My new album, Foxy Orthodoxy, is about the lure of the status quo, the temptation to find a pre-existing system of thought, or an ideology, and immerse yourself in it. It’s a comforting thing and as human beings we all do it, be that via religion, family dynamics, sports teams or our philosophical/ideological leanings. I’m interested in how art can help us move outside of these human-made constructions and allow us to see the world through fresh eyes.
This is after all, what most moves us about art. Those astonishing moments when we finish a novel or discover a song and the world looks different when we walk down the street - when reality feels like it has somehow shifted sideways. It’s what I seek in art and what I want to create myself.
My soon to be physically released (2021) graphic novel Warpaint, that I created with the artist Katia Vecchio, uses a feminist lens to examine the patriarchal orthodoxies that infect our society, and that all of us fall prey to from time to time. Like my album, Warpaint seeks to use art to challenge our perceptions of the status quo and to look at new ways of thinking about life.
Covid-19, having paused the world, has given many of us the time to think on the quality and meaning of our lives. Often, during this pandemic, we have looked at the effectiveness of the old orthodoxies and found them wanting.
The roles in life that turn out to be the most important to the functioning of our society have not been the previously vaunted positions of shareholders, bankers, politicians and Corporate CEOs. It has been the health workers, the shop workers, the transporters of food and supplies, the cleaners and refuse collectors, the social workers. The jobs of care and of provisioning for society turn out to be the ones that we can’t live without and yet turn out to be the most under-valued and underpaid.
For those of us who work desk jobs in offices, it has also become abundantly clear that we do not need to be in the office everyday, that working from home is a viable option, that we do not need the supervision of a manager looking over our shoulders.
Already the old ideas about how to live, work and behave are coming loose in their foundations. For many of us, this is something that feminism, social justice and civil rights has been highlighting for decades. Coronavirus has thrown this into sharp focus for many people and we who would seek to build a better world must grasp this moment and run with it.
From music to comics, from cinema to novels, it is through art that we can make the emotional connections with other people that are necessary to tie together the economic and social ‘facts’ that any ideological revolution requires an understanding of.
My own feminism and sense of broader social responsibility grew out of the art I devoured throughout my life. These are my own non-orthodox ideologies - systems of thought designed to analyse and rebuild rather than maintain a ‘norm’.
When reading Warpaint I want my readers (especially men) to try and move beyond their own perspectives and beyond the social behaviours expected of them.
When listening to my new album, my fervent hope is that the songs will build a strong enough emotional connection with the listener that they might just pay closer attention to the meanings and unorthodox ideas in the lyrics. Perhaps they might even investigate my own influences. This certainly is always my own trajectory with the music I love. This approach gave me an education as deep and profound as anything I learned at school or University (not that I’m knocking formal education. That’s the first step to understanding the world.)
I believe that art serves as a metaphor of sorts, for how we may progress in a new and better world. For every song or comic I write, the beginning is always a blank page. We need to learn to see the wider world as a blank page. If we are told that wage equality or taxing the 1% is not economically feasible, we must understand that this is not an immutable fact of the world. This is actually a failure in the deep narrative of an old and now outdated story. Our response should be to take up pens, guitars, typewriters and voting registers, to respond that, ‘“if economic feasibility is the problem then your very conception of economics is the real problem and we must rewrite economics so that it serves the majority of the people on earth rather than those with power and money. For without human minds, there is no economy. We invented it. And we can reinvent it to make it better.”
If we are told that women must genuflect to male power or that one ethnicity towers over another because that is what history teaches us, then our role is to consign history to the past and re-write a better future. The only thing that is truly sacred are the people alive in the world right now and those still to come.
This is why those with establishment power are drawn to conservatism (orthodoxy) and why they fear the newness of creativity and art. Creation by its very nature is revolutionary. Creative arts are the conceptual opposite of conservatism, seeking the new, the odd, the different, whereas orthodoxy/conservatism manages the status quo and reveres the ‘old’.
Art, now more than ever, must reflect a sense of open possibility. We as creators have a responsibility to sketch out new paths, new ways of thinking, new ideas that push harder into the post-Covid void. And push we really must, for it is a guarantee that the old orthodoxies will be allowed to slide back in and fill those gaps if we don’t.
Change requires us all to don our Warpaint, to proudly fly the flags for social change and for wild, inspiring, unnerving art, for celebrating that which is the freak, and the outlier. Every small push forward that we make subtly changes the nature of our shared reality. Pick up a pen, read a book, listen to some new music that you’ve never heard of before, look out your window at our pandemic lives and think just how much better we can make everything if we switch our imaginations on to full power.
Kev Sherry's new album Foxy Orthodoxy is available now for download and streaming.