The Shock of Art

Simon Gipson, CEO, The Song Room

By Simon Gipson, CEO, The Song Room

The other morning, early at around 5.15, I was nearly knocked off my bike by a truck that rolled through a stop sign onto Beach Road. Fortunately for me, the driver saw me as I was about to pass in front of him and he hit the brakes as I swerved into the middle of the road.

I have been hit by vehicles before: I have a left shoulder that is 1cm shorter than my right as the consequence of an early morning collision with a car back in 2002. I have been ‘t-boned’ by a bearded rider on a very large motorbike who also ran a stop sign; I was unable to walk for a week.


Unsurprisingly, therefore, whenever I ride in the dark, my bike is lit up – flashing red and white lights everywhere. I want to be as visible as possible.


I am sure that the truck driver got a fright as I suddenly appeared in front of him. When I looked back after travelling a further 100 metres, he was still stopped halfway into the intersection. Only another car coming down Beach Road, the driver’s hand on the horn, caused him to move.


I do not know how he missed seeing me in the first place. He must have thought the same thing.


The trouble is, I suppose, that we trap ourselves into routines – our lives are filled with predictable, habitual practices. And we like to conduct our routines uninterrupted. Perhaps this particular truck driver always used this same route to work and everyday rolled through the stop sign at 5.15 because there was never any traffic coming. And so, without thinking, that is what he did on that day.


He didn’t see me because in his routine, I wasn’t there.


Nearly hitting me fractured his practice and jolted his perception. All of a sudden he was in the present and reviewing his routine world very differently.


If you think about it, we all need shocks like this to force us to step out of our habitual ways of doing things and see the world with new eyes.


At the beginning of the 20th century, the Russian artist Viktor Shklovsky, argued that this is what art endeavours to do: counter the deadening effect of habit and convention by investing the familiar with strangeness and thereby de-automatising perception. In other words, art forces us to see the familiar world differently, with a changed perspective. In so doing, we are caused to re-evaluate what is that we think and what it is that we do.


TS Eliot writes in Little Gidding of this process of de-familiarisation, which occurs when we shift our perspective on things that are familiar to us:


We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.


This is why we need art: to jolt us into seeing things differently, to

perceiving our reality anew.


That is why art is valuable; it is why it should be taught throughout school. We need to be constantly challenged to evaluate the world around us; we need to continually question the truths with which we are presented.


In the face of contemporary politics, we need art and arts learning more than ever.


Simon Gipson is the CEO of The Song Room. Join them for their festival events: Making tracks, where students will use dance to discover and tell their own story, or Make and play instrument-making workshop, where students will learn how to upcycle everyday objects into their very own junk percussion instruments, with music maker Graeme Leak.