Tag Archives: social media

Ode to a Jackdaw, the sequel

Victoria Ward
Victoria Ward

When I started this blog I innocently thought, hey, no one is discussing some things in the Canadian art world. Where are the public conversations about money? Are the arts councils working for us? Are artists treated fairly? How come rural artists are treated like crap? And why does no one know how to use Twitter in the art world?

Moving forward in time I found that there were lots of people who felt the same way I did and we were able to share some of the things I was writing about. I still naively believed that the art world needed a good dose of social justice and that artists would unite to recognize this. Has this happened? I am uncertain. I still maintain that these issues are relevant but social media has become a place for fighting and fighting is not what I signed up for.

I did not begin this blogging gig so that I could ‘change the world’ or ‘help people’ or get ‘popular’ or even just get some notice. I honestly thought that I was doing something constructive for myself and my friends. I thought I was helping change the channel on how art is discussed.

from ‘To Walk Invisible’, Sally Wainright’s astounding drama about the Brontes. Herself a former Yorkshire bus driver, Wainright knows better than anyone about being invisible.

It all began in Yorkshire and my discovery of the Jackdaw. This zine publishes a few times a year and is written by artists and art supporters in the north who see an unfair advantage to how the arts is funded and promoted by London. I’ve written about this before but the Turner Prize is but one example of this. The prize is often awarded to artists who are pet projects of curators and arts investors who need the prize to uptick the art’s value creating a situation where money flows like confetti all over the place but not in the coffers of arts organizations that need it. This is a huge paraphrasing of the corruption – you really need to read about it in the Jackdaw – but it’s a circle of life that has been normalized which in turn has essentially killed off funding and interest in any kind of art making not associated with the Westminster zone. Austerity and now Brexit in that country has ruined not one but perhaps two generations of artists not living below the midlands. When I got back to my rural log cabin in the central Ontario I looked at the world very differently. Was this kind of thing happening here?

In a very different way it was. Money was flowing then to Luminato, Nuit Blanche and all sorts of southern Ontario artistry while most of the galleries I show in had a hard time coming up with a per diem so that we could eat while visiting their community. For awhile conversation and community sprung up around these issues and I actually thought things might be getting better but… while we wait and wait and wait for the Canada Council and Canadian Heritage to dole out money to supposedly ‘a more diverse’ amount of art the talk of art making has switched to the discussion of who should be making art. This may or may not be a discussion that will have happy consequences; all I know is that it probably stems from a community’s desperation more than anything.

If you take food away from animals they starve or eat each other. It’s just what happens.

The Brontes and Elizabeth Gaskell brought international attention to the plight of northern people and the lives of those who worked and lived in the heart of the Industrial Revolution. They were northerners (Gaskell was born in London but lived for a time in the north, the sisters were Yorkshire rural), even today they are perceived as writers from a genre, or a time and a place. But they helped pave the way for Karl Marx and George Orwell. They are world famous now and beloved but their contribution is far more reaching. Books such as Jane Eyre and Mary Barton helped bring about a labour revolution – one that we are still fighting today. I mention these writers, these artists because I think it’s folly to think that art needs to have a time and place or be of somewhere or be popular. Art has no ‘dominion’ really – it just exists and sometimes in the unlikeliest places made by the unlikeliest people.  I have hope we return to these conversations at some point.

State of the Arts – a sacred space

Victoria Ward
Victoria Ward

I often tell people that my work is completed when a viewer experiences it and it’s this process that I find truly profound. This blog and my daily social media activity is part of this process – it’s the theatre geek in me – part story teller, part show off. I’m on a mission however to use it for good and not evil.

We are bombarded with imagery and information today and it is having an impact on our memories, perhaps changing us in ways that we as yet can’t comprehend. We are interpreting the world through technology in fragments; things like Tweets, videos and skype help with this fragmentation. As we evolve I believe that we try to tie these fragments together to make our own narratives. Our narratives are born from some ancient need to subscribe a story to our existence and give meaning to our emotions.

I think we seek to match feelings with image. The moment a moose comes into view in my backyard my pulse races. I once sat down in front of a Rembrandt portrait and I wept. Art sits inside this space. This intimacy between viewer and object/event is a sacred space. The virtual world however forces a kind of distance on us, making this space more of a netherworld than a sanctuary.

I think this distance is where, for better or worse our media has ensconced itself. This little space between the act of looking and what we are looking at and that the ‘what’ isn’t ‘real’ is where many narratives that undermine our search for meaning begin. We want to find solace in this space but sometimes we find that we become part of a hysterical collective, one that is brilliantly manipulated by those who have a superior understanding of how to use the technology.

Sinclair's The Jungle. Will we find today's 'Jungle' on social media? Perhaps.
Sinclair’s The Jungle. Will we find today’s ‘Jungle’ on social media? Perhaps.

In the book The Jungle by Upton Sinclair the main character Jurgis, who has suffered at the hands of early 20th century capitalism rivalling God’s interaction with the Bible’s Job, finds solace in reading the news paper. Yes, capitalism is in fact a worse judge than God. His English is poor but there are enough three word headlines, easy to understand captions and pictures to allow him to transport himself on Sunday away from his squalid and endlessly cruel existence to places all over the country. It is the only joy he finds in a world that has taken his love Ona, and their son away from him; both die from injuries sustained while working and living in Packingtown, the meat processing area of Chicago in 1906.

Jurgis’ reaction to the imagery and the media’s messages distract him but they also bring him pleasure. In researching what he might have been reading at that time I found that it could have been the Japanese Russian conflict, railroad and road building, the beginnings of nature conservation and the validation of several unions. America had a narrative and the media stoked it, shaped it and helped it along; it was a country being built upwards toward prosperity and exciting new things for everyone (well, that was the promise). It was generally good news and put his heart to rest about why he ever came to the hell hole of Chicago to begin with.

It’s what the media does best, using imagery to harness a story being told and many times this becomes a sharp treatise on our humanity or lack there of. Working online and stitching our narratives together through various platforms is endlessly filled with tensions regarding our ethics, our identities and our feelings of self worth. While artists are trained to put themselves into a target range, a person who is generally not used to public exposure can find the experience horrifying. Jurgis’ narrative was told to him, spelled out in ink and paper and he attached himself to it and survived by believing in it. Now people create their own narratives, and unless you are skilled at understanding this space of real/actual and/or manipulative processes you can easily get lost. Most artists I know can navigate this space as we are adaptive to the viewer/viewed relationship (whether we like the evolving ideas or not).

I can’t help but think of how someone like Jurgis who read the newspaper to find meaning for his suffering would navigate Facebook; the colliding narratives might reinforce the brutality and unfairness of his world. Or would it? I would like to think that there are still ways of using this space to empower, heal, help and celebrate who we are and that the Jurgis’ of this world stumble upon them. I have high hopes that they do.