ART – what is it good for?

Recently I went to an inspiring event – Jeremy Corbyn MP, former Labour Leader and his friend and comrade Len McClusky, recently retired General Secretary of Unite the Union, sharing the stage and their passion for politics and poetry. It was both fascinating and enlightening. They discussed how poetry had a profound lasting effect on them. The key takeaway from this event was the inevitable conclusion that the arts had the power to make people aware, influence thinking, provide comfort in times of need and make a difference.

Art and culture cannot resist the war… But, they give one strength to bear unbearable, not just to accept it, but to think it over and overcome it

Andrea Grille

A similar sentiment was expressed recently by Jake Burns, lead singer of legendary Irish protest punk band, Stiff Little Fingers. In between songs he captured our attention and went on to praise the youth of today; forming bands, playing genuine old school guitar and drums live music, with many gaining success and playing to massive audiences in huge venues. There was a but though… He questioned why when they have the ear of their followers and the perfect platform, they waste the opportunity by singing cliched songs about their sex and drugs and rock ’n’ roll, hotel living lifestyle. Why don’t they sing about something meaningful he said. Music has the power to raise awareness, challenge injustice, articulate rightful protest and again ultimately make a difference. 

A painting cannot stop a bullet, but it can stop the shooting hand

Sebastian Kerber

Let fury have the hour, anger can be power!

There’s a strong link to my next guest. Someone I regard as a personal mentor who influenced my thinking as a young man and continues to guide me, Joe Strummer of the Clash. Joe was no loud and snotty rocker, chasing groupies and swigging champagne, instead he was an articulate, sensitive, politically aware and passionate man who used his platform rightly – influencing generations of people. 

Like thousands of teenagers growing up in the ’70s, punk and The Clash changed my life in a fundamental way. Their mixture of politics and music shaped my beliefs and tastes and made me the person I am today


The Clash music and lyrics provided the youth with an empowering, yet unconventional education – from social issues in Britain to various political causes globally, I for one had never heard of the struggles of the Sandinista movement in Nicaragua in the1980s. Before the era of the internet, many people like myself, inspired by what we were listening to, went to libraries (remember them?) to find out more about these issues, suitably enlightened, many of us went on to read widely. 

For the very first time ever,
When they had a revolution in Nicaragua,
There was no interference from America
Human rights in America
Well the people fought the leader,
And up he flew…
With no Washington bullets what else could he do?

‘N’ if you can find an Afghan rebel
That the Moscow bullets missed
Ask him what he thinks of voting Communist…
…Ask the Dalai Lama in the hills of Tibet,
How many monks did the Chinese get?
In a war-torn swamp stop any mercenary,
‘N’ check the British bullets in his armoury

Washington Bullets’ – The Clash

Sadly Joe is no longer with us, he died in 2002 age only 50 years but his legacy lives on. Strummer was able to reach people through his music. With the power of words he moved people and changed things.

Ok so where’s this going? What point an I clumsily trying to make?  Well… like many others, I would love to see writers, designers, artists and musicians use their skills to say something honest and meaningful, to inspire change and not just provide graphic eye candy for shipping product or a painting to match the wallpaper. 

As creatives, we are sensitive and aware; reacting to the world around us, each in our own way – it doesn’t have to be on the scale of Guernica, there is no rule book. If the work it is an authentic expression and true to your values, it is, by its nature, a valid political statement. Go on say something.


When German soldiers used to come to my studio and look at my pictures of Guernica, they’d ask ‘Did you do this?’. And I’d say, ‘No, you did.’

Pablo Picasso