François Matarasso – A Restless Art – A Time to Go Inward

It’s time to go inward man I hope I have the nerve

To take an inventory of the causes that I serve

Rodney Crowell

A Restless Art was published four years ago, in January 2019. It seems like another age. Since the pandemic arrived in 2020, the world has staggered like a drunk from one crisis to the next.

Actually, that’s just an image. Take any four years of world history and you’ll find a similar picture of instability. It’s true that climate change is an existential threat, but so too is nuclear power. Humanity is on a cliff edge, but not much closer than in 2019.

So why do I feel distanced from a book I wrote so recently, in which I invested so much care, and that I thought of as my last word on community art? Not because the world is in turmoil, though it is: because I am. And that turmoil makes me question much of what I thought and wrote just a few years ago. It’s not the world that’s changing, but how I see it. And how I see this restless art where I have spent my adult life.

The history and theory of community art I described in A Restless Art isn’t my main worry: it’s the practice I now doubt. At best, I think it’s served its time, and that time has passed. At worst, it has been suborned by the very power structures it emerged to challenge. Colonised and appropriated by neoliberal ideology, it can no longer empower, or even imagine better ways of living, because they have no value in that ideology.

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