Why the Arts are Important to Me:  a Working-Class Perspective

Guest post on Artist Strong

By Lou Mycroft, Teacher Educator, Runner and Mum

My mom was a visual artist, although as she didn’t raise me, that was hardly an influence on my life. I have no technical skills – whatever – beyond nice handwriting and a sense of how colours can work well together. I am emotionally literate and ‘good with words’ and it’s taken me half a century to accept that this can be artistry too.

I felt the siren call of Art when I went to University and, daringly for a working-class girl, followed a History of Art elective. I was hopelessly out of place amongst the Pollys and Emilys but I gazed in awe each Monday morning on slides of Italian Renaissance glories I was never likely to see for real (this was long before the genesis of Easyjet). Nonetheless, it wasn’t a world where I could find any place to be; I left University without an honours degree and with a sense of exclusion from the visual Arts, which stayed with me for many years. Just one saving grace:  a trip to Manchester for a Pre-Raphaelite Art and Literature module left me standing in awe in front of Ford Madox Brown’s ‘Work;’ then, as now, a revelation: the most glorious image of the entire canvas a working-class girl in shabby red velvet, dominating the eye.

Manchester Art Gallery, Photo by Duncan on Flickr

Manchester Art Gallery, Photo by Duncan on Flickr

Aside from regular visits to Manchester Art Gallery to visit ‘Work,’ I indulged my identities as a young, bright, working class, North of England woman in music, film and fiction: Joy Division, Stone Roses, A Kind of Loving, A Taste of Honey, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning…all the working-class canon of the 1960s and the Northern indie music of now telling me it was right to be me. Throughout the 1980s and beyond, these points of reference strengthened me, holding out against ‘loadsamoney’ popular stereotypes and the cultural ideological deconstruction of working class pride.  I found myself conflicted by the portrayal of working-class life on TV; loving the explicit dignity of ‘Our Friends in the North,’ feeling protective of my class when I heard middle-class responses to ‘The Royle Family’ (I came to love its warmth and humanity over time).

I stayed out of art galleries as I raised my son, citing his love of theatre and film as reasons for my cultural choices, but still carrying round with me that sense of exclusion. Until Banksy.

Banksy changed the world for me.

I don’t care who he is or how much he earns or where he went to school. Banksy changed the world for me because I realised it didn’t matter that he probably wasn’t a working class hero. He made exciting, urban, aesthetically pleasing images, infused with a bitter, political humour which spoke to all of my identities. I fell in love with Love Rat and in doing so I finally let go of my self-protection.  Yes, there is a small world of visual (and other) approaches to Art, which seek to exclude me (and others), but there’s a much bigger world that doesn’t intend to do so at all; but which expects me to get over myself and find my own way in.

Photo by Snappa on Flickr

Banksy work, Photo by Snappa on Flickr

I have come to realise that it’s not up to anyone else to label the class that I am. If I choose to dance round the kitchen to loud Tchaikovsky as often as I do to Talking Heads, that’s up to me. Even if I do so under the influence of a glass or two of red wine, it doesn’t make me middle-class if I don’t want to be.

Art is about being yourself, finding yourself, challenging yourself; it’s about what’s real and right to you. What the artist intended may have nothing to do with the visceral, emotional response you have to their work, but that doesn’t make your response less real or right. Art makes you think and feel. And that’s what makes it important to me.

Thank you Lou for your wonderful explanation of Why Do the Arts Matter! Why Do The Arts Matter to you? Email: Carrie@ArtistStrong.com to help support and celebrate the arts by sharing your perspective.