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…

Author: Laura

Laura Boswell is a printmaker working exclusively with linocut and traditional Japanese woodblock printing. She has a degree in Art History/Visual Art from the University of Wales, Aberystwyth and has been elected to the Royal Society of Painter Printmakers.

13 thoughts on “The Kindness of Strangers”

  1. Lovely message Laura. It is definitely a proper job and one that is capable of bringing joy. A member of Linocut Friends in Australia bought a linocut from me which was of a woman and a dog asleep on a pillow. The best thing about this was she told me she has it hanging in her bedroom opposite her bed. Her dog sleeps in a dog bed beside her, so they both wake up each day and see the print. It’s wonderful to have a reaction like that.

  2. Hello Laura, you are right, Art matters. I wanted to be a writer when I was a teen. My father put me off and I lost my confidence and settled for a career as a teacher. Creative? Maybe. I was able to write musical plays for children, so I guess it helped me on my way. I am now a writer. I write stories for children and other stories for adults. A lot of us have a tendency to believe what the adults in our life tell us. I try not to listen any more. Instead I do my own thing. Being true to myself. Thank you for such a wonderfully affirming blog and keep producing your ART. It matters.

  3. Wonderful post. I’m about to embark on doing what I have wanted to for years and giving up the day job in the new year. A bit late (I’m 61) but if I don’t pursue my creative objectives now, I never will! I can’t think of anything better than bringing pleasure from one’s work 🙂

  4. I love your work Laura and I have your cards in my art studio encouraging me to keep on pushing myself back into artistic work now in my 50s! At some point I would love to do your class.
    Keep doing what you’re doing and inspiring those of us who believe in art. 🙂

  5. Surely that is a most worthy ambition Laura – to create a moment of happiness and make someone smile in recognition of a shared emotion or response to what nature provides. Your prints are amazingly evocative and very beautiful. You are an inspiration to all artists.

  6. I have to say after a workshop with you in Stroud some years ago Laura you inspired me to follow my dream. I graduated from Cornwall College this year in contemporary Creative Practice at the young age of 56, which brought me full circle. Following your heart is not always possible in the first instance, but better late than never I say. Here’s hoping to do another workshop with you in the future.

  7. There is magic between people in word and sound and deed …. indeed!

    Those I met, perhaps this very same day, immersed enthusiastically and engaged so extremely well that, whilst they felt they were receiving my wisdom, they were indeed also giving generously. Many magical moments materialised.

    When your give-and-receive rhythm becomes as subtle, constant and deep as breathing, we generate joy around us. How lucky we are to ‘work’ in our respective visual and auditory realms, which touch people so profoundly.

  8. Great article Laura and I just wanted to say that after a workshop with you about two years ago, at the age of 61, I’ve gone on to be seen as a printmaker locally, have been taken on by a gallery and teach lino cutting workshops. Taking possession of a a proper press at the end of this month!! Thanks Laura x

  9. I felt so encouraged by the message of your journey toward your artistry. My wife and I home-schooled our daughter in the US for reasons opposite your family experience. We felt we needed to embolden her spirit in the direction of fine art because of the way she expressed herself at a very early age. Like your father’s guidance, our parents gave us the same feedback about ‘sensible’ pursuits for our daughter. Most interestingly, my mother was an untrained artist who passed the genetic code through me to our daughter but couldn’t find the heart to encourage our daughter’s craft. Sadly, I think a bit of jealousy was involved. But our daughter received scholarship offers from several Eastern US art schools and pursued a design degree – unfinished as it was, she has now returned at the age of 28 to spending more time in screenprinting, painting and drawing! I say that I was encouraged by your post because it has inspired me to bring my sketch pad on my frequent business trips (like your student) as a way of preparing ideas for my own woodcuts and linocuts but also as a way of connecting with our daughter for collaborative printing projects. I often travel to Rochester, Kent UK on business and look forward to finding galleries in the area that have printmaking works. In your website I’ve noted a local gallery with some of your works and hope to visit this spring.

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