Art and Society

This essay appears in print as the INTRODUCTION of ISSUE 01: Miserable Art. Copies of this magazine are available in our online store.

In the pages that follow, you will meet a painter named Helen Kenney, known creatively as Miserable Art. You will encounter an interview with that artist, a series of recommendations which provide insight into how that artist experiences the work of other artists, as well as a feature length story written by me, your author, containing a narrative think piece. Those are the basics.

This first issue of Durham Beat Magazine will tackle the topic of how art is valued in society, how the labor of artists is perceived, and how society reconciles its need for art with the nature of its consumption. At its core, this issue is about the experience of art and what it means.

Emotional, romantic, a little chaotic, sometimes irrational, the artform we know as “painting” is a familiar one, layered, drenched in history. Painters use their hands to reframe the world. They use the mechanisms of color, light, perspective, imagination, curiosity, and insight to create their works. Some of the most prolific artists across human history have been painters. To this day, many of their works live in museums and occupy wall space in households and businesses worldwide. Why throughout our history has art been so ever-present? What place does it hold among us? How do we, as members of society, understand and experience these works and the labor of the artists who made them?

As our civilization evolves and becomes more scientifically advanced, it’s challenging for the pragmatic drive of commerce and technological progress to maintain an appreciation for the cultural development of human expression that runs in tandem with all other forms of progress. Put another way, people in our society today struggle with how to value art, how to quantify the labor of artists, and how to understand the intangible and yet necessary presence of art in human society. 

People can’t help but create. It’s what we do. Whether we’re engineering a bridge, assembling a car, constructing a house, fixing a meal, or writing a poem, we are always creating. Where engineering and medicine and construction are practical and essential drivers for maintaining a functioning society, art is the emotional expression of that very same human ingenuity. 

Artists are very much like engineers. They build bridges between the heart and the mind, between people and their inner worlds, between emotions that contradict and yet co-exist. Throughout history, art—in all its forms—has been one of the most essential mechanisms humans have used to grapple with their emotional experiences of the world. 

Art provides a safe haven, a homestead for working out whatever it is that’s going on inside of us, whether personally or in response to our external, worldly experience. While some people may see a painting and say, “this has nothing to do with me,” they may yet listen to a song that makes them feel seen. It’s all relevant. 

Ultimately, art is not merely a way of making the world a little brighter, nor is it solely representative of what society finds or deems to be beautiful, it is fundamentally emotional and forces the human soul to confront its own vulnerability. For this reason, art is an essential part of human life and the human experience, of the way we co-exist and interact with each other and the world around us.

Introducing Durham Beat Magazine

For as long as I can remember, I have loved flipping through bound pages of printed material. Magazines, newspapers, books, zines, even catalogs. There’s something about that tactile feeling, holding paper in your hands, wafting its scent, running your fingers over slight blemishes—the distorted texture of coffee stains, the rough edges of a well-read book, almost like tracing lines on a lover’s skin. As a writer, it makes sense that I would have an affection for paper, that I would covet the experience of holding a body of work in my hands. These bound pages are more than just paper and ink. They are ideas, expressions, creations. 

Throughout the history of printed matter, the magazine has been an enduring and beloved format. Filled with dozens of stories and photographs and artworks spanning a variety of topics and mediums, reading a whole magazine is an intensive affair. As a journalist, I am very familiar with the mad dash of preparing many different pieces for a single issue. As a reader, there is so much material to get through that I often find I can’t seem to get to it all. I’m sure you have had that experience as well. Feels a shame to leave so many pages unread, untouched, unfelt.

So what’s in a name? A magazine exists to tell stories. What if we choose to slow down a bit, quit the mad dash, and focus on what it means to tell a story in the first place? And that’s where Durham Beat comes in. 

It was just an idea. One might dare call it a dream. I have never much cared for dreams though. And while to some I may seem a tad dreamy owing to my irredeemably romantic nature, I have always been a doer. I wanted to reimagine the magazine, so that’s what I did.

The first iteration took the form of a zine. A blurry interpretation of my anti-dream state, the idea was to tell one story. Simple, plain, singular, focused. These are a few of my favorite things. 

Durham Beat’s early zines became a vehicle for collaboration, a free space to fill however I wanted for a given project. But this approach proved a little too chaotic, even for me. So I retreated into the private thinkspace we lovingly refer to as “my brain” and ruminated for quite awhile.

The pandemic was raging, all of our events lay in ruin, and suddenly I had time to think. Over the course of several months, through pondering, research, endless conversations with a long-time friend and confidant, and lengthy correspondences with Durham Beat’s Chief Designer, Gabi Guerra, we found our way. We had inspired ourselves. And now, today, I can publish these words, which themselves represent the culmination of a singularly proud moment in my life and that of Durham Beat.

At long last, I introduce Durham Beat Magazine. Published quarterly, our print magazine offers an in-depth and focused exploration of a singular broad topic, which we approach through collaboration with a featured artist and present to you in 4 different sections:

Introduction: the opener; a two-page philosophical expression of the pages that lie ahead.

Interview: in-depth, exploratory ​and personal conversation with the featured artist​.​

5 Spot: an examination of inspiration and where it comes from; 5 inspired recommendations by the featured artist.

Story: a highly subjective narrative think piece written by me, your author.

Those are the basics.

Every issue of Durham Beat Magazine will also pair with:

1. A limited run collaborative t-shirt featuring original artwork by the featured artist. Profits from the shirt are split with the artist.

2. An Issue playlist. Think of it as a collaborative mood board in the form of music. I ask the featured artists to keep track of what they are listening to while we work together. I then take some of those tunes and curate them in a playlist with what I have been listening to throughout our collaboration. The result? A very emotional and wide-ranging selection of music, 30 songs deep and available on Durham Beat’s Spotify.

Can you subscribe to Durham Beat Magazine? Yes, soon. Later this year, we will unveil two levels of subscriptions. More on that later.

In the meantime…

ISSUE 01 and its limited run collaborative shirt featuring Miserable Art, a Durham-based painter, is now available in our online shop.

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