On the Importance of Art

This will be my last post here for a while as our competition closes in two weeks and then it’s a busy reading period until the summer when we announce our longlist, shortlist and prize winners.
But today I’ve been thinking about not just why we write stories but some of the reasons we might feel what’s the point?

I’ve just come back from seeing The Human Body, by Lucy Kirkwood. I’ve loved her work previously, especially Chimerica which was utterly brilliant, but her latest ended up irritating me, the second act in particular. It’s always interesting to try and figure out why something jars or doesn’t land right, especially when you usually admire the writer, so I bought the script and read it and I will read it again. I’d thought at first it was because the slightly tragic but generic, sentimental love story took centre stage, away from the (to me more interesting) political theme (the founding of the NHS against a background of both apathy and antagonism, from doctors to housewives) and then, mulling on it later, I wondered if that was exactly her point and my frustration with the play was deliberately provoked. The focus on personal feelings/reactions/responsibilities drew attention away from a desperate need for reconstruction/equality/government and I was (rightly) annoyed by that.

Towards the end of the first Act, George Blythe, superbly played by Jack Davenport, tells Keeley Hawes’ Iris Elcock that she (and her earnest politics) are like broccoli; you may know it’s good for you but that doesn’t make you more inclined to eat it. He goes on to say it’s a problem with storytelling not policy, that she has to consider how to sell the party’s plans (the extra taxes to pay for health service etc) to a population weary of austerity. Then performs a compelling monologue that he doesn’t believe a word of.

There are so many parallels in this play with where we are at this precise moment in time, as not just the NHS but seemingly all our societal structures (transport, education, post office, housing etc) are buckling under the weight of underfunding, privatisation and poor management and I thought, as I stomped around Tate Britain’s brilliant Women In Revolt exhibition afterwards, how similar the process always is when huge change/revolution is coming. The self-proclaimed ‘ordinary’ women in the streets of Oxford, filmed for a documentary in 1970, didn’t hold much truck with the Women’s Liberation Movement, couldn’t see the point in it, except maybe, reluctantly, one of them admitted getting a bit more money for the same job a man does would be nice. The film didn’t make me angry with those women, they were my mother, aunt, granny. It made me understand (again) how hard it is to create change. Revolutionaries, visionaries, artists, intellectuals offer other possible ways to live and this doesn’t (can’t) take immediate effect because it’s too radical. But the hope is it starts a chain reaction, a spark that jumps from person to person and can’t be extinguished, and for that reason alone, the question of what’s the point is answered. All art (life?) is political, and it feels incredibly important right now, to keep producing our words, sounds, images, objects, whatever it is we make, in order not to succumb to an emotional numbness or moral exhaustion that so many disseminators of ‘news’ seek to create.

Stories make us think and feel. We don’t need a better reason to write than this.

We look forward to reading your words and thank you for sending them!