Culture Well-being

A job, a sport and a hobby

Watch the sky - Delight in Life
Watch the sky – Delight in Life

“In the eyes of some, Rod Stewart is ripe for a send-up” starts a Guardian write-up for Alan Yentob’s BBC1 Imagine programme “Rod Stewart: Can’t Stop Me Now”. Rod has been doing the rounds of promoting a new album. However, in the write-up it said of Rod’s dad: ‘a north London grocer, who told him “every man should have a job, a sport and a hobby.”‘ I was struck by the simplicity of this in connection with a blogpost about expressive life (see below) I wrote on 29 March 2010 over on my blogger site. At the same time, I re-presented the blog by-line as “Community geography, expressive life and learning in a digital, connected world.” When I came to set-up my Pinterest I used the same concepts for three boards and it seems to have worked although I continue to use the tags ‘art’ and ‘culture’ for searchability and cross-references. I have tended not to use the words ‘knowledge’ or ‘creative practice’ as both have different and specific connotations within education, teaching and learning.

It will be apparent that my three categories are not consistent with Mr Stewart Senior because I have focused on work. I see it as inter-weaving my personal interests with my professional activities. It is a characteristic of geographers who are often fascinated by what we find around us wherever we are. And it connects.

My photography is a hobby but it relates to my work interests. To me, it is a tool: I have no pretences as a professional photographer. My online life-curation on this website, and particularly in Geo-story, is part of that curiosity and interpretation. As a good enough reason to be out in countryside, and by the coast, we dabble in birding and it is an interest we can share. I don’t claim any knowledge or expertise. I would also identify listening to music as a hobby but only slightly more than in the generic sense of reading and television. There is certainly not a train-set in my attic, like Rod’s, but I don’t mock those with such passions. He sees it as keeping himself out of trouble in downtime.

On sport, I get slightly irritated by the fanaticism that often seems to go with it. I believe you should participate in the sport you have most interest in as a spectator. (Rod does, with football.) I think you should have wider interest in a sport than merely ‘supporting’ a team. This means appreciating the structure of the sport not just as a consumer of the biggest-and-best in the business. I played badminton for fifteen years as a social exercise aswell as a physical exercise. Golf now plays the same dual purpose.  Mock, if you must. Or read here more about my golf.

I was once told that ‘there is nothing as boring as other people’s hobbies’ but this was from someone who served on a local council through years of frustrating opposition! There is an element of truth in seeing pastimes as recuperative rather than productive. If they were not good for us in some way, we would not need to them in such infinite variety. Hobbies make us individual and they have us together. They are part of what makes us who we are and who we want to become. It’s living.

There is probably another post required for the systemic issue of the work-life balance of teachers. (And some other public services where ‘outstanding’ will never be enough.) Perhaps, another should explore why the super-rich with extraordinary surplus-time can’t handle their lives better.  If creativity and sporting excellence is so rewarding, why have many turned their lives to the destructioon of drugs and booze?

Expressive Life

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. The Spring 2010 issue has an item which has resulted in a change in the strap-line as shown above.

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

Added August 2010
There is rumination on the term ‘expressive life’ here

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?

Incidentally, an online search suggests the term ‘expressive life’ has not taken off to any great extent. There is, of course, continued interest in well-being for individuals and communities. In passing, I should add that I have allowed my fellowship of the RSA to lapse due to economies made for austerity Angus.


BBC Media on Imagine series

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