Why Make Art When the World is Burning?

August 6th, 2020

This pandemic is the golden age of memes

When the world is on fire and everything is going wrong, we make memes and share them on the internet. Memes aren’t high art, but they’re a great coping mechanism.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, memes have absolutely exploded. They’ve helped us gain a sense of levity about the situation.

The most recent one that has caught my eye popped up about 7 times in 24 hours early last week on my Facebook feed. Several artists I know who aren’t connected to each other shared the meme below. It shows the world on fire with a photo of Will Ferrell, representing artists, his hands cupped around his mouth, yelling, “ANYONE WANT TO BUY A PAINTING?”

Meme:
caption: THE WORLD RIGHT NOW - picture of a burning city
caption: ARTISTS: ANYONE WANT TO BUY A PAINTING? - comic actor Will Ferrell cupping his hands around his mouth, yelling.

Art imitates life, or life imitates art?

This pandemic underscores what many of the rest of us — mostly artists — have been aware of for a very long time:

  • Productively working from home is possible. Freelancers of all kinds have worked from home for decades.
  • Racial injustice has been a problem for generations, but it has been swept aside. Now we all see what “other people” have experienced for so long. (I think the pandemic has made the awareness of racial injustice all the more obvious.)
  • The choice between keeping a job and childcare is really hard, and it’s getting even harder now that schools are (sort of) reopening and working from home while managing your kids’ education is harder than it was before. How many artists do you know who try to squeeze in a little bit of work while the kids are napping?
  • The world is on fire, and everyone is trying to just make a living. Artists have always hustled to make a living despite everything that is going on in the world. People are scrambling to pay the bills, and artists are no different.

Billy Joel was right: the fire has been burning since the beginning

Billy Joel – We Didn’t Start the Fire (Official Video)

Artists will keep making art, no matter what happens. Art doesn’t get put on hold just because it is not considered “essential.” And often, artists keep making art because of what is happening. A lot of art is a direct response to what is happening in the world.

Why make art when the world is burning?

A couple of years ago I came across an article by Lee Camp, who cites a book called My Bright Abyss, where poet Christian Wiman deals with a cancer diagnosis, asking, “What is poetry’s role when the world is burning?”

The short version is that poetry, and all art-making, really, is part of what makes us human.

Art is essential to our humanity.

Creating is one of the ways we grapple with our world. It’s how we understand reality and parse it and make sense of it. We make paintings, we write books, we sing songs, we write poetry, we tell jokes, we share silly memes. We capture the world and transform it and express it and share it.

Sometimes we create things to escape the world, or to retreat into a place in our minds and hearts that is better than what we are currently facing, but it always comes back to our connection to the outside world.

Art keeps us connected to each other

Why make art? It keeps us connected. Photo: Abstract painting of gold and white interconnecting loops, showing how everything is connected.

Everything is Connected, 2016. acrylic on canvas, 8×8 inches. Buy here.

Art reminds us we are all connected. There’s a common thread between our various experiences and so many aspects of our society, from politics to religion to philosophy to history. Art touches all of those things, and by extension, all of us. When we look at art, we see that others have similar experiences. Sometimes the art is the experience. And when art is the shared experience, we have even more in common.

I can’t say it’s been easy to keep creating in this weird time

It’s been incredibly hard. My energy has been depleted more than once, and I’ve felt all the emotions (sometimes all at once.) But I think I really have no choice but to make art, especially since it is such a spiritual thing for me.

When the world is burning, art is absolutely necessary

I love how Lee Camp says that “precisely because the world is burning is there so much art to be done, so much poetry to be written and so many songs to sing.”

Art, as “inessential” as it is, becomes the most necessary thing there is.

I’ll close this with a quote from Toni Morrison:

This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.

I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge — even wisdom. Like art.

Finding Hope in a Frightening Pandemic by Making Art

April 27th, 2020

This pandemic is an odd combination of boredom and terror. It’s frightening, and we are all looking to find some hope in the middle of all this bad news. Thankfully I’m finding hope by making art.

If you’re lucky enough to still have a job, you’re frantically working on your laptop all day during the workweek, keeping one eye on the news. Weekends are depressing because you can’t go anywhere. You’re confined to your house. No going to the movies, no meeting friends for dinner or drinks. You don’t have the energy to read a book, and you’ve watched everything on Netflix. You finally found the mythical end of Instagram, and you just spent five hours watching crazy TikTok dances.

So you scroll Facebook, bored.

Pink and orange abstract painting created during COVID-19 lockdown

In that boredom amidst the memes and political arguments is an artist trying to calm himself down by putting paint on canvas.

I am that artist. Like you, I’m bored and scared, too.

That’s why I’m trying to brighten things up by inviting you into the studio for a while. Not to forget our cares, but to honor them, and to come to a sense of peace about what’s going on in the world.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I was sad, anxious, and scared.

Like a lot of people, I initially made a mental list of projects to work on, books to read, and so forth. My wife and I figured if we were going to be at home for two weeks (ha – it’ll be 6 weeks tomorrow!) we might as well tackle some of those projects we’ve been putting off for ages (nope, still haven’t done them), so we went to the hardware store to stock up on supplies.

The week before the lockdown was Spring Break, and since we didn’t have vacation plans, we had already stocked up on books for the kids to read. And the week before that, Nashville was hit by a severe tornado.

So everything was upside-down.

But after a few days of trying to adjust to the “new normal” of all five of us being at home 24/7, we got into a rhythm. We had our workspaces set up. We ordered new Kindles for the kids. We exercised every morning. We tried to deal with the weirdness of the whole experience by quickly setting some normal patterns.

Then my part-time graphic design job had to let me go since the economy tanked in a matter of weeks.

I was not prepared for the trauma that would come with all this.

I allowed myself to grieve.

But I numbed myself a bit by staying up too late watching Netflix and then sleeping in. My sleep cycle got messed up. (It is still messed up.)

I found my anxiety growing. When I get anxious, I work myself in to a frenzy and do lots of things without getting anything finished. Lots of puttering around and wondering what I actually did that day. I found myself getting depressed.

Finally, I got in the studio. I had been making a little bit of an effort to paint more, but I’ve now fallen into a rhythm of getting in the studio at least once a week. Saturday night seems to be when most people are online. They are bored, sad, and anxious.

Making art regularly helps me slow down and breathe.

When I paint, I tend to be frenetic, but I get the best results when I slow down. There’s a certain effect I like to achieve when I use the palette knife (or painting knife – I use the terms interchangeably) but it doesn’t work unless I slow down.

So when I drag paint onto the canvas with the knife, I stop and take a deep breath. As I exhale, I slowly drag the knife across the canvas. The paint rewards me by going on exactly how I want it to.

My audience calms down, too.

I suppose my mood is contagious. It makes sense: if I appear on screen all jacked up, it will spread to my audience and I’ll stress them out. If I’m calm, and bring a message of hope, whether through my words or my painting, it’ll calm down my audience, too.

I’m not Bob Ross, but as I paint live, I find myself coming around to some of the same hopeful themes he expressed on his show.

Nine times out of ten, the things I say are the things I need to hear, myself:

  • “You can’t appreciate the bright spots without the dark spots. The dark areas make the bright areas stand out more. Paint the bright areas on top of the dark areas and it’s more dramatic, more rewarding.”
  • “Slow down and breathe. Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.”
  • “Colors don’t exist in isolation. Every color is affected by the colors around it. Everything is affected by everything else.”
  • “I have to work all the way around the canvas, instead of only on one thing. I can’t get too focused on one spot and overdevelop it.”

In the process, I find hope.

Sometimes that hope gets buried. But it’s been in me all along. Often, I can’t see it, but it’s there. I just have to look for it. Sometimes I’ll go after it directly, or I take a lateral drift approach to find it. Hope always shows up. It’s there. Hope may be loud, or it may be quiet. But when I find it, it’s my job to share it. A sacred duty, as it were.

My Commitment to the Artist Support Pledge

April 21st, 2020

Like many other artists, I’ve found myself in a tight spot due to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic downturn. It might sound like malarkey, but I believe the only way to get through this is together.

As you may know, my part-time graphic design job with a coffee shop franchise had to let me go because they didn’t have cash coming in — they had to close dining rooms due to safer-at-home measures. Cash is oxygen for a business. Families, too!

A few weeks ago when this whole situation began I started seeing these red squares on Instagram, with #artistsupportpledge on them. I saw something about £200 which doesn’t mean much to me since I’m American, so I kind of ignored it for a while.

But I have seen it a few more times since, and realized that the way this works is for every $1,000 an artist makes, they turn around and spend $200 on another artist’s work. And they price their own work at $200.

The point is to sell small works at a low price point and turn around and buy other artist’s work in the same fashion.

That way we can all support each other. It’s a win for everybody. People buying art win because it’s inexpensive artwork, and artists win because it’s a sale, and other artists win because it’s a sale for them, too. I don’t believe in artists competing with each other, so let’s all help each other out.

So, I am committing to the Artist Support Pledge now.

For the foreseeable future, I am committing to selling $200 artworks, and for every $1,000 I make, I am going to buy a $200 piece of art. I would love to build a really cool collection of other artist’s art in my home! (I have plenty of my own art! 🤣) Just check out my Instagram.

This crisis is the perfect time to practice generosity.

When things aren’t going perfectly is the perfect time to practice generosity. It takes the focus off yourself and puts it on those around you. It’s not that you have it better than somebody else, because we are all suffering. It’s about helping your fellow artists (and ultimately, your fellow humans.)

Let generosity be infectious.

If you want to know more about the pledge, visit the FAQ page on Matthew Burrow’s site.

View this post on Instagram

This is the HOW TO guide to participate in ARTIST SUPPORT PLEDGE anyone anywhere in the world can take part. 1. post your image/s on your Instagram account 2. If possible use the ARTIST SUPPORT PLEDGE logo and text (swipe to see) by reposting or using a screenshot. You can also cut and paste from my website (see link in bio). 3. give details of the work and price (no more than 200USD, 200GDP, 200 EURO or 20000JPY) 4. ask for anyone interested to DM you 5. add #artistsupportpledge NB/ we Do not select work to be seen. You may not see your own work as there are so many images but others are seeing them. 6. follow the # 7. when you have sold $1000 worth of work fulfil the pledge and spend $200 on another artist/s work. 8. If in doubt do it in a spirit of generosity, that’s all that matters A creative generosity creates a generous creativity 9. Stay connected for more opportunities by following @artistsupportpledge Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many artists around the world have found themselves without work, teaching, technical support, gallery work, exhibitions and sales have disappeared. In an attempt to help alleviate some of this stress @matthewburrowsstudio has instigated the #artistsupportpledge The concept is a simple one. You post images of your work to sell for no more than $200 (£200, €200, ¥20000) each (not including shipping.) Anyone can then buy the work. Every time you reach $1000 of sales you pledge to buy another artist’s work for $200. So make a pledge and post your work with the #artistsupportpledge and follow the #. keep updated on news and further opportunities @artistsupportpledge Repost and tell your friends, colleagues and collectors. Stay well and live generously. #supportartists #covid19 #coronavirus #livegenerously #artistsupportpledge artistsupportpledge

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