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Art - Essential or Not?

There has been a lot of backlash over the last week following the publishing of an article by the Singapore’s The Sunday Times, which announced, after a survey of 1000 people, that artists are the most nonessential workers, even beating cold callers to the position during a time of crisis.

I felt it right to write a bit in reply to this, but to stop myself rambling, ranting and raving, there will be links to more information about the points I’m making if you want to read further.

First off I’d like to say hi, how are you? Where are you right now, a building, outside, in a vehicle? Are you sitting comfortably? Whether that’s on a sofa, at your desk, in the back of a car (please don’t be driving), or on public transport of some kind. What’s the thing you’re sat on like? Now how about your clothes? Are you wearing trousers, a skirt, a dress? What material are they made out of, what colour are they? Now how are you reading this? On a phone, a laptop? Through an app or a webpage?

Everything you are touching, wearing, and using, was made by an artist. Architects, landscape architects, product designers, textile designers, fashion designers, UX design, graphic designers… in fact as you can see from the student art guide, there are over 150 different kinds of artists. (

The article itself even had to employ an artist to illustrate the article and ultimately their own dispensable and insignificant role… Spare a thought for the poor sod who got given that project!

Thankfully the world beyond the survey could not have disagreed with their findings more as you’ll find from the backlash the article has been having, as many rushed to the defense of writers, actors, fine artists, designers, dancers, musicians, composers, amongst the innumerable creatives that contribute to the world as we know it.

I feel, like many, that artists have become fundamental to surviving a crisis. What have we fallen back on during lockdown? Books, Netflix and other streaming sites with TV box sets, movies, documentaries, alongside the rise in people taking up hobbies such as photography, painting, and drawing, not least of all including music, how on earth would we keep sane without music?

We value music, literature, visual art, theatre, film, the arts are how we explore society and relationships, keep entertained and ultimately, the arts bring us together.

I am not diminishing the importance of our front-line workers, my mum is one after all! But we owe so much to the arts, to music and creativity. Artists are the makers and creators, they are the people that answer the question no-one realised they were asking, they connect the dots that aren’t next to each other… Without creative thinking we would have no progress.

We live in a world where we are surrounded by fusion of science, technology and art.

As you know from my work and some of my previous writing, I believe collaboration between the arts and the sciences to be crucial in a better understanding of both. Take for instance the artist-anatomists of the Renaissance. Knowledge of anatomy and therefore medicine and surgery would never have gotten to where it is today without artists.

Nonetheless, the contemporary medical world is more closely linked to art than you might imagine as I have found from my own experiences that most surgeons and medical practitioners usually paint, draw or sculpt alongside their medical practice. In 2007 the Royal College of Surgeons of London ran a course, ‘Drawing for Surgeons’ directed at ‘improving the observational and recording skills of surgeons. [Learning] how to observe and record accurately through drawing’. And is described as being crucial lifelong training.

The sciences need art to progress, to push boundaries. I agree wholeheartedly with Dr. John Semple when he stated ‘creativity is really a critical element of how human beings advance in all our disciplines. Where medicine and science need help from art is in looking over the horizon, in looking at something in a completely different way. Thinking as an artist means connecting the dots that aren’t next to each other’ (Martin 2012). This way of perceiving life, on thinking outside of the box, is something that to an extent can be taught and nurtured.

And I cannot end this post without including the rise in artistic practices for mindfulness and therapy. As in the book by Alain De Botton and John Armstrong, Art as Therapy, Art has the capability to notice and appreciate the small things that surround us in our day to day lives. It has the ability to preserve emotions and so aids memory. It exposes us to new things, which we view, experience, reflect on, and ultimately through this process grow as a person. Art can move us to tears, it encourages us to hope for the same things for ourselves. While art can increase our capability for joy, it also provides alternative ways of viewing our own personal sorrow, opening up new pathways for dealing with it.

These are five of De Botton and Armstrong’s seven functions of art, and the reason I separate the next two from the rest is because in my opinion they’re the most important. Art helps us to re-balance. Art creates those crucial moments where we allow ourselves to take a moment and observe, think critically, reflect and evaluate, to appreciate and communicate things we wouldn’t otherwise notice.

And lastly, art allows for greater self-understanding. In a world where we are constantly online, promoting ourselves through Instagram, facebook, youtube etc. It is important to remember who you are. Art is all about reflection, introspection, and awareness of society and how we fit into it. Artists are social creators, and truth seekers.

We are all artists, we use art as a tool and as a way to meditate. But we also depend on artists for creativity and progress in art, technology and science, artists are behind the clothes you wear, the houses you live in, the furniture you sit on, the music you listen to, the adverts, programs and movies you watch, they leave a piece of themselves behind with you in the art you choose to put on your walls. Art is everywhere, art is necessary to the functioning of society, art is crucial to the mental health of everyone…

Artists are Essential.

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