Zadie Smith’s Intimations: The Treatment of Art

Having recently read Zadie Smith’s compelling and engaging set of essays in her newest collection Intimations, which covers her thoughts and ideas throughout the pandemic, there was one chapter that stuck out to me above all. The chapter ‘Something to Do’ asks questions about how art fits into the pandemic, which then raises further questions about the way art is generally received by society.

‘The something that artists do is cordoned off from the rest of society and by mutual agreement this space is considered a sort of charming but basically useless playpen, in which adults get to behave like children.’

– Zadie Smith

To me, art has always enriched this world. It is indispensable. But it is clear that for a lot of people art is seen as a frivolity that doesn’t largely contribute to our progression as society. It is not the leading development in tech, or the economy, or even teaching. Art is abstract paintings in museums with entry fees, avant-garde films they only show in independent cinemas, books that take too long to read.

Art is charming, but it is not essential.

However, what I’d like to think this lockdown has shown us all is how much we rely on art in all its forms to make our lives happier. All those shows we binge-watched in isolation, or the many hours we spent listening to music, reading books, mindfully drawing, making things. Even making Tik Tok for Christ’s sake can be seen as its own form of art!

And yet artists are seen as frivolous. Champagne drinking, waste of space, overpaid. You name it.

This is not to say that I don’t see the absolute importance of our scientists, workers, builders etc. These jobs demand an abundance of respect. But this respect also deserves to be placed on the artists that create the works that brighten our world.

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