Culture music photography Well-being

Expressive Life

Breakfast at South Lodge
Breakfast at South Lodge

Each issue of the RSA Journal usually provides at least one article of genuine interest to the matters covered in this blog – that’s one good reason for being a Fellow. (I have since cancelled my subscription.) The Spring 2010 issue had an item which resulted in a change in the strap-line on my Blogger site. (Modified from original post on “Blogger”.)

The paragraphs that follow suggest “Expressive Life” as an interesting concept for conveying complex, inter-connected and dynamic matters. The words arts and culture are so compromised in our understanding they have to be used with caution. A new framework is welcome,

“Several years ago, I began to use the phrase ‘expressive life’ to denote a realm of knowledge and creative practice that, framed properly, is as distinct and robust as family life or work life. While the arts are at its centre, expressive life includes much more: ethnic and community traditions, family holiday events, historical art, photographs, political speech, social dancing, amateur music making and arts education in and out of school.
Although composed of many elements, expressive life divides rather neatly into those that draw on the past (‘heritage’) and those that emphasise individual achievement (‘voice’). The two, of course, exist in a state of interaction (see table below) – a newly composed song or poem must be grounded in the style and substance of artistry from the past; individual creative achievement must somehow be made meaningful to the larger community.
A balanced expressive life containing an equal measure of heritage and voice offers the real possibility of providing individuals and communities with satisfaction, a high quality of life and even happiness. A strong grounding in heritage provides a sense of place, continuity, permanence and connection; the free exercise of voice offers achievement, opportunity, creativity and self-esteem. Art from the past is the repository of heritage; art-making in the present is the playing field of voice.

Expressive life
Heritage Voice
Community Individual
Belonging Alone
Connection Autonomy
Knowing Imagining
Collective Personal
Home Frontier
Tradition Invention
History Future
Consensus Free expression


Although my expressive life frame is new, the ideas it encompasses are not. Arts-and-crafts pioneer William Morris advanced both handmade art from the past and present-day, hands-on craft as essential alternatives to the deadening influence of industrial production. The idea of expressive life is suggested by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman’s notion of the tension between “the Lexus and the olive tree” (respective symbols of our drive for prosperity and development and our desire to retain identity and traditions), and it underlies philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah’s conviction that respect for cultures (heritage) must be balanced by “a respect for the freedom of actual human beings to make their own choices” (voice). Although the terminology and context of these arguments vary, it is clear that many observers, over more than a century, have felt that expressive life is critical to the wellbeing of individuals and communities.”

Bill Ivey, ‘Freedom of Expression’, RSA Journal, Spring 2010 [link now broken]

Added August 2010
There is rumination on the term ‘expressive life’ here [link now broken]

Mostly the objections say it is more vague and ambiguous then ‘arts and culture’ but I feel that misses the point of not describing the content or substance but highlighting the human processes of personal engagement, fulfillment and, er, life. It’s in-here, not out-there.

Isn’t it?

(Originally posted on my Blogger site, 29 March 2010.)

%d bloggers like this: