Alice in Dismaland and Through the Smart Phone glass Ben Cowan - Art That Makes You think exhibition at Temperence, Leamington Spa

The 'Why': What makes us start creating art?

I am so happy to have you with me, especially at the start of this new blogging and online adventure...

For a long time, I have danced around the social media rabbit hole without saying, "Gosh! - Is that the time?" and dashing down under the earth, holding my device. Nevertheless, here we are: Alice Through the Smart Phone Glass...

I feel that I should start with 'The Why'. Everyone tells me that people need to know your 'why'. That's the only way that they're going to connect with you and want to follow you as an artist.

Ok then, so what’s my ‘Why’?

I suppose I’ve always asked, or internalised variations on the question, “Why is it like it is?” As a dad, I know how annoying it can be, to be asked questions repeatedly like, “Why is the sky blue?” by the little people in those early years. Its normal to want to understand the world better when you’re a kid. Then you file it away and move onto the next subject like, “Dad, why do parents take their kids to McDonald’s? Why do they have birthday parties there, Dad? Why do they queue for the drive-through, then sit in their car, in the car park, to eat their meals? Are they embarrassed? And they’re so big! - Are they sick?” I digress.

Look, if they are asking questions, that’s good, right? I’m proud to have inquisitive kids. It can be relentless though. At some point, I found myself saying, “Can I just stop you there, son?” And they say, “Yes dad?” with that upward inflection. All I can say in reply is, “That’s all I wanted to say, sorry.”

Maybe that’s why most adults don’t appear to be curious. Googling Youtube? - That doesn’t count. That’s like Tourette’s syndrome for the digits. Perhaps it’s because their parents told them, “Stop asking so many bloody questions - go and do your homework!”

The other thing is creativity. Why do people stop drawing? Sorry, that’s another blog… Apparently, there’s always something else we’re supposed to be doing. Study, so we can work, work so we can consume, consume so we…die, and kill the planet along with us. Alongside this, reflective thinking seems somehow…radical! How did that happen?

One of my designs, Dangerous Thoughts (pictured) explores this subject. Rodin’s Le Penseur sits inside a road sign warning triangle, and underneath it says, ‘CAUTION: Idler Thinking’, as if reflecting on your lot is somehow incendiary. Another, puts Le Penseur on a park bench, cordoned off with yellow tape that reads, ‘POLICE: DO NOT CROSS’, while in the distance, the sun sets on the ‘dark satanic mills’ and the towering tax authorities.

Le penseur thinking Ben Cowan Art Word Cloud detail

After much reflection, and after working a myriad of jobs - in private sector retail, emergency humanitarian relief abroad, NHS, private health, OXFAM emergency scale up, landscaping, community farms and now as an artist, I’m still asking - Why is it like it is?

Here's a punt.

What’s the problem statement? Answer: Anxiety.

What’s the solution? Answer: Money.

What’s the method? Answer: Work.

Does money, stuff, work make you more or less anxious or happy?

I founded Art That Makes You Think on the premise of asking questions about the way things – capitalism, consumerism, technology – are. How people behave. What passes the straight-face-test, and what doesn’t. I knew that I had to identify as an artist when I felt that I needed to purge myself of these reflections and express them, in order to live without so much anxiety.

My portfolio is now extensive. If you are new to my form of satirical expression, have a look through the collections on my site. I hope that, the more you put in, the more you will get out. Over the course of these blogs I will explore some of the ideas and themes from which my designs originate. I am really keen to hear from you. Please do get in touch via Instagram, facebook or email.

When you visit my site please subscribe to future blogs (email input at bottom of each page). Please also have a look at my Redbubble shop 'BenCowanArt' for merch: t-shirts, hoodies, clocks, mugs, duvet covers =-0 and may more... To read previous blogs, go to BEN TALKS: Ideas Worth Sharing'
Till next time...[insert joke]


Thank you Laurence! So erudite and insightful; I miss our discursive sessions.
When a father passes, it is important to signify it somehow, isn’t it? Like the Mexicans who believe on the Dia de los Meurtos, that the dead pass into an afterlife as ghosts. If we stop remembering them or paying our respects, they will vapourise: lost forever.
Fascinating link that you share on symbolism in Masters’ paintings. They really did master the mantra ‘show, not tell’ beautifully. That said, I doubt that Carvaggio wrote down anywhere that those two stray threads of wicker in the fruit basket represent a fish, which in turn is meant to symbolise the secret handshake by early followers of Christianity that means you are one of us. Rather like the ‘nod’ between members in Fight Club. All I am saying is you take out what you put in. Much is open to interpretation, and that’s fun. Did the chalice-like space between Jesus and ‘Mary Magdalene’ in Da Vinci’s Last Supper signify the her bond to him as part of the grail mystery? Ask Dan Brown :-)
I love your question, what is your favourite symbol? I love semiotics and my art is full of them. It is easy to say that we live in a world of signs and no symbols, which is why in the ‘Dangerous Thoughts’ piece above, I have placed a symbol, Rodin’s Le Penseur, in the middle of a literal – warning – sign. The suggestion is that stopping your wheel turning to examine your life can be as dangerous as driving near a cliff or through a flooded road…
Please keep reading the blog and commenting Laurence – Loving your inputs!
Best, Ben


Hi Ben,
Thank for your invitation to ATMYT! And best wishes for the forthcoming Fathers’ Day.
Like you, I will be thinking of my late father. He left his mark as a teacher, amateur actor and singer. At the end of his funeral service, back in 1998, the organist played a medley of tunes from many of the shows he had been in. Everyone sang along – a really uplifting and fitting celebration!
Your opening comments on your Home Page inspired me to look further into the use of symbols which are so common yet not always appreciated. I recall the paintings of Caravaggio who like many artists, used symbols to powerful effect. See link below. “Supper at Emmaus” captures the moment when two companions, who have invited a stranger to supper after finding him walking on the road Emmaus, realise the stranger is the risen Christ. he give away is when Jesus breaks the break. There is more to the picture than initially meets the eye, with the inclusion of symbols.
Have you, or anyone reading this, a favourite example of the symbols – of ‘art that makes you think?’

Ben, I wish you well with your many interests and pursuits and will keep dipping in to your website.
With best wishes,
Laurence Davidson


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