By Clive Gracey — I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “How come this nincompoop Clive continues taking photographs of derelict buildings and waffling on ad nauseam about Photography, Art and Aesthetics while War, Hunger, Pestilence and Famine are galloping unhindered over great swathes of the Earth?
You’re thinking, “Isn’t it about time that twerp Clive woke up to the facts that the rain forests are being hacked down at an exponential rate, that the great African mega fauna are being poached to extinction, that the atmosphere and the oceans are being poisoned, that the spread of pernicious ideologies and the worship of mammon are eclipsing ancestral spiritual and moral codes?”
You’re thinking, “Isn’t it time the old nitwit Clive got a grip and began using what modicum of intelligence and talent he may have to address in these pages some of these momentous issues facing humankind, instead of blathering on about aperture, shutter speed and ISO? What possible relevance do Photography, Art and Aesthetics have to a species on a headlong and seemingly unstoppable course to utter oblivion? Who does this birdbrain Clive think he is, some sort of latter-day Nero?”
I know that’s what you’re thinking because, in moments of exasperation and despair at my fellow human beings, I am wracked these very same misgivings. So serious are they that, at times, all I can do is lie on the sofa and bemoan the fact that I am powerless to do anything about humanity’s disparate plight. In my more lucid frame of mind, though, I am convinced that an artistic approach to life, such as the one I attempt to follow, is part of the solution to mankind’s ills, not part of the problem. Here’s why.
Artists — painters, poets, musicians, dancers, playwrights, potters, photographers, novelists, architects — create, not destroy. Artists are motivated by love and passion, not by hatred and nihilism. Artists crave peace and order and harmony, not chaos and discord. Artists seek out hidden beauty, don’t pander to the ugliness that is in plain sight.
Furthermore, a work of art is not expected to do anything other than exist. We may love it or hate it, but we do not expect it to serve any practical purpose in our lives. You can put anything you fancy into an art gallery and people will come and look at it, comment on it, criticise it and even laugh at it. But in the forty or so years I have been frequenting art galleries, dance festivals, poetry readings, theatres and art schools, never have I heard anybody say of a work of art, “What is it supposed to do?” The raison d’êter of a work of art is itself.
Planet Earth is one great big Art Gallery, full of the wonderful creations of the Almighty. Time we learned to see and appreciate them for what they are, instead of what they can do for us. The raison d’êter of a tree or an elephant is itself.
In addition, Art encourages, nay, demands civility. Go to any art exhibition, music recital, dance performance or a poetry reading anywhere in the world and you will find groups of strangers or all races and ethnicities behaving with consideration and politeness to each other. In the thousands of exhibitions and performances I have attended over the decades, I have never witnessed a display of naked aggression. Sometimes we may have impassioned, albeit good-natured arguments over aesthetics, but never fights.
What is more, Art knows no national, ethnic, religious, political or economic boundaries. Everybody is equal and every voice is valued. Art, be it visual, musical, or literary, provides a mutual space where we can learn about other people, places and states of existence. In this way, Art promotes empathy, perhaps the noblest affective state a human being can aspire to, yet one that seems to be on the wane in present times.
More than any other discipline, Art has the power to change how people see the world, to challenge their assumptions, beliefs and ideas. And as a great man once said, “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” (Albert E.)
It seems to me that the world would be a better place if we could appreciate the astonishing, magnificent gift of Creation for the miracle that it is, if we could be civil to each other and embrace our similarities rather than exaggerate our differences, if we could be more tolerant and understanding of other people’s perspectives and if we allowed ourselves to be more flexible in our thought processes and more open to new ways of seeing and doing. Art teaches us all of these modes of being.
And I know what you’re thinking now. You’re thinking, “The booby is only saying all this to make excuses for himself and his execrable snaps and to disguise the fact that he’s too bone idle to go out and get a proper job!” I know that’s what you’re thinking because…