Just recently there was an article expressing the disbelief that arts and culture had not been included as part of a UK-wide initiative to tackle health and well-being. It is unbelievable and yet at the same time it is obvious why they were omitted. Firstly some people don’t get it, they just don’t get how important art is (and I’m talking about art here not culture). Secondly, art is a personal thing – it’s only good for you if it’s something you enjoy, you like or you are prepared to be challenged by.
Unlike the performing arts, visual art (fine, history, photography etc) is strong in the curriculum. More young people, according to Rowntree’s are happy to take up art as a subject at a higher level than any other artform – music/dance/drama withering away in to the ‘can’t do’ pile by the time young folk get to 13/14 years of age.
Yet they feel more able to do art, as do adults: art they like and find more accessible.
So, what of Hockney – why does he matter. This is my personal account. He matters because he painted the place I was born and grew up in, as was he. He painted Saltaire, where school was, work was next door to the mill. My mother worked in the mill, I was in her belly and caught the rhythm of the looms – you’ll never fault my pulse in music. He captured a place.
He also gave it colour, or rather, he pulled the colour out of the darkness. The mill was sand-blasted at some point. It was a huge dark reminder of the end of the wool industry in Bradford til it was bought up and refurbed by Silver – a friend of Hockney’s. The colour was good, it brought back life and a positive feel, which the dark. grey world of post-industrial life needed.
Let’s not kid ourselves, poverty and hardship still exist under the nose of the mill. But would life be worse if the mill, Silver and Hockney didn’t collaborate to create change, or have they created a further divide between art and the working class.
Hockney himself was the son of radical working class parents, and I’d still like to believe that the place I grew up in still has that radicalism in its blood. The small world of Saltaire was a self-empowered place, where I met politicised, well-read people, practitioners of art and music alongside their daily work. Discussions, walks, visits to the cinema -activity a-plenty.
Yes there’s a pride I feel about Hockney, his work and his influence in the world, and that he chose to reflect on the place we lived in too. There’s also a pride I feel that art gives us something magical, as well as practical, that can’t always be captured by policy-makers. So paint the world how it feels, give it warmth and emotion, and if the civil servants and all those well-paid meetings people can’t feel art, then they can’t feel peoples’ lives either. Why does art matter? If you know, tell the policy makers.
I met David Hockney.