Last week we worked with a group of young people on a Totem Pole initiated by Blueberry Academy learners in sessions guided by New Visuality. The 3 sessions were funded by Two Ridings Foundation Community’s ‘Art for Change’ programme. The Totem Pole, decided after much listening to each others’ opinions, was a testament to aspirations and confidence, and included icons and slogans generated in group discussion. The Pole itself is available for sale from According to McGee until 01/09/17.
Estelle says she was struck by the vibe of empathy inherent in the work. “It reminded me of Vincent Van Gogh’s painting, ‘Old man in Sorrow’. The piece is famous for being depressing as viewers are forced to focus on the sadness that this man expresses. The way that he covers his face to disguise himself makes it easy for audiences to be able to relate to similar situations in which they too have looked like this. For this particular piece, it works for audiences to be empathetic and feel the same sorrow of this man. However, not all art is like this. Not all paintings are sad, Monet’s many pieces on water lilies use a mix of beautiful and calming colours, making audiences feel serene and at rest with oneself.”
Estelle is keen to stress the Pop Art nature of the item is just as much art as the heavier aspects. “Many other forms of art do this too. For instance, pop songs are now considered an art form by many. Classical music composed by famous musicians such as Mozart and Beethoven is deemed as classic music and therefore art, so why can’t modern songs in pop culture be art too? If this type of music has the same effect on people as songs in pop culture do, then why shouldn’t it be considered art? The corny lyrics of Mika’s song, ‘Grace Kelly’ are undoubtedly uplifting, it makes you want to tap your foot and sing along, yet this isn’t believed to even be close to “art”. People could be stubborn, unwilling to change their perceptions on what they want art to be, and therefore refuse to accept what new forms of art would actually look like.
Other songs such as, ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ by Oasis have now almost become a national treasure in the United Kingdom. Many videos of crowds chanting the lyrics have become viral on the internet, including crowds from football matches to concerts and festivals, this song without a doubt brings all types of people together happily. It’s almost as if that if you haven’t heard the song or don’t know the lyrics, you’re in a minority of people.”
Warming to her theme, Estelle switches the playlist on the current Spotify account to make her point. Mika’s melodious idiosyncrasies flutter forth. “Songs dubbed as ‘cheesy’ are now expected to be ‘guilty pleasures’, almost suggesting that listening to these songs un-ironically would be embarrassing and humiliating. But if these songs make us happy, why should we be ashamed of them? If the bouncy and fast paced lyrics of ‘Living la Vida Loca’ make you want to dance stupidly like a young child at a disco, then you should be able to do that and enjoy it, not worry about opinions of others.
For some, positivity in art could mean sticking to the conventions of a traditional drawing or an elegant touch of a piano, but for others it could mean singing at the top of your lungs to a corny hip-hop song. Either way, it shouldn’t matter which type you prefer, because neither should be diminished by the other.”
New Visuality curator Courtney Smith agrees and shares her thoughts, “Creative projects can also be a great way to work as a group. Having a cohesive group can bring people together more, for example, shy team members would be encouraged to gain more confidence through working as a unit. This can be compared to the way that music brings people together too, as artistic projects and ideas that require groups can also have similar effects on people as songs do. Working in a team could be argued to be better than working alone due to the fact there are more people around you to help with ideas and contribute to the final piece of work, in addition it allows you to learn skills from other people and see how they would adapt to a situation differently than you. A sense of teamwork can also be achieved once the task has been completed as team members can feel proud at what they have created together. During the task, ideas that are put forward can also be built upon by other team members to encourage a combined effort and improve the work together.
On the contrary, working independently can also have considerable impacts for individuals as it allows them to build upon themselves and take control of the situation, for some it may even be more comfortable to work alone rather than in a team. Working independently can be great due to having more self-control in certain circumstances. It can allow individuals to boost many skills, for example confidence, due to how you may have to present your ideas in front of large groups of people. If you have frequently lacked motivation when it comes to undertaking responsibility, then working freely could be difficult for you. Resilience is a key skill that has to be used when working on your own as you will not have other team members to simply do your work if you become tired of it, therefore you cannot give up otherwise the project would fail too.”
Estelle Bradshaw and Courtney Smith are New Visuality curators
The Totem Pole sessions were funded by Two Ridings Foundation Community’s ‘Art for Change’ programme.