Elizabeth Geyer Asks: Is Art a Luxury or Necessity?

Elizabeth Geyer describes writing and performing her own music as ‘finally coming home’. It was a life long dream to pull together her love of jazz, beautiful songs, albums and experiences as vocalist, pianist, flugelhorn player and songwriter. Below she shares her thoughts on being an artist during the pandemic and ponders the question ‘Is art a luxury or necessity?

Elizabeth Geyer, photograph by Keith Cotton

There was a moment in 2020 right when political craziness and the COVID chaos was at its peak, when something I’d never been sure about suddenly became crystal clear:  those who had said it were right after all; the arts aren’t a luxury; they are crucial to our human survival.

I never doubted it for myself; I fell in love with music when I was 4 years old. It was my passion, escape and got me through everything – including 13 years of school, a good school too, where I was still miserable.

But that was just me; society at large is more practical and necessarily so: roads need to be built, people need heart operations.

How on earth do dance, paintings, music fit in? Do we actually really need these things? While I could never answer that, music was the only life I could imagine.

I studied trumpet and spent the next decade working and travelling as a freelance trumpeter and jazz singer. Then in my 30s, I could no longer ignore the dream closest to my heart, to be a singer songwriter. So I put a band together, began writing songs, recording and weaving in the flugelhorn/trumpet and my love of jazz because I didn’t know what else to do with them. They’d come that far with me.

Paul Adams and Elizabeth Geyer, 2020

What do you do in an organised society that categorises everyone and everything into necessarily clear, commercially viable ticked boxes, when you don’t really fit? I didn’t know, had never known, and asking the question had only ever led me into depression. Then over and over, music would get me out. It finally dawned on me that it is enough to make music, or do anything, for no other reason than it feels deep down inherently like the right thing to be doing. Because it’s who you are.

But back to 2020 and society at large. Why did I finally realise the arts are a necessity for our collective human survival and not just an idle whim, a luxury? Because that year, with a global pandemic and extraordinary levels of western political tension, the insanity of crowds and those politics had reached a level I’d never experienced before. While tribal thinking has never made sense to me, still I had always assumed society was surely the practical one, not me. But under pressure, it – not me, was turning out to be incredibly irrational, and I could finally see music and the arts for what they really are: our lifeline and sanity.

The arts shine a light on the collective madness of human beings. They also remind us that we are not our divisiveness, the false hierarchies we peddle to each other or our egos. 

In music, comedy and all the arts we lose and laugh at ourselves and gratefully remember that deep down we are all vulnerable, frightened, clumsy, equal, connected human beings.

Listen to a new song ‘Rain Falls’ here which the artist says reflects the ideas and feelings in this piece.