I’ve been involved in the visual arts for a long time now. First, through working at the – now largely demolished – Psalter Lane Art College site of Hallam University, and subsequently as a member of the board of trustees for S1 Artspace. I didn’t anticipate that working with physicists and astronomers would give me another, equally rewarding, chance to engage with artists and creativity.
Some years back, a colleague in the department sent an email round, asking if anyone else, like him, was doing creative things in their spare time. The result surprised us all. We’re now in our sixth year of holding an exhibition of work by staff and students – now from across the University – and each year people emerge from the shadows, often apologetically offering their work with disclaimers about being an amateur, a novice, not being sure if it’s good enough to be seen in public, but thrilled by the opportunity to take that chance. It’s an annual celebration of creativity.
It’s caused me to ponder on the gulf that often seems to yawn between the two art worlds that I am involved in. One is rooted in the art colleges’ and fine art departments’ contemporary practice, and ideas about that practice. The other is rooted in the individual discovery of the life enhancing and affirming value of creativity, with or without external validation or theoretical context. There’s no value judgement involved here, for me at any rate. But the two worlds communicate very poorly with one another. The contemporary artists often struggle to value work that has no theoretical context. The ‘amateurs’ struggle to comprehend work that requires that kind of context in order to be appreciated. Both are baffled, both lack the language to mediate their own work to the other.
I love both worlds. I’m fascinated and challenged by many contemporary artists whose work I’ve seen – many here in Sheffield at S1, Bloc or Site (Becky Bowley, James Price, Charlotte Morgan, Haroon Mirza, Richard Bartle, George Henry Longly, Jennifer West, Allie Carr, Nicolas Moulin, amongst many others). And I’m exhilarated and moved by the work that is presented to us each year, to go in display in a physics lab, by professors of physics, sociology or medieval French; researchers in electrical engineering, infection & immunity or cosmology; librarians and technicians, receptionists and administrators.
I’m awed by creativity, because I’m not capable of it myself. I envy those who are. I’ve tried – playing the guitar, writing poetry, sketching – but there’s some essential spark missing. That’s OK, this blog is my creative output now, and in connecting with artists, musicians and writers I can share in the magic. I believe utterly and passionately in the creative enterprise – Michel Butor said that ‘every word written is a victory against death’ and with Butor you know that he means not just words but sounds and images.
So this week we’ll be celebrating lots of victories.
The exhibition is open from Wednesday 16 to Friday 18 May, 10 am to 4 pm, in E32, Hicks Building, University of Sheffield, Hounsfield Road, Sheffield S3 7RH.