In the online clamour after the Paris attacks - amidst the blooming of tricolour flags across the internet - I've read a whole spectrum of responses. These range from the ultra-violet of those who exhort calm and peace and love, through the stars and stripes of Trump's assertion that the victims would have been safe if they had carried guns, to the infra-red rage of 'kill the f***g b***s'.
Among the peace-inspired, a good many shared the clip of someone playing 'Imagine' on the street. Others have shared Martin Luther King's statement about Love and among the quotations I've read, some Facebook posts from fellow artists, where people say that in response to evil and atrocity they will go away and immerse themselves in making art. In shock and in the face of our own overwhelming impotence to change what is happening or to feel safe, making art is what we can do.
It's a good plan.
Except is it enough to say 'Well the world's a horrible place and people have died in blood and pain so off I go to paint the sea....or some bluebells..." ? Will it change anything? Isn't it somehow self-indulgent? And what difference would it make, if I tried to convey the horror which others lived through but which I only saw on a TV screen.
Yet here's the thing. I can't help remembering that our right to create (to make whatever art we feel impelled to make), was hard-won and paid for on pain and blood by those who over the centuries have given their lives to keep us free. I think of German Expressionist, Emil Nolde, considered degenerate by the Nazis and forbidden to paint, who continued to paint using only water colour because he could hide the paints, paper and brushes under his floorboards and because, if the Gestapo battered his door down, there would be no smell to give him away. (The painting shown above was I think made during WW2) I think of those who wrote in prison cells and who smuggled printing presses across borders.
Not painting in response to violence and terror, seems somehow more twee and more disrespectful to the brave. Apart from writing this, the best way I can honour those who were censored and persecuted and the only way I can show my gratitude to those who fought for freedom of expression, is - perhaps - to go off and paint whatever I'm impelled to paint... even if it's only the sea or a jar of bluebells.