The Kindness of Strangers

A few days ago I made a comment on Facebook that went viral. To be fair, perhaps it was more under the weather than viral, but certainly the most popular post I’ve ever written. I’d love to say it was about some new departure in my work or a completed project, but actually it was a very simple list of random acts of kindness I’d seen and experienced over a day out in London. I nearly didn’t put it up, worrying that it was a bit sentimental to be championing the lady who gave me the right change for the loo or the two men who leaped to help a mum with her pushchair and toddler on to a tube train. How wrong I was, not only was it shared many, many times, but people chipped in with their own examples of strangers helping out and how much these small acts matter.

I’ve been late coming to art. My father was keen I should do something sensible and, though I got into art school by the back door (by finding the only university to offer the madly combined degree of librarianship, art history and visual art), I did just that by putting down my pencil the day I graduated and working in the photographic industry for most of my life. In a rare moment of agreement, my father and stepfather saw my ambitions to be an artist as idiotic. Art was something done by men back in earlier times when they knew how do art properly. To the end of his life, my Dad would ask kindly about my greetings card business, never once acknowledging that my work on the front was somewhat essential to sales.

The more I work as an artist, the more I realise that my quiet ambitions as a printmaker are actually quite brilliant and important in their way. I’m not out to make a fortune, which is just as well, but I can make a decent living and art does put me in a position to do a lot of good for a lot of people in small, random ways. As I can see from that Facebook page, these little moments make a big difference. The same goes for all the artists and would-be artists I meet who were told that they were fools for wanting to mess about with art when a proper (they are always ‘proper’ aren’t they?) qualification or job was needed.

My ambitions in my prints are simply to give the viewer some space, room to breathe and a moment of nostalgia or familiarity; a bit of a break. I know, because people have told me so, that many of my prints hang on stairs and at the ends of beds so their owners can see them and smile every day. That’s no small thing. I know of a lady receiving end of life care, who kept one of my landscape cards beside her bed to give her a bit of fresh air and a student I taught who relieves the stress of his high powered business life by printing little woodblocks in his hotel rooms all over the world. I’m not looking for my prints to champion causes, provoke revolution or shock the populace; I just want to make people happy for a short while. Just like the man in the suit I watched who queued up and bought two coffees to share with a homeless man at Marylebone Station.

So I’m in a line of work where I can make enough to both eat and pay my bills and, while I do so, I’m able to bring a little kindness and happiness to people’s day. Seems like a proper job to me…