What place does reality have in Art without leaving us all hopeless and fearful?

As an artist I have often taken the mantra ‘There are enough unpleasant things in this world without us creating more’ stolen from my favourite artist as a teenager, Pierre-Auguste Renoir. However, I have started to consider this view again – I still agree with this in many ways, but can we ignore the things that go on around us as if they do not affect us? What place does reality have in Art without leaving us all hopeless and fearful?

Reality 1: Housing;


I have started reading a book recently called A Child of the Jago about slums in the 1890s. It coincides with a William Hogarth exhibition that is starting at Tate Britain in November.

Hogarth is an artist who sold engravings and told stories from the situations he saw around him. He narrated through his art the lifestyles of a Harlot who gets a sexually transmitted disease, the impact of gin, a stock market crash in the 1700s and many moral situations he saw around him. I am looking forward to visiting the exhibition, especially at a time that has got me thinking about arts message and purpose in the world. Lets see if these historical ideas can inspire some new ideas...

I also recently discovered a sign on a building which was the logo for the London County Council (it can be found on the building for the Good Hope café in Ladywell fields.) This was around the 1890s when London was full of slums. The housing company the London County Council went against the grain of the time. Most were building dense buildings of properties for profit, whereas the LCC built not only affordable houses, but homes that were not crammed together to make as many people fit into one space for profit. (sound familiar?)

Housing now:

At this time my Church is trying to raise funds through the Ragged Project to help provide genuine affordable homes in London for those who otherwise would not have any housing. Do feel free to help fund raise for this venture which also like the LCC goes against the grain. www.thebear.tv We face a housing crisis in Great Britain that means rents are extortionate and property prices are too high. Buildings are going up with no regard for human dignity or safety. People are living in small, cramped living conditions, councils are placing whole families of sometimes six or seven people into one/two bed flats instead of houses. How can we create art that responds positively to these situations without just raising awareness? Do we raise money through art fundraisers for projects like the Ragged Project? Do we need a new modern day housing Hogarth painter? sculpture or designer?

This is a painting from an upcoming exhibition that I found when searching for artists responding to the housing crisis. I will definitely go and visit this: BUT will it help me to respond positively to the situation or just inform me? I will let you know.

The Poor Door is open to the public from 2-12 October at A-side B-side Gallery in Hackney Downs Studios

Reality 2: The positive reality:

For the many bad things that are going on around us, there are also so many positives – the unsung heroes no one sees – the carers visiting peoples homes everyday that no-one else will visit, the NHS, the ambulance drivers, the teachers having to help children, the social workers, the shop workers, the delivery drivers and last, but definitely not least, the families holding it together: loving each other and their children showing that despite everything else going on in the world there are many places of safety and love in the world. I would argue these are just as important for people to see in Artwork as the negatives: the injustices and the crimes.

The Happy Family by Eugenio Zampighi

This oil painting to the left is Caring hands

by Jane Allison who painted and worked at Camden Primary care trust.

There are lots of artists I have discovered that have responded to tragic events but how can our art respond to the situations around us? How can we help raise awareness, provoke action and encourage kindness, empathy, compassion and hope in our Artwork.

Reality 3:

Situations that demanded a response and artists that have responded positively:

Nikki Groom created this Vigil art piece in a way to provoke conversations around the murder of Sarah Everard: murdered by a former met police officer in the most horrendous of situations. An amazing positive proactive way to deal with an absolute tragedy.

Everyday in London I see or hear about good situations and unbelievably, unimaginable horrors. The latest being the murder of Sabina Nessa, a school teacher innocently walking to meet a friend in a local pub and she is found murdered the next day, we have yet to see Artwork in response to these but they will come.

Then there has been the George Floyd Murder by a police officer, the rising up of the black lives matter movement. This statue was created by Stanley Watts a beautiful bronze statue to help people remember to fight racial injustices.

"Hopefully when people walk by it and they see it…hopefully it inspires them to become active in the struggles that are happening right here in Newark and right here in New Jersey." Ras Baraka the mayor of Newark.

This mural by @Paint the Change’s is a response to Grenfell. The company @Paint the change have taken social justice to the heart of their art work.How inspiring!


Does art need to show us all reality? The truth of situations: the reality is important to document, explore and respond to. We need to show the negatives however I do believe it’s an artist place to provide a way forward, to offer something to the viewer other than the raw emotions of an event. Art needs to offer a way forward out of negative feelings - the despair, depression, fear and anger – it needs to give people solutions not just highlight problems. Artists need to create a way forward for people to see beyond the circumstances to the potential to change things, to help others as well as to hold hands with those who have suffered. How do we do that? We need to paint, draw, create models, write, photograph the good and the bad but showing a doorway to the other side of it. A chance to respond with positive action. I believe Art should lift your head up, maybe shock us but always provoke us to believe that there is a way forward together.

Reality is something we all need to face and deal with - the issues, the good things and the ugly. So let us as Artists and creators take the positive everyday goodness of life, and these fearful, dreadful situations and create hopeful artwork that lift people. Renoir wasn't wrong we do need to celebrate the beautiful things of life, and we don't need to re-create the unpleasant things again. HOWEVER we can not ignore them or pretend they are not there. We must find a way of bringing beauty out of the ashes of. these tragedies. Enabling people to soldier through their feelings and remind each other that there is a hope even in the darkness. Let's make art that shows this.

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