comes from a negative place and the results can be demoralising and overwhelming, and therefore may possess the danger to incite further inaction.
I have all these issues with people’s attitudes towards the environment, social equality (feminism/mental health stigmatisation etc) and I think the main factor that causes this passivity is that people don’t know how to care; they don’t have the capacity to care, or the incentive, and I think it’s partly the fault of the escapism of the internet generation (where people constantly have a device on which to escape not only society’s problems, but their own too) but also because people don’t think to absorb their surroundings and get excited about them anymore. It’s almost become cool to be passive; to just grind on and mong out; shameless, unadulterated, mindless leisure is the Western world’s hobby. Granted I’m being a bit judgmental – but everyday in London I see people returning from their bureaucratic and autocratic jobs where they are not permitted nor required to exercise personality expression or autonomy, and they are all glazed over staring at their i-phones or tablets. The dynamics of modern capitalist labour have undermined human capabilities; at work the majority of us are labourers who simply conform to a company outfit with no chance for personal input or individual expression, and therefore no opportunity to build up trust. This lack of responsibility and creative effort has kept us out of practice, so when home-time comes and we have the hours to ourselves, we just lie back and continue to be led by something other than our own imagination.
There are artists who are extremely active and dedicated to maximising their creative brain power on a daily basis, but amongst these artists are too many self-referential circles or practitioners, whose only communication context is their own personal life or art itself; making art that builds only on other art without extended reference to real life progression, creating a long lasting trend of self indulgence without regard to one’s place in a (ideally) co-operative society. This is the opposite end of the scale from the inactive passivity, but is nonetheless passive in term of caring only about one’s immediate influence and consequences.
The ultimate creative antidote to both of these (inactive passive and self-referential passive) attitudes is Mr Bruce Springsteen. His music; the lyrical content and the musical atmosphere, comes less from a place of inert doubt than from a hope for progression. His international power does not come from an appeal for solidarity through cynicism. He doesn’t dramatise the issues he sees in society and single out groups who make them so; this alienates the audience in the long run as it creates only a hostile solidarity. Instead Springsteen encourages interest, excitement, hope and pride in his audience’s individual and collective hearts. He tells stories of lives and worlds that draw us in with their continuous forward thinking positivity; never a note of nostalgia or of dwelling on problems. He creates types of characters we all know or identify with so that we feel socialised and co-operative towards our fellow citizens and an appreciation for the possibility of positivity in everyone.
His velocity of message in every song and the everyday, timeless reality of their subjects make it seem as though we all can, and we all ought to be doing something. Logic and reasoning doesn’t come into it, neither does judgment or duty. He simply appeals to the heart and to our ideals, he allows not a millimetre for apathy. Its beauty is that it is all so straight forward, timeless and real; he didn’t make any of it up. We know instantly that everything he says is true and that life is all plain sailing if you’re willing to accept it’s not; because you expect the best (know you might experience the worst) and get up and work for it.
Talk about a dream, tryin’ to make it real
Badlands by Bruce Springsteen
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