Why art and artists are so important right now

Why art and artists are so important right now

By Caroline Fraser

I don't know about you, but these grey January days are making it hard to keep a positive attitude during this current lockdown.

We can walk, and all the evidence points to being outside as good for mood, but we can do very little else. We are starved of culture.

Which is why art and artists are so important right now.

I was reminded of a childrens' story by Leo Leonni about a mouse. Frederick is his name. While all of Frederick's mouse family are working hard through the summer days to prepare for winter, Frederick alone is not helping. He is busy collecting cheerful colours and words to use during the dark winter days when food is short, and the mice have run out of stories to tell each other.

You can listen to a reading of the story ( complete with American accent) here if you wish.


Frederick is an artist, and when the winter days seem difficult and grey, he sustains his family with poems and cheerful images using words and colours collected in brighter times.

And that is why we need art and artists more than ever right now.

Deprived of our usual entertainments, we can, and do, take comfort from words and images.

I was lucky to visit the Summer exhibition at the Royal Academy a day before this current lockdown started. It reminded me how much pleasure and sustenance comes from looking at new artworks and how much I had been missing looking at colour and sculpture, paintings and prints.

How much pleasure from appreciating a simple drawing of a cardboard face. I could scarcely believe that it was just pencil on paper.

Cardboard Portrait 11 | Russell Herron
Cardboard Portrait 11 | Russell Herron | pencil

You can take a tour of the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition here; it feels all the more vibrant in these January days.

There is still art, there is still hope | Bob and Roberta Smith
There is still art, there is still hope | Bob and Roberta Smith | signwriters' paint on board

Where there is art there is hope.

Making, writing and creating allows artists to express these pandemic times in ways that will endure. You may not wish to have words like these on your living room wall, but there is plenty of art to lift the spirits.

At Artspring Gallery there are so many colourful reminders of nature.

You might like a vase of summer flowers, with the smell of fresh daisies.

 Garden of delights | Sarah de Mattos
Garden of delights | Sarah de Mattos | oil on paper

Or a trip to the sea shore on a summer's day, water lapping gently in the sunlight.

Beach ripple platter | Hilary Shields
Beach ripple platter | Hilary Shields | kilnformed glass

A necklace might remind you of pebbles on a beach, or mountains climbed in freer days.

Labradorite pebble necklace | Camilla Long
Labradorite pebble necklace | Camilla Long | S/silver, labradorite, steel

Or perhaps we should celebrate winter itself, as a necessary prelude to spring and summer. Even on the coldest of days there are things to celebrate. Frost, statuesque trees, dramatic clouds or cosy hours in front of the fire with a good book.

Robert Frost in his poem 'Dust of Snow' gives an example of something as simple as a crow shaking snow on a branch changing the way that he feels about the day.

Poetry is a great place to turn to when we need sustenance. As Lord Byron said;

'A drop of ink may make a million think'.

A Dust of Snow | Robert Frost
A Dust of Snow | Robert Frost

Combining words and images can pack even more of an emotional punch, and offer ways to be in difficult times.

One of the most popular books circulating during this third lockdown is the beautifully illustrated book of Charlie Mackesy, who started drawing small animals to accompany words and writings that expressed what he has learned about how to live a kinder life. He has gathered these thoughts into a book 'The boy, the mole, the fox and the horse'. You can watch him at work with pen and ink in this short video.

One of the most appropriate quotes in the book for the current state of world affairs resonates;

'when the big things feel out of control.....
...... focus on what you love right under your nose'

Thank goodness for art and artists. They do focus on what is right under their noses, and share it with the world.

Without them the world would be a more difficult place.

'just breathe, and hold on'
'just breathe, and hold on'

Hero image: Colour notes | Christopher Le Brun PPRA |paper relief prints

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