Over the last few weeks Zelda and I have had some very interesting conversations about art, politics and what drives us. They have left me asking question about As Yet Untitled, Elbow Room and my own practise.
The conversation started with a late night talk about the idea that all art, no matter the content, is political. What I find interesting is that neither of us is overtly political in the work we make, nor are As Yet Untitled or Elbow Room obviously political organisations. However, I would argue that creating art or founding a company dedicated to the arts is a political act. It is not the content of what we make, rather that we dare to make it all. Throughout time art has commented on every aspect of society, is has spoken about and visualised the unsayable, sought to understand society, humanity and the world. And throughout time art has been considered in equal parts vital and unnecessary, inspiring and dangerous. This was particularly highlighted to me as the results of the general election came in earlier this year. The Conservative government seems determined to gut public arts funding in this country and voters have given them the opportunity to complete the job. Without funding artists’ suffer and without artists society suffers. Yet despite the hardship the arts sector is facing artists are finding new ways to make work, from crowd funding to independent and underground organisations. This is nothing new; artists around the world have overcome everything from government indifference to outright even violent hostility time and again. I see As Yet Untitled as part of this and am determined to do what I can to help myself and others create work. The likelihood is that the work we create and publish won’t be overtly political but it will exist in the world, questioning and drawing from the world.
Which brings me on to a conversation Zelda and I had earlier this week over dinner.
Why do we make art?
And where does it come from?
One answer is that we make it because we have no other option. Someone asked me the other day why I had chosen to become an artist and I almost laughed at them. I don’t believe art is a choice (if it was I wouldn’t be doing it, this is a hard life) but rather a drive, a calling, a necessity. The other answer is perhaps a little more complicated. For me it goes something like this…We make art because we want to understand the world, and to share our ideas and our questions with others. It comes from inside, from the things that drive us, that we question and struggle with. This could anything from questions of identity, to expressions of love or dealings with grief. It could be a way of understanding history or philosophical questions about the universe. I have made work that is intensely personal, using it to get through hard times or deal with complex issues of love and identity. But I have spent an equal amount of time asking questions about how and why we tell stories or considering the workings of time, in life and in art. It might not seem as though these questions are personal but they are as I find myself endlessly driven by searching for answers. My art is an expression of these questions and my answers. The act of making art can be enough but by releasing it into the world I hope that someone might find a reflection of their own thoughts and questions. They probably won’t see exactly what I was imagining but that isn’t what matters. What matters is that they find something they understand, that answers or even triggers new questions.
I founded Elbow Room because I believe the arts have more to say when they can say it together. When poetry and prose, photography, sculpture and painting, animation and music can stand in one space to ask questions and offer answers.
I am working with the Prince Trust to expand As Yet Untitled because I want more than my voice to be heard. I believe in the power of books as a way of asking questions and expressing answers. I believe in the democracy of books as an art form and in their boundless potential. Book Arts is a limitless field, that can incorporate every art imaginable, and I want to collaborate with artists from all disciplines in exploring, questioning and expressing any and all ideas we can.
As I spend time working on numbers, market research and the business plan I am also considering our next steps creatively. I am talking to the first artists and writers we might collaborate with and I waiting with baited breath for the entries to the Elbow Room competition and all the ideas they will contain. Art takes me to new places, both mundane (financial forecasts anyone) and magical. I cannot wait to help bring the magical to you.
Why We Make Art: An endnote from Zelda:
What Rosie has said about making art not being a choice is entirely true. For some reason, art chooses us and won't let go. It's compelling—it keeps you awake, it makes you work long hours, it forces you through every emotion possible. It's exhausting. And exhilarating. It's necessary, essential. At times it has kept me alive. And it doesn't let you quit (believe me, I've tried).
I am known by most of you as a poet but I also make prints and practice photography. For me, the process of making art—and when I say art, I am talking in the broadest sense—is about making sense of the world. It's about exploring things that are difficult, that can't be easily explained or articulated in other ways. It's a meditation on what it is to be human and an exploration of how we relate to each other and the situations we find ourselves in. Anyone that has read my work will know that it is, on the whole, intensely personal. In truth, it's the only way I can make it. It has to come from somewhere, and for me, personal experience is as about as authentic as it gets. And I'm under no illusion that my personal experiences are unique—they are not. We are all human. We all experience love and hate and greed and envy and grief and loss and exhilaration. We react to it differently, but we all feel it and we all have a need to make sense of it.
But it is also about raising questions. Sometimes we already have the answers, sometimes we find them along the way through the artistic process, but more often than not we don't. And this is what also makes it important to its audience—it's the questions. Every time we come in to contact with a piece of art—whether it's visual or audible or written—we have a reaction to it. We make a decision about whether we like or dislike it. We find art that makes a connection with us in some way, allowing us to empathise with what it's saying (or what we think it is saying). We find art that we understand and art that we don't. We think about it. We draw conclusions. We make choices informed by what we've thought about. We have conversations about it. We change things—personally, in our communities, in our places of work, in our families, in our society. And that is why all art is political. And why it is essential.
For me, Elbow Room (and its umbrella of As Yet Untitled) is about cultivating conversation, both between us and across us. It's about recognising that we are not islands. It's acknowledging that there are things to be said, things to be listened to, to be agreed and disagreed with. And it's about nurturing the people, our writers and artists, who are here, willing to say those things in the best ways they know how to. And yes, the days with numbers and spreadsheets might not be the best ones, but the rest is magical and being able to share it is an incredible privilege.