How artists can defeat the politics of hate – Laura Waddell

Does our society have enough space for thoughtfulness and intellectual curiosity, wonders Laura Waddell.

Max Porters book Lanny is warm-hearted and inventive, qualities we could use more of in society generally in these times of strife (Picture: Lucy Dickens)

Author Max Porter recently published the hotly anticipated book Lanny. Full of empathy, it depicts the friendship between a boy and an artist who learn from one another, set against the ancient spirit of the rural town they live in. It’s a brilliant, warm-hearted book, full of inventive storytelling.

The relationship between the two shows ideal conditions for nurturing budding creativity in microcosm. Materials are provided, mistakes are met with understanding, and Lanny isn’t commanded but gently prompted to improve his skills.

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Being in the proximity of an artist inspires and guides him, but crucially, he is encouraged to do his own thing, given freedom to be led by natural impulses of his imagination rather than working strictly to curriculum.

Ultimately, all these things amount to positive affirmation. Permission and encouragement bolsters self-belief before constraints of exams and classrooms set firmer boundaries.

For too many youngsters demonstrating creativity, their only marked out route to pursuing art, whether drawing, writing or music is through homework and instruction, leading straight to qualifications and career paths.

Undoubtably these are valuable in their own way, and there have been observations from senior artists that those who have come through art school more recently lack hard skills.

I’m unqualified to pass judgement on that. But I’d argue that formal education is only tangentially related to the journey of an artist, those with a deep natural curiosity or drive to create arising either early or later in life.

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Perhaps even less so for those who do not become artists in any formal or professional sense of the word, but who feel the benefits of self-expression through creativity, whose inner worlds are richer for a nourished imagination.

Are we doing enough, as a society, to nurture that spirit?

That music lessons and libraries are facing significant council cuts is an abomination. Many children can’t or won’t seek out alternatives, and it’s not just the physical equipment that’s essential, or the tuition itself, but dedicated space and time to explore art.

Much has been written about the unequal make-up of our creative industries when it comes to demographic groups based on race, gender, sexuality, and also class, which sits outside of the Equality Act’s ‘Protected Characteristics’ and so is difficult to measure.

We know that lack of formal access and materials, as well as social barriers squeezes some young artists out. But I wonder, in addition to these things, whether we have the sort of society where emerging creative minds are encouraged to thrive?

Many artists and writers will speak with bittersweet reverence of a time in their lives where their creative intuition came naturally, with less hesitancy.

As a writer, I’ve never felt as free as I did making up stories as a child, before I’d ever heard of the phrase ‘writer’s block’.

Age and its wisdom get in the way; partially through desire to hone a craft, but when we understand more of the world around us, there is less to imagine.

I don’t regret that communication has changed. In many ways it has allowed self-representation to flourish, but I recognise that the clipped and fast-moving format of the digital age, for all I love it, does not always lead to more thoughtful exchanges.

There are huge problems with the way in which we consume information, as the news we receive becomes increasingly delivered in special interest silos, and the quality suffers from extremes of polarisation, stoking hatred of that which is different from us.

Does the way in which we work lend itself to creativity? Anyone who has worked in a corporate environment, even within media or creative industries, will know the answer to that one.

Generally, do we have the kind of society where there is space for thoughtfulness and intellectual curiosity?

If our politicians are anything to go by, I’m not sure we do. At times of strife and confusion, whether culturally, politically or personally, creating any alternative requires visionary invention, and encouragement to pursue it.