Amidst the raging dumpster fire that appears to be the state of our world at the moment, a sense of disconcerting calm snakes Edinburgh’s streets. It’s a feeling that Emily (my flatmate) and I noted particularly this morning as we sat on our Old Town doorstep, coffees in hand, watching the world decidedly not go by. Without plunging the art section too deeply into political commentary in my first tract as section editor, I do want to first acknowledge the level of privilege that our brief al fresco coffee drinking represents (us, two students, lucky enough to experience lockdown from a place of relative security). It is this very brand of privileged quiet that has bred the following self-indulgence.
Whilst it feels a little ridiculous to entertain the kind of wide-eyed blue-sky thinking that will form the backbone of this jumble sale of thought as a global crisis reddens, a brief respite from the ticker-tape is sometimes necessary.
It is my conviction that this period of limbo, then, offers the perfect opportunity to democratize our conception of art. Anybody with a self-proclaimed ‘personal style’ does this already, every day- the kind of superfluous expression that, hastily dismissed in peacetime, now emerges at the fore in an age where more institutional avenues of art consumption have indefinitely shut up shop. At risk of invoking tired cliché, I venture to suggest that ‘democratic art’ – that is to say, any means by which we laymen participate in the process of creating (getting dressed in the morning, rearranging bedroom furniture, making TikToks, etc.) – will fill the temporary void left by the tangible ‘art world’ in the coming weeks and months.
Allow me to punctuate my thinking with a projection- in a lockdown scenario, ‘shoes’ will increasingly fall from favour as the house slipper claims its rightful ascendancy (slipper being a catch-all term; sliders, socks, mules etc. are all welcome). Why? The slipper is the most democratic kind of shoe. The slipper is a shoe that everyone can participate in, whether you’ve places to be or not. The slipper, much like a secret ballot, represents human choice at its most authentic. At home you are free to furnish your feet entirely as you wish, devoid of public judgement/the suffocating pressure to don a pair of charmingly gamine yet totally overexposed Nike air force to parade in, sheep-like. The slipper represents a confident creative choice that is entirely the product of privacy. And that is democracy in art.
Lockdown, then, as a brand of enforced privacy, is a liberating agent in many ways. We must now exclusively privately create. Whether or not you choose to upload your papier-mâché bust to Instagram (and thus institutionalise it) or not is a side issue, but the very fact that you felt emboldened to make said bust implies a level of artistic assurance unseen in recent times. Ask yourself this: at this very locked-down moment, are you statistically more or less likely to visit a gallery and view Li Hongbo’s papier-mâché Bust of David, or make your own? Quod erat demonstratum, in slippers.
Image: Joré Dirgélaité, on instagram @jdfoto