ART IN CRISIS: The power of art amidst the COVID-19 pandemic
Written by Allie Santana
Edited by Iya Albitos
I made my very first art account a week under quarantine. I’ve seen about 5 musicals online, drawn about 25 different things, and binge watched about 11 season’s worth of cartoons—and no, this isn’t me encouraging the idea that we should spend every waking hour in quarantine ‘developing our skillsets’ or ‘learning x number of new things.’ This is me explaining how powerful art is amidst this crisis, and how impactful it is to ourselves and to the world.
Admittedly, in a time like this where the media is highly saturated with news articles and updates on tests, recoveries, or the lack thereof, you’d probably think: who would possibly be interested in seeing some mediocre drawing of a cat? But as a self-proclaimed struggling artist, I’ve come to constantly tell myself how creating isn’t all about who’s interested. In a time like this where we’re so frequently surrounded by fear, anxiety, confusion, and all other possible bad feelings, it’s not unusual to seek for at least a hint of understanding—and that’s exactly what art gives us. While the world continues to grow in uncertainty of both the present and the future, art has kept us human.
Art for ourselves
Now that I’ve been able to spend more time on social media, I’ve witnessed so many people struggle to make sense of what they feel or should be feeling right now. I’ve had my fair share of confusing feelings, from being bored of staying home all day, to being guilty that I even have the privilege to feel that, to being stressed about school/the government/my body/whatever. It’s been difficult to truly grasp my emotions lately, and while I don’t blame myself for any of that, I’m glad I’ve grown closer to art because of it.
I admit that I’ve been exposed to art for practically my entire life, but only now did I realize what creating really meant to me. While I stay at home with my aching thoughts about the world and myself, I’ve turned to art to help me cope. When I find myself stuck in my own head, I use art to let my thoughts out and process them. It has been one of the few stable things in my life right now, and I’m really grateful that I can hold on to it when I need to calm down or understand myself. I’m grateful that I have something I can control, and something I can look to for solace—and in all honesty, while I’ve begun to go deeper into my art journey, I’ve realized how much this has helped me with my mental health. Seeing my growth and having a tangible means of expression has really helped me accept myself (and my feelings) a little more despite all the chaos happening around me. Seeing other people write, draw, or make films about the same things I feel has really helped me get through my feelings of isolation in quarantine. It has taught me parts of myself that I never would have learned any other way, and it has led me to realize that there actually is a whole community out there that gets me.
Of course I can’t deny, however, that it took me time to realize all this. I never really stopped making and interacting with art, but I stopped creating for myself in such a long time—and it kind of distorted my idea of what art meant to me. Being in a course and a bunch of orgs that constantly required art-related outputs has really led me to believe that art was a task that I had to push myself to do all time, and that art for fun was irrelevant. I even felt that watching an episode of my favorite cartoon was a mistake and that I had so much more important things to do. This is why I found it so striking that of all times, it was amidst a global health crisis wherein I realized how important and powerful art really is. With all the awful things happening in the world right now, it’s comforting to remember that art wasn’t really made to fit any specific expectations but our own. It wasn’t made to be a despising chore, or a thing that you should be forcing yourself to do (or not do) all the time. It is ultimately an outlet, with no one but yourself judging, and to its core, I’d consider it as something that’s just there, for you, and with you—which is almost more than enough to keep us going during a time of great loneliness, grief, and despair.
Art for the world
Despite all that has been said, though, we can’t forget about the people who don’t have the privilege to create and access the kind of art we can. This is why I’ve come to realize that apart from helping us understand ourselves, art also helps us understand humanity. While there are people that have no access to godly creations like Animal Crossing and Netflix, art has helped us realize the deeper meaning behind this lack of privilege. Art has served the world by pointing out realities that many people struggle to discover at first glance. It has given us the means to learn practically everything, from laws and scientific processes to abstract life lessons. It has spread awareness on social, political, economic, and cultural issues, sometimes without even having to say a word. In this extremely eventful time where information is spread at lightning speed, art has helped us process life. It has grown to become an exceptionally effective medium of education, awareness, and even protest, and it has helped us make sense of an utterly confusing world.
Taking this into account however, we also shouldn’t forget about the people that work day and night to directly combat the virus. Coming up with a vaccine and other needed solutions to the problem might seem like a purely science-related task, but it’s important to understand that creativity is always a vital part to innovation and problem-solving. While yes, it is extremely important to understand the technical side of problems and solutions, it is also important to understand how these would affect humanity, and what solutions would be ideal for the people. We’ve always known that science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are significant parts of our fight against the crises our world faces today, but we need to understand that the Arts is just as significant too. Whether it be through things like art fundraisers, awareness campaigns, protests, or even product design, we can’t deny that we need art to help solve our world’s problems, especially amidst the pandemic.
But if the Arts really does help ourselves and the world, what now? What should and shouldn’t be done now that we know how important it is? I think that a simple answer to this would have to be to just keep celebrating it. Personally, I didn’t write this to put extra pressure on creative minds. I didn’t write this to tell people that they HAVE TO pursue art and force themselves to do something creative all the time. I didn’t write this to look down on science and put the Arts on a pedestal. I wrote this to celebrate art, in all its forms and in all its power, just as much as we celebrate other beautiful things in life. Books, drawings, video games, pastries, dances, songs, musicals—whatever creation it is that we interact with, I’ve realized that these are things we need to hold on to. We need to celebrate its power to be there for ourselves and the world, because that is, simply, beautiful. We need to remember the communities built, the lives saved, the thoughts processed, the lessons taught, and the injustices fought all through art. Never should we ever have to feel bad about posting drawings of cats or baking banana bread everyday or watching eleven straight seasons of a cartoon. I admit that life amidst the pandemic is extremely different from life before it, so we shouldn’t have to expect ourselves to live just as we did a few months ago. The best we can do is help ourselves and the world, and celebrate the things under our positive control, like art. I can’t deny that there’s a whole lot of fear and anxiety going around now, so the best we can do is hold on to what keeps us human, because ultimately, amidst this time of great destruction, sometimes all we need is creation.