BLUE NOW Jay Bernard reflects on what art is for

Jenny Mascia
WordsJay Bernard

BLUE NOW” is a series of live performances and six pieces of writing inspired by quotes from “Blue,” British artist and filmmaker Derek Jarman’s seminal 1993 film, created as he was dying from AIDS-related illnesses.

Here, taking the Jarman quote above, writer and artist Jay Bernard reflects on where art comes from, and what it is for.

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The sky-blue butterfly/sways on a cornflower/Lost in the warmth/of the blue heat haze/Singing the blues/Quietly and slowly/Blue of my heart/Blue of my dreams...
Derek Jarman

It often arises, this question of what art is for and what it’s about. It’s true, there’s a market and a history that can seem distant and alienating. But it might make more sense to think of art as an act of freedom, in and of itself.

It is the choice to be disciplined and rigorous, to be in conversation with others, many dead, who observed the same truths about reality as you do. And it doesn’t have to be a brush on canvas. It can be swimming in a lake, or eating the cucumbers you have grown in your own garden. Art is a choice to repeat, to practice, to enquire, to the extent that it lends agency. It points in a particular direction, it is meaningful outside of what the world deems meaningful, which is often a by-word for “productive” or “useful”.

Of course, art can be political, and its production and dissemination often is. But its power lies in the freedom of its form, not only in its content. Fundamentally, it is to be found in the focused and honest undertaking of anything. Baking, sex, keeping a diary, recording the color of your lover’s eyes or of a specific bit of sky, in crafting a prosthetic. It can be found in a reassuring bedside manner. There is no formula; it's what comes to us from experience, the experience of doing, the experience of observing life, with the same vivid pathos, as all the artists who came before.

You can train your mind. All 13 billion years that it took to come into creation, on the glistening point of a needle going down through the fabric and up through the fabric. And if we get lucky, or brave, we can use them to enrich our own lives, to imagine new futures, to behave differently, to act autonomously, to portray ourselves in ways that deviate from the party line. And none of this has to be known—there can be power in having a deeply private thing that is yours alone, that you can turn to, that will never reject you. We can never escape this world, and its strangeness, but we can speak truthfully about it. As the poet William Carlos Williams said: “It’s difficult to get the news from poems, but people die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.” And it’s true that the old worker’s song says “give us bread but give us roses too”.

Jay Bernard

Jay Bernard is a writer and interdisciplinary artist whose work explores issues of queerness, race, and archiving through a critical lens. Their short films, artwork and literary collections have been exhibited at film festivals and galleries around the UK, and they were the recipient of both the 2020 Sunday Times / University of Warwick Young Writer of the Year award, and the 2017 Ted Hughes Award.

Each year, WePresent invites a creative to be its Guest Curator. In 2023 we are very proud to collaborate with brilliant actor and podcaster Russell Tovey on a handful of very special art-related projects on themes close to his heart. "BLUE NOW" is the first in this series.

The animation on this page was directed and illustrated by Jenny Mascia, and 3D animated by Alice Aires.

Blue (Derek Jarman, 1993) © Basilisk Communications Ltd., enquiries regarding Blue by Derek Jarman should be addressed to