Drawing in lockdown and beyond

Wildflowers in Shalford

Drawing practice has always been sustaining for me, but in recent months it has often felt like the most grounded, steadying and real thing I’ve been doing.

The reduction of stimulation which happened straight away on the implementation of lockdown restrictions made those things which were left feel very important. My sense of time changed, and what mattered to be done changed. It became easier to spend time scrutinising the structure of a flower, or watch the flight of an insect, and it also felt important in a way it hasn’t before. It has become very clear to me that people have relied on the arts and culture to occupy them and give their lives meaning, and as a teacher of arts it has re-affirmed my commitment to that. The value of culture and art to our society beyond simply the amount of money it brings in as a industry has become much clearer.

I know for some this time has been perceived as a reduction in opportunities. I’m very aware of having been lucky so far, having blessedly stayed well, and those around me have stayed well, and their jobs have been safe. People’s desire for the arts, for learning and for finding meaning has brought me new students, through online teaching. I’m really enjoying having students from Canada, America, Australia and elsewhere in the UK in my classes now. I can think and prepare demonstrations, make video recordings and have found ways to help me share their own images with me and each other for comment.

There’s a real sense in each class of choosing to focus on something with meaning and find ways to keep doing it, keep looking, keep seeing the beauty and keep sharing, no matter what obstacles lie in the way.

The Protestant Work Ethic…sigh.

I have to write about this as it has resurfaced in my mind as something to worry about. Am I lazy, or spending my energy in the right places? Am I at the top of the stress funnel, where as one feels increasingly pressurized, the temptation is to give up those things which seem less important but are actually those activities which are most nourishing?

It seems that the Protestant work ethic may be a descendant of the Calvinist idea of double predestination (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protestant_work_ethic):

‘..only those who were predestined (cf. the Calvinist concept of double predestination) to be saved would be saved.

Since it was impossible to know who was predestined, the notion developed that it might be possible to discern that a person was elect (predestined) by observing their way of life. Hard work and frugality, as well as social success and wealth, were thought to be two important consequences of being one of the elect.’

I don’t earn much, and never have. I’m an artist and a musician, which both involve a lot of play and what looks like daydreaming. Are these signs I am somehow not worthy and am already destined for the hot place when I die? As a person recovering from depression, I already have the ability to drive myself very hard, that being one of the characteristics of the condition: putting in tons of effort in the wrong way, with very little to show for it as a result. What actually resulted was a sometimes distressingly over-active brain, and a feeling that however hard I try it will never be enough. It stifled my creativity, squashed my joy, strangled my instruments. I have only recovered the ability to feel joy in a process of letting go of an idea about flogging myself being next to godliness (should that have a capital G?). My violin has begun to sing again, and I am slowly finding my voice (with a little help from some friends: https://youkesnall.wordpress.com/ http://www.godalmingsessions.org.uk/ – and there are others, you know who you are). It’s been strange to discover that as I try less, I am unfolding and expanding, and discovering that I can be so much more than I was when I tried so hard.

The incidence of depression is on the rise in our society. Feelings of failure are a large part of that. Show me a depressed person and I’ll show you someone who thinks they’ve failed to reach their potential, let everyone down, but could be more if only they tried a bit harder. Then something broke. How can we root out that idea that you are only worth while if you work hard and earn lots? David Cameron could change his words for a start. I’m absolutely sick of hearing him go on about rewarding hard working families. Can’t we create a society where people could earn the means to live comfortably and still actually have some time to cultivate friendships, music, and space for reflection? Or is the goal to have everyone beavering away in offices all the hours God sends, for not quite enough to cover the rising costs of rent/mortgage, bills, food, childcare…