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Art in a time of madness

Part 1: The Creative

While around a fifth of the population are highly sensitive this proportion is much higher among creative types. Those who are 'highly sensitive' are more aware of their environment, perceptive about others, and have the ability to pick up on subtleties. To the highly sensitive person:

...the world may appear to be more colorful, dramatic, tragic, and beautiful. Sensitive people often pick up on the little things in the environment that others miss, see patterns where others see randomness, and find meaning and metaphor in the minutiae of everyday life... (Huff Post)

While in the arts it is a gift to see things more acutely it can also be a burden. A condition that can not be turned off and on at will. The American author Pearl S Buck had this to say about creatives:

“The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive.”

Watching the atrocities in Myanmar and the cruel and barbaric invasion of the Ukraine my sensitivity is in overdrive. I am appalled, saddened and feel helpless to affect positive change. I have a constant numbness that comes from thinking about the pain and suffering and an overwhelming desire to do something.

These feelings are both natural and unhelpful. My wallowing in self-pity from the other side of the world does little to ease the suffering of those of whom I am desperately concerned about. So, how can art or photography help? I see that there are three main ways:

  1. Documenting the issue or event - getting the 'story' out and thereby raising awareness

  2. Through raised awareness improving the conditions for those whom you are concerned about

  3. Providing distraction - demonstrating that there is good, there is beauty in the world.

The second point will be discussed in my next blog (Part 2: Doing Good).

Many of you will have seen the haunting video of a woman returning to her bombed out house in the Ukraine, sitting herself calmly at her piano and then playing a beautiful and haunting tune as the video moves throughout the house showing destroyed bedrooms, family spaces. The video has superimposed dignity and discipline over the top of mayhem and, to me, is powerfully symbolic - it is the strength of good and beauty in the face of evil and tyranny. The purpose of the video is to show the power of resistance; it is far more powerful than a video of her crying at her piano - it is a few minutes of defiance. It energises us to be strong too - given her situation if she can find grace and poise then surely that is the least, that those living in better conditions, can do.

The power of art, the burden of the creative, is to open our eyes to a situation and to inspire us to act.

But, it is also much more than that. Art, even in the darkest times, documents what it 'felt' like to live at a particular time. There are images from recent history that haunt us and allow us to empathise with a time or situation. For me, I can immediately conjure up images from the holocaust or the 'napalm girl' from the Vietnam war; images that remind us of the fragility of humanity.

It is a bit unfair that those who are more likely to be hypersensitive are also charged with recording and documenting the human experience but I am grateful for the strength and commitment of the artistic community. As the world tips even further into the age of disinformation the collective recording of how 'it feels' may truly be all that saves humanity.


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