What Politicians Can Learn From Artists About What It Is to Be Human

30/06/2016 12:04 | Updated 30 June 2016

Someone much smarter than me once said that they shouldn't have put an astronaut on the moon, they should have sent an artist.

Us artists have a certain way of looking at things. And while data and science are essential for our understanding of the world around us, sometimes it's a human interpretation of events that serve us best. I can comprehend the world much better through art, mainly because I'm hopelessly dyslexic and it just makes more sense to me that way.

Three years ago I fell in love with the Great War poets. I was introduced to them by my father and they resonated deeply with me.

My fascination with the writings of Siegfried Sassoon, John McCrea, Wilfred Owen and Rupert Brooke led me to producing an entire body of paintings.

I found wonderful versions of the war poems on YouTube read by great actors such as Christopher Eccleston, Sean Bean, Stephen Graham and Vicky McClure. I listened to those poems over and over again until I was convinced they were ingrained in the paintings. The exhibition is called The Danger Tree, and it commemorates the 100 year anniversary of the Battle of the Somme.

In a week where Europe has been high on the conversational barometer, it makes me deeply sad that an event which saw thousands die in the name of protecting a free Europe, should share the headlines with an event in which a country voted to distance itself from its European neighbours.

When my father died I went on a personal journey to France to follow the same path he trod in his quest to honour the fallen of the Battle of the Somme. There I felt a huge sense of loss but also an enormous connection with my father and with the past.

As I stood in the peaceful surrounds of Beaumont Hammel I was struck by the fact that we didn't send soldiers into to battle back then, we sent people. Amongst those awaiting the whistle that sent them over the top of the trenches to their death were trembling poets, painters, musicians, librarians and teachers.

The poets bore witness to the men's last breaths in the most horrific inhuman of situations, yet they spoke of them with utter dignity and pride. It's not about divides or hate, or us and them. In their last moments, when everything becomes clear, they wrote about mortality. This is humanity at its purest.

The pre-Brexit orators on both sides could learn a thing or two from the war poets. Instead of putting the fear into us, they could have instilled a bit of humanity. Instead we got propaganda, a war tactic, which is designed to mislead.

Art creates openness and discussion. Fear brings out the worst in us. Art for the majority doesn't lie. For me art is our hearts ripped out and smeared onto a canvas, or carved into stone or converted into a sound track. What could be more politically real than that? It's what politics should represent.

I am way too stupid to think I know what is right for the world politically. But in a time where unity feels like it is deserting us, where we are looking for leadership, I often wonder what would happen if we were to elect an artist into parliament.

How would Grayson Perry fare as leader of the opposition? Would Tracey Emin stand up as an aspirational female political figure? And could Antony Gormley provide a living, breathing figurehead we could all look up to and admire.

I suspect, in the long term, they wouldn't be very good, but they would make politics more honest and interesting. In a stand off between poetry and political rhetoric, the poems would win hands down.

Someone once said that all art is political. I'm not sure that is completely true because while many artists do cross into the political arena, there are plenty of others too wrapped up in themselves to care about anything else apart from their own personal universe.

In difficult moments like these we all need something that can pull us all together. And as much as art can polarise opinion, it can, as a cultural form, help to unify. We need important reminders of what it is to be human, no matter what planet, or continent, we are living on.

by Scarlett Raven.

Scarlett Raven, The Danger Tree. Opens in London 1st-31st July, Riverside Unit, New Capital Quay, London SE10 9FR. Nearest tube DLR: Cutty Sark Maritime Greenwich. The exhibition will then tour the United Kingdom. For further information visit

Note: to view the augmented reality layers in Scarlett's work below, use the free Blippar app.