Poetic license

There was a lovely article in today’s Guardian about reducing our noise footprint on the world. Consider the silence of the last month my contribution to that…

There have been dozens of highlights over the last few weeks – gift after gift after gift. I need some distance to be able to articulate them, but as I sift through scribbled notes and half remembered quotes in my notebook today (my last day in the uk), I keep coming back to one page. It’s some words I wrote down from the Francis Alys exhibition at the Tate Modern. They were written on the wall – an exploration of the poetic and the political.

Society allows (and maybe expects) the artist – unlike the journalist, the scientist, the scholar, or the activist – to issue a statement without any demonstration: this is what we call “poetic license”.

This condition leads to a number of questions:

– can an artistic intervention truly bring about an unforeseen way of thinking, or is it more a matter of crating a sensation of meaninglessness that shows the absurdity of the situation?

– can an artistic intervention translate social tensions into narratives that in turn intervene in the imaginary landscape of a place?

– can an absurd act provoke a transgression that makes you abandon the standard assumptions of the sources of conflict?

– can those kind of artistic acts bring about the possibility of change?

– how can art remain politically significant without a doctrinal standpoint or aspiring to become social activism.

I think I’ve been anxious over the last few years that what we do is somehow indulgent. I’m going home realising it might actually be essential. If we have the capacity to be poetic, then we also have an imperative to do so. This is why we must be evocative, to imagine new worlds that have no words to describe them, no theology that yet surrounds them…

It’s a good thought to fill 24 hours on a plane flight. I’ll be home in two days. See you on the other side.


  1. Cheryl that is a really inspiring and thought provoking quote. Almost a manifesto in questions! Thanks for publicising it.

  2. Ric Stott

    Was great to see you guys in Leeds the other week.

    These are stunning questions – getting right to the heart of the potential for art to transform people and communities. I will give them some thought in the context of my own creative work in Sheffield.

    I understand the anxiety about the question of whether this is an indulgence. For what its worth I have come to see art making as an essential aspect of our humanity – vital to our mental and spiritual health – denying that aspect of ourselves does violence to our souls.

    Every blessing,


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