The Art of Distinction

 In any city there are the hidden, there are the ones that sit in the blackest of nights, the coldest of winds, and gather at the fringes of daylight. There are those that many would rather not name or wish to shake loose from the pages of a city’s reputation and the fine binds of society.

You can identify these folks by the wide berths of space surrounding them in the common street, by the odd stares that fly their way and by the cruel crackles and harsh voices that follow in their wake. Pitted in the streets of an everyday town, on a perfectly regular day you can view humanity at its cruellest; when anger is no way dignified and develops into unnecessary degradation, enabling the perpetrators to play on the age-old desire of people: to be the powerful. It has gone so far that some simply to reinstate themselves stroke their egos and feel good will prey on the very weakest.

Our survival instincts have been so warped by our environment that they have become malleable tools of ideology, sustainability and enablers of control over the established status quo. We have been taught to shame those outside of what we consider ‘normal,’ where reputation has become a way of survival, something to preen to upkeep our established hierarchies.

The most basic of these instincts is self-preservation; the fight or flight instinct. This is the source leading is to side-step the drunken ramblings of the man on the street, or cross the road at the woman wandering and murmuring that we are therefore quick to judge insane. This is not to say the instinct is invalid; we must be aware of our surroundings and we must keep our wits in order to protect ourselves from other people; danger does exist. But many of these people are harmless, are lost and our vulnerable themselves and yet still we feel the need to turn away. What is worse is that in many cases it is not out of fear, but out of humiliation, and our embarrassment to in any way be associated to what we in our heads, and what we in society label ‘undesirable.’

We shame anything that exists outside of our comfort zone, anything that does not fit into the inner circle of contentment and niceness. We are raised in guidelines that teach us what to want, what to aim for and what to be. Any disfigurement of a sense; whether physical, mental, social or economic; any portrayal of something less is seen as something weaker and as a failure. By instinct and what that word means in the contemporary human, we are programmed to shun it and to avoid it without even feeling guilty about the consequences of that action, or recognising its primal harshness.

There are many reasons for it. It is far easier to condemn somebody for their behaviour and to judge them. For example reading this you may easily nod along to the idea that you have seen somebody act this way, but will find it harder to acknowledge yourself as also a part of this group. But we all are, we are all guilty and we all feel shame.

A lot of it can be governed by the society we live in, and the fact that we all like to fit in, we need to be a part of a group that is a key need of the human as identified is Maslow’s Hierarchy of need.

These groups are established all around us; it is how we engage with the world, in the texts that we read and in the people all around us that we learn from. Fowler describes this process as the Us and Them Divide. The majority is defined by those living in the norms of society and the ‘Them’ is anybody who rejects or does not meet this criteria. The criteria as we may term it are the set of rules and codes we set ourselves by. For Fairclough, he believes people learn these codes through the processes of Naturalisation; that a majority of people accept these rules and their own personal values and beliefs, and Neutralisation; e.g. accepting these values as their own ideas instead of considering them as manifestations of a particular ideology. These ideas very much prescribe to the Marxist idea of a ruling class who breeds these ideas that then a majority are persuaded into adopting as their own.

These ideas can very much explain the behaviours that dominate our society and the treatment and discriminations we have when it comes to encountering people on the Streets. We instantly view them as lesser and so go out of our way to avoid them. What are worse than people seeking to go out of their way to walk away from these individuals are those that seek to insult and harm because they believe they have a right. It is this unnecessary cruelty that has stemmed from the indifference we all practice in regards to the matter of classification. These people in subscribing to westernised ideological beliefs have the indignation to believe in their self-right and purpose, they slam these people they consider to be the lowest of the low to establish their power and reinforce their position. What they feel to realise is that in many instances no one has earned their position, they are no better than many of the people on the street; circumstance has just made them luckier. But for many the idea that this is all that lies between them and a homeless person is too shaky. They seek to put as much distance between themselves and that idea as possible; often using the brute force and stupidity of violence and name calling. Fear is the strongest motivation that exists, but it also the most ignorant and naive. Fear is the fuel of the fool.

From fear, contempt is born. From contempt the path of change does not stem. Instead it is just another person subscribing to the same patterns that we always have, it does not alter the situation merely the people in control, and ultimately the same status quo is set into play and the same mistakes repeat themselves. And the one who begun with discontent and anger and want for change will transform into the object that they so hated.

This is where we use violence to counteract other violence, meet anger with anger. It is a pointless revolt, one that does not aim to understand reason, to embrace humanity and use exploration of the mind and the workings of people to change the systems around us and get new answers. By learning to recognise things within ourselves we can learn to empathise and then using this self-awareness we can set about changing things properly, putting solutions in place that will make that change last and make it worthwhile.

This is why I believe in the arts. Art is broad spectrum of a word that entails many different mediums and discourses. I myself a writer, however to some degree follow the same practices of those working within the visual culture; what we create is always a process of self-exploration, or the exploration of some particular topic. It has no specific question but it is engaged with active human interest and its driving principle is the search for understanding and observation. The final product may offer solution but it represents a more truthful outlook than many sources that the human encounters on a daily basis.

Art does exist in some boundaries of prejudice, after all it is created from the viewpoint of the individual, but they as human themselves are surely the most reliable account. Art is an institution onto itself, outside of limitations and of taboos; it stands quite separate in most free-flowing forms from economic, social and political influence. Instead it aims to look at how these areas affect the human; it aims to comment rather than to persuade.

But what more is to aspire to in the Arts is that it is without distinction; anybody is able to sit down and create and turn an idea into the physical. It is there to be enjoyed by all and to unify in ways that many other areas of our society cannot.

Art searches the depth of humanity without shyness, but still within the boundaries of human mind from that is whence it came. It does not shy from the cruelty of the world, and it studies it from the most important level; everyday life. It seeks to demonstrate the invisibility of our behaviour and shows the blind spots that all live within us.

The things I have written in this article I am not exempt from, I am just as guilty as most of these actions that I have listed and it was only in recognising some behaviours within me that I began to question.

All artists will enjoy the delusions as grandeur, as we do in many aspects of humanity, we like to romanticise the things that we do; whether to make it more acceptable, more pleasurable or because it gives us a deeper sense of satisfaction. Not all art is created to state a clear message; it is not always made to change things, or to show us the great crimes of this cruel harsh world that we live in. In fact often it has to be admired for not criticising the world but showing us the beauty of it, that our eyes have become accustomed to seeing only as the background.

Art is a very selfish practice, formed as force of self-indulgence on the creator’s behalf. This is why I want to write about it, because it is honest. Art presents us to us many viewpoints, many truths and many realities; this is the most realistic version of reality we can ever hope to attain. The fact that is driven by selfish exploration also makes it accurate, it is a born on a foundation of understanding at the most basic level: the human, the individual.

It is here that we can learn the most. And it is from the eyes of a compassionate artist that can accept themselves, that an audience and consequently a world; or at least enough of it can too in a piece of work gain glimpse enough of this viewpoint that real changes can be born.

Artist Jessie Whitehead: Image commenting on the oppression of women by the cock..
Artist Jessie Whitehead: Image commenting on the oppression of women by the cock..
Artist Jessie Whitehead: exploring the influence of space and the way in which it effects our life.
Artist Jessie Whitehead: exploring the influence of space and the way in which it effects our life.
Artist Jessie Whitehead: The myths and legends of our age and the role that has been cast onto women in their place.
Artist Jessie Whitehead: The myths and legends of our age and the role that has been cast onto women in their place.
Artist Jessie Whitehead: detailed imagery of selected buildings from around Norwich.
Artist Jessie Whitehead: detailed imagery of selected buildings from around Norwich.
Artist Jessie Whitehead: exploring the concepts of gender and erotica and their representation within visual culture.
Artist Jessie Whitehead: exploring the concepts of gender and erotica and their representation within visual culture.
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