OPINION: Art may be useless, but many of us would be lost without it

Peter Offord drawing trees in Norwich's Earlham Park

Peter Offord drawing trees in Norwich's Earlham Park - Credit: Phil King

Norwich resident and artist Peter Offord says art has always been a channel used for people to express themselves 

"All art is quite useless," wrote Oscar Wilde, but what a world he opened up for us with his plays, poetry and prose! He was right of course, in one way. It serves no utilitarian purpose, its purpose is both higher and more profound.

Does art entail adversity? Some of the most famous and innovative led difficult lives: Van Gogh, Edvard Munch, Virginia Woolf and Wilde himself and many composers and others. But they lived creatively, the life of the spirit, leaving us their works as gifts.

Making art is an act of hope, of love, the act of bringing something forth, enabling others to connect with the experience, and react to it as they see fit.

Whether that be recoil, to be drawn into or ignore, but there is the statement from within, shared, an expression of the creator’s inner thoughts and feelings.

This region (and indeed the country) has many artists.

Most of these have to fit their creative practice around jobs, often unfulfilling work, shopping, washing, cooking, childcare or looking after someone in ill health.

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But they still manage to create, to make that creative act, to acknowledge that inner need to speak out, to sing, to paint, to act, dance or write.

Thus affirming the most uplifting part of being human: to create and share.

Unless you are very lucky this activity is unsupported by the state, where values are skewed towards material ends.

How can activities be justified in other than monetary terms? This is the language the majority of us are fed from childhood. But there was always the language of the spirit, beyond immediate material need.

From humankind’s earliest gatherings people chanted and moved and created the most wonderful art, manifest in caves like Lascaux for example, made with materials to hand, charcoal, earth pigments, water, sticks.

When we pick up a piece of charcoal now, tens of thousands of years from those first markings and we make a mark on a piece of paper or use a stick to draw in the sand we are connecting with our earliest ancestors’ spirit, their most primal, innate act of creativity, long before money and material goods became such powerful entities governing our lives.

And the great thing is we can all be creative.

Look at children, how they take a pencil or a crayon or piece of cardboard or sticks and are able to give them life with their energy and imagination.

Children bring such inventiveness and vitality.

They are able to act directly, before the self-consciousness of learning kicks in. If they say a sausage with four legs is a horse who are we to gainsay or patronise them? They are demonstrating to us the gift of creativity and imagination.

We are all capable of the creative act. And in these times of deep uncertainty, participating in that can connect us with that other world through the simple use of a pencil and a piece of paper, or indeed charcoal because it allows you to smudge!

By allowing ourselves time to look out of the window and to embrace a thought or a feeling, however humble it may first appear, and putting that down, we have entered the world of creativity.

This is not easy when doom-scrolling news and being immersed in social media that holds us in a reactive mindset. And then there is always the demon of self criticism awaiting us.

Putting our thoughts down is an act of affirmation. They don’t have to be shared. This connects us with a deeper human meaning, allowing inner feelings to rise to consciousness and lifts us clear of the endless rattle of a troubled world.

Now, more than ever, we need strength and acting creatively can nourish one’s inner life.

It isn’t easy, no-one said it would be, but it can give us strength.

There are two uplifting exhibitions currently celebrating trees in Norwich:

Celebrating Trees, Norwich is at St Margaret's Church, St Benedicts Street and closes on November 13  www.celebratingtrees.org.uk

7,000+, celebrating Joseph Beuys, The Greenhouse Gallery, 42 Bethel Street, open Saturdays 11-4 www.greenhousetrust.net

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