An Arts-Led Recovery

We’re all at a point now where healing has to be the concept that rules all others. Healing the environment, healing those who have become not just acutely but chronically ill from a disease we don’t yet know enough about, healing the grieving.

Creative expression and the Arts forge connections among people, and connection is one of the key things that keeps people healthy. If we are all going to get healthy again after the body blows we’ve taken it will only be through personal and community connections, and art is drawing the map for us to find those things.

Given that arts work is fundamentally communicative, and most artists communicate for a living, it’s bizarre how little traction any of the very positive messages they are constantly putting out there seem to get in public consciousness. In Australia practically everyone engages with art every day, and yet the sense they have of what they are doing is somehow that “the Arts” is other stuff that people are doing elsewhere, not the music you listen to and your kids’ holiday workshops and that mural you like on that local wall. I don’t know how to solve this. I know who the enemy is; I know that conservative government and media believe that they get favourable responses when they trash talk arts workers, and I know, alas, that they seem to be right. I don’t know what can break the cycle.

Right now artists, exhausted and resource-stripped as they are, are doing what they always do. They’re working to help the communities that are struggling to recover from floods, and those (particularly the young, the old and the disabled) who have been feeling the impact of increased isolation. Always putting out there more than they can recuperate.

We must make it possible for arts workers to live and arts organisations to thrive, not just because we want to continue to have those things in our society, but because there’s no way our society can heal from the damage it’s taken in the last two years without them. Art is how we will get through this.


A multi-modal workshop on Beowulf for Year 9 students

One thought on “An Arts-Led Recovery

  1. I have thought about this a lot, as like most people who don’t work in a “hard” professional area, I am subjected to lots of disdain by those who do. (I was in a meeting last week with some financial guys who were running down history as a subject / college major — they apparently assume that the disdain for liberal arts is so generally accepted that they can run them down to a professor in the area; talk about awkward moments.) I think one problem is that there is a general perception (I assume, based on Romanticism / Romantic – era ideas, and underwritten during the last century by the Hollywood star machine) that the artist is a genius who one day just spontaneously creates something of “artistic value” (by which they mean: art that entertains / moves / relaxes them without challenging them too much). In the US, anyway, there is really very little awareness that people study and practice and work for years to become knowledgeable of and skilled at something, and there is an active disdain for expertise (that isn’t limited to the arts). Or, if it’s a field where it’s obvious that they’ve been practicing for years, it’s still assumed that the talent itself was innate (violinists are all assumed to have been child prodigies, etc.).

    I also think there is a perception (that nourishes the success of politicians who trash talk artists) that artists are doing what they want all the time, whereas the average worker is not — the willingness to devalue arts workers really points strongly at the huge dissatisfaction with work more generally in our societies. This in turn justifies the exploitation of people who work in the area of their passions (again, not just arts, but also a lot of human services work and education) on the basis that “you would do this anyway,” as if personal gratification were the equivalent in pay of money, health insurance, retirement, etc. I experience all the time that there’s a kind of prophylactic quality to running down what other people do to justify one’s own activities (and somehow explain the frustrations that bedevil one).

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