How do you write about something that inspires you? How do you describe something that reminds you why you love to create? How do you interpret something that teaches you the importance of people of all classes? Well I guess you could start by giving it a name: The Pitmen Painters play at the National Theater. Now I am not a theater person myself. And although we have seen quite a few plays up to this point, Troilus and Cresida, Alls Well That Ends Well, Arcadia, none of them have sparked my interest enough to blog about them until the Pitmen Painters last night. It was so much more than a play about the struggle of the lower classes, or the search for IDENTITY in London society, or even the importance of art to modern society; it was about DISCOVERY. It touched on the heart of what it meant to strive for more, without even knowing you were striving for more, yet knowing you DESERVED more.
While the theme of artistry was what I related to the most in the play (which I will go into more detail about later on), the idea of class and personal identity separate of class identity was another theme I found moving. The class system has traditionally been very prominent in British culture. As we have seen in our various reading thus far in the class, it is still very much an existing prejudice here in London. Although we have spent most of our time studying the prejudices against many immigrant and ethnic communities of more middle to lower classes, this play focused on the disadvantage lower class uneducated miners. As these men took this art class, and began to create and fmailiaritize themselves with art, they still tried to retainer their IDENTITY as miners. Yet, when their instructors strives to use them to prove that all “lower classes” are capable of artistic achievement, the miners reject this, and strive for their own individual identities as artists, separate from other people of their class. In this way I think that the play was able to capture the essence of what we have learned from our readings, visiting various religious sites, and seeing the immigrant communities and markets. Essentially, how does one balance personal identity with group identity. At what cost to the group—whether it be religious, class, ethnic, or other social structure—does one get to be an individual, or a Londoner? Or a native? Or British? In the same way that these miners tried to maintain both identities and form a new one, migrating and immigrant groups to London must find a balance between who they were in their group, and who they want to be to fit in in London. The play also touched on a another more personal level. As an artist myself, I found the play to be especially moving on an artistic level. Since I have been to London, I have hardly drawn and have certainly not embarked on any larger scale artistic projects. There have been reasons and justifications of course, too busy, too tired, not enough space. But Oliver’s struggle to balance the pressures of his role in society as a miner, with his desire and growing passion for art and learning reminded me that art is more than a hobby. When Helen Sutherland confronts Oliver about his artistic future, she does not try to sway him by reassuring him of his talent or artistic ability, instead she tells him that he “thinks like an artist.” Art is not a thing you do, it is who you are. I found this to be one of the most touching parts of the play. It reminded me why I create. It’s not because I like to, or want to, or even because I am good at. No, I create because I have to. ART is not something I do, it is WHO I AM.
If you’re interested in my own personal art, check out my weebsite: MNL.