Art to Get Us Out of this Mess.

Where are we going? photo N.Bateson

What I am witnessing around the world right now is a desire and simultaneous resistance to new ways of thinking, of seeing, and of imagining a change in the way we live, learn and make sense of our world.

For me, this means we need more art. All forms of art, in all parts of our lives. Art is not luxury, it is the probiotic ecology in the digestion of what is “now” into what will “be”. This is not an essay of 100 pages, and it certainly could be, it is just a quick touch upon my itch for loosening the knot around art. The art world can be exclusive, so let me be clear, this is not about the art world, it is about the world with art in it.
My work has always had a foot in theory, a foot in science, a foot in communication and foot in art. I think I might be a giraffe on roller-skates. I am kidding of course. But the point is that I see art as a way to engage epistemological shift, and to experience understandings in ways that are indirect, multi contextual, and multi textured. It takes complexity to perceive complexity. It takes many voices, many forms of expression, many ways of receiving. To “be” in new ways requires playing with our frames of perception, and loosening the grip that prevents the blurring between intellect and emotion.
In the Moderna Museum, Stockholm

Art gives us an entry into developing and exploring sensitivities we have not habituated into our mechanistic thinking. Art is an entrance into the liminal space, and a warm bath of expressing that which cannot be said in logical terms. I am curious in this moment about what we consider rational, and how that rationality rationalises all the destructive and false separations in our descriptions of the world. The possibility for possibilities as yet unseen, lies in that which has not been claimed by the rationale of our world. Change, is going to feel non-rational… trans-rational… and will come, at least in part, from art.

Painting By Ray Gwyn Smith


To play with our perception and expression is to find new forms, new forms that inform in new ways. There is no existing language for the changes ahead, and try though we may to tame this unknown territory into fitting into known description, we will fail. Procrustes, the old Greek gatekeeper, had an iron bed he measured all visitors to Athens upon. If they did not fit in the bed, he made them fit. He trimmed them here and there, stretched them when needed. His job was to commit horridly violent conforming manipulations to make the unusual into the predictable.

In the Canterbury Cathedral
We do not need an iron bed to homogenise perception though, we have language and money and culture to measure against. Breaking though is not a gradual process, it is sudden and sensory. The boundaries of our understandings are strung between cognitions, intuitions, premonitions, superstitions…
Think about all the ways in which African American life in the inner cities of the US was un-expressible through white academic English.The experience would not fit in that mode of expression– until Rap gave it a form in which to be communicated. So too, so much of the interdependency that gives us life, gives our biosphere life, is un-expressible in existing terminologies.
We need art. We need the slow-truth that long-honed skill together with accidental connectivity and the very intimate perceptions of an individual can render. In a post-fact, post-trust world… it is the honesty of multiple ways of knowing that will hold water. Facts that live in contexts of relation are not merely facts alone. They need their bits, the parts that hang off the bed, the too short, too long inconvenient complexities. They need more room to be contemplated. “Real time” and big data will only ever offer fragmented information without this necessary element of qualitative time, sensory exploration of many contexts, and multi-textured expression. It takes art to feel complexity.
We make art, art makes itself through us. It waits.
But art is not necessarily benevolent.
It can be used toward fascism. It has been. Do not underestimate the shifting ground in the invisible worlds that art enters. We make art, and art makes itself through us. It waits, like Michelangelo’s David, who stood inside the marble for a million years before the artist let him out. We need art now to get us out of this ruthless, truthless stuckness.

4 thoughts on “Art to Get Us Out of this Mess.

  1. Dear Nora

    I’m always excited to read your blog and am stimulated by your thoughts. Thank you.

    I loved the recent Caravaggio exhibition, and the earlier Lucian Freud. But I find myself studying and admiring each picture for its technique and what it says about the period in which it was written. An exception was when Len Goodstein (then president of the American Psychological Association) likened me to a Vermeer, and I knew what he meant. But I think I am missing a trick because I am not seeing pictures in the way you are – that is, how we can make use of them with others to address the world’s dysfunction. That may be a lack of imagination on my part, and may be a fear that the kind of people who I deal with would balk at the very prospect, so I wouldn’t try.

    Did you see Pankaj Mishra’s long-read article in the Guardian titled ‘Welcome to the age of Anger’ (08 December 2016)? It made very powerful reading, to the point where I cannot see how those with whom I disagree as being anti-rational would be amenable to art. I’m not (yet) seeing how art gets us out of this ruthless, truthless stuckness. But my faith in you and your art remains undimmed. I would start with simple kindness: it would have cost Theresa May little to have conceded The Lords amendments and demonstrated humanity, flexibility, bridge-building and consensus. We don’t need ruthless winning at all costs and being rude about those opposing us. She is on the path to hubris.

    I went to see Chaim Stephenson’s sculpture exhibition in St Martin’s in the Fields. One piece is Abraham preparing to sacrifice Isaac to prove his compliance with God’s instructions. Personally, I’m not sure about the message and the role model! But I can see how the numerous paintings about this subject (not in the exhibition) could be used to introduce a discussion on the pros and cons of compliance, loyalty, faith, trust, obedience etc. But in your blog I think you are attaching a much greater significance to art. I don’t think I’m quite getting it!

    With love


    Dr William Tate, DProf., MA, FRSA, FCIPD, MCMI

    Director, The Institute for Systemic Leadership

    Author of The Search for Leadership: An Organisational Perspective.

    Tel 01252 792322


    1. Dear Bill,
      The way we perceive and experience art allows us to perceive in new ways. So, seeing a new solution to a problem, or even perceiving a situation can be utterly altered by seeing different relationships. The artist explores the relationships and conveys them, be they musical, or architechtural, painting, sculpture, poetry… art has room for multiple meanings, it is an invitation to see something in a way you have not before. Or, perhaps art is reflecting back to us the edges of our epistemological frame. We see new relational perspectives, and in turn that shifts other observations. with love nora


  2. When we will see art in our complexity we will be able to shift perspectives. Or when we can shift perspectives life will be art-making…


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