It’s alright not to know

Yesterday I talked with students taking a community art module at the University of Utrecht. They were an unusually diverse group from different parts of the world and an equally wide range of disciplines. Such conversations are always rewarding because they make me unsure of what I think. A generation apart, we not only know different things, we have different assumptions about what we think we know too. An obvious example is digital technology. My early work, which shaped how I still think, was done when we had no computers. Its background was a European struggle between communism, neoliberalism and social democracy. A young person now has the world on their touchscreen and a completely different ideological landscape whose unstable and asymmetric geometry is hard even to read.

The key moment in our discussion – for me – was when someone asked how community art might respond to this world, and I realised not only that I didn’t know but that it was alright that I didn’t know. I don’t know how community artists should work now. I just know how to adapt my thinking to changing circumstances, but I recognise that it will always be analogue thinking in a digital age.

It’s alright not to know because it’s a question that people with 30 years work in front of them (not behind them) must work out for themselves. And it’s alright not to know because, as Neil Gaiman says, ‘Where would be the fun in making something you knew was going to work?’ It’s a restless art: working out what to do without knowing first is what keeps it alive; and honest.



  1. Thanks for this thought provoking post. I am reminded of Socrates’ paradox; “I know that I know nothing.” I think you’re right about that spirit that keeps a practice alive and real. It takes courage, energy, persistence and curiosity. I wonder; do arts courses sufficiently address how artists can develop and more importantly sustain these qualities?


    1. Thanks for your comment, Eve. I share your belief in the importance of ‘courage, energy, persistence and curiosity’ and they are necessary to living a good life, in Socrates’ terms, not only to being a good artist. Perhaps art colleges could be helping students relate the core ideas of philosophy to their work, and not only critical theory…

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