How About This?

By Catheryne Kelly

We’re all creatives here. We know this not just because we know our readership, but because we know our readership is human (Unless you like to read .Cent articles to your cat, that is!) Artist Patrick Brill OBE, otherwise known by his pseudonym, Bob and Roberta Smith, is also a firm believer that anyone can be an artist. He’s now immortalised this belief in his soon-to-be released book, You are an Artist. In How about this? we explore that very question, which is asked throughout the book as a prompt for both inspiration and explanation. Brill’s literary work not only serves as a stimulus for aspiring artists but as a dynamic manifesto of his own work.

Doubtless you’ll recognise Bob and Roberta Smith’s artwork. His striking and evocative sign-like paintings far transcend the idea of art ‘speaking to the viewer.’ They have a complete conversation with us!

Often politically charged and sharply satirical, the likes of Smith’s work scream snappy and sometimes stinging statements such as; “Art Makes Children Powerful”, “Art is Your Human Right” and “All Schools Should Be Art Schools” which reflect the artist’s pursuit of campaigning for schools’ engagement in teaching the arts.

‘Folkestone is an Art School’ by Bob and Roberta Smith

One of Smith’s most riveting works is Letter to Michael Gove (2015). The text features a letter written by the artist on 25th July 2011 addressed Michael Gove, then Secretary of State for Education under the coalition government. Here Smith denounces Gove’s contentious project as Education Secretary; revamping the GCSE system and instating a new performance indicator in the UK called the English Baccalaureate (Ebacc). In short, the Ebacc gives less academic value to arts subjects, meaning that creative learning is not compulsory at GCSE level. Creative subjects such as art, dance and music are not recognised as core subjects and are portrayed as secondary in importance to to likes of maths and science.

During the 2015 general election campaign, Smith even attempted to unseat Gove in his Surrey Heath constituency. Although his attempt was unsuccessful, he not only demonstrated new and creative ways to campaign, but he also highlighted systemic flaws in our country’s approach to wholistic education. In 2015, he claimed “The social value of art in schools is that it gives you a way of shaping your world and your way of thinking.”

Bob and Roberta Smith’s passion for immersing our youth in art is instantly evident in his book. He maintains that we are all artists from the very start of our lives.

At the start of the book, he claims that art is a medium through which even pre-linguistic children can communicate. Communication between a parent and child through drawing has been identified by psychologists as an example of ‘joint attention’. This is where we “draw an attention to an object or concept in order to involve another person”. This type of interaction helps to cultivate language. Language fuels communication, which done effectively is the most important skill of all. You can see why Smith so ardently campaigns for better artistic education.

Questions such as ‘How about this?’ are integral in instances of ‘joint attention’.

‘How about this?’ is not only an innately recurring question in the minds of children, due to their instinctive imaginations, but it’s a question that artists and creatives must ask themselves continuously in the production of their craft. What’s more, the question can, and should, be found in the mouths of contemporary audiences of art. More recent movements in art strive to have a “dialogical” relationship with viewers, which permits them to effectively question and critique.

Now more than ever before, Art is much more conversational and exists within a “huge societal feedback loop” maintains Smith.

Ultimately, You are an Artist seeks to empower the creative voice within, challenging you to ask the question, ‘how about this?’ in your fabrication, reception and inspiration of all things art. You’re asked this question around forty times throughout the book. Alongside personal anecdotes, moments of humour and introspect, you’re prompted “How about this… Create a democratic painting” and “How about this… Make a self-defeating object.”

In asking so many questions, it is clear that the author wants a reply. It is also clear that Bob and Roberta Smith holds the almost democratic belief that in art, we all have something to say. Just like Smith’s sign-like artwork, this book communicates. It requires an answer, a conversation, a response.

This is where Smith steps in to show us how. We’re encouraged to try our hand at using a new language; the language of image. We’re taught how to communicate in a way undermined by the government’s educational system. This is where art becomes a political act.

Fundamentally, the book inspires you to push the limits of your comfort zone, to unleash a child-like inquisitiveness in your approach to making art, while reminding you to retain an element of adult skepticism. Smith says “Think of the world around you as not a series of events but a set of questions and provocations.” 

With that, the book is not only a source of inspiration for others. It is a most dynamic a manifesto of the artists own work. Only it is presented to us in the most humble way possible. It isn’t dictatorial or egocentric, but simply reflects the essence of who Patrick Brill is as an artist.

Just like Brill’s sloganeered art, this book is telling you to do something; to effect change in whatever way you can. Whether or not you follow his prescriptions is left to your discretion. The artist encourages you to break the rules, just as does in his own art. You’re free to challenge the book, to take it or leave it, reflecting the challenging affront of his paintings and the essence of activism entrenched in the soul of each.

Through showing you what artist you can be, Patrick Brill explains the kind of artist he is.

You are an Artist, published by Thames&Hudson, will be available to purchase from 13th August.

If you enjoyed How About This? then why not read A Spritz of the Zeitgeist, featuring a very culturally-grounded fragrance; the perfect for scent for our age.