When everyone is sick, or dying, or unemployed, or at risk, who thinks about making art? What does it help? What good does it do?
The temptation is to focus on health and well-being, survival and being able to eat. Those are the right priorities. However, art has a secondary role to play, I think. Mental health is health. If you are stressed and depressed, you’re more susceptible to infection. Those are established facts. What art can do is reduce your stress and depression. That might be a wise thing to do.
Creativity is an expression of a life force. You create; therefore, you are. When the crisis finally ends, we’re going to need documentation of what just happened, so that those left alive and their descendants can learn from our history. Writing, critically, will be important.
Creating something of lasting beauty, which is enduring, serves as both a monument to the better instincts of the human species, but also as a distraction for both the maker and the viewer that experiences it. Art is an expression of human solidarity, to show that we truly are all in this together.
More than ever, we need effective narratives for social change. The storytellers among us need to craft their messages, using their most effective media, so that we don’t approach the next crisis as woefully under-prepared and leaderless as we have this crisis. While people cling emotionally to the idea that their leaders are doing their best, under very trying circumstances, mainly to comfort and soothe themselves, an objective reading of the performance of our leaders is far less favourable. They have made unconscionable errors, for very poor reasons. It will, no doubt, cost lives.
What can art do about any of that? Well, ideas for a better, brighter world are abundant, but vehemently opposed by those that currently enjoy privilege, under the existing arrangements. Getting those ideas out there at least provides people with hopeful alternatives and new perspectives. What we’ve never yet solved is how to change minds, when they are used to the comfort of their own entrenched, stubborn, intransigent, wilful, determined stupidity and ignorance. Art can make change an irresistible proposition. It must be worth a try.
We know that when disaster strikes, professional lobbyists go into overdrive, to gain exemptions and special consideration, from governments. Why shouldn’t artists also go into overdrive to counterbalance that power and money grab? Maybe that’s our last genuine line of defence.
Art can be social glue, when it’s shared. It can create community spirit, comfort and soothe the anxious. It can stave off cabin fever and boredom, while everybody is locked down. Art can make everything seem not quite so bleak. It’s an expression of hope.
Nobody will hate you for not creating art, in a time of pandemic, but everyone that somehow manages to do so will, one day, receive gratitude. History teaches us that much.
Save lives, stay home and try to make art, if you can.