Ah, to be an artist in a pandemic. It sounds ridiculous. That’s because it is. I’m only into my third year of being an independent artist entrepreneur and Covid hits. Great.
In March, I honestly thought when it got to November I’d be financially ruined, and there would be zero opportunities in the art world. I thought it would be a sad conclusion of my short-lived dream. I asked myself, who needs art in a pandemic?!
But the summer of 2020 has been surprisingly kind to me.
During the first few weeks of lockdown with no end in sight, I began to realise there’s a chance my dream is over—no markets, no classes, no networking, no functions, no fundraisers, no nothing. Everything cancelled. Major panic. But being the never say die type, I started brainstorming about how I could adapt to this situation.
I could get my ass out there to document this event artistically, but that’s not my style. I’ll leave that to the cartoonists and illustrators who do a much smarter job of it. I could stitch colourful, funky, abstract masks but I can barely sew a button or stitch a hem, so that’s out of my wheelhouse.
When you begin to think your job or purpose is obsolete, all those inner critics have a field day. It doesn’t take a pandemic for them to get vocal anyway, oh no.
They’d throw questions and statements at me like; nobody is going to buy art in a pandemic, why are you even bothering? They’re buying toilet paper you halfwit. Or, nobody cares about what you’re doing, they’re looking for ways to pay their rent! How is painting helpful in a pandemic? Art is not important right now; you should start looking for another job. Yeah. My inner critics said all of that and more.
It’s been a mental circus, but luckily, and perhaps ironically, as an artist, I have confronted those voices before, so I had a better idea about how to handle them this time.
I’m not painting for any reason other than I LOVE it.
I’m painting for me. I’m painting because it stops me going crazy. I’m painting because the world needs to be a brighter place. I’m painting because I want to spread joy. I’m painting because I love colour. I’m painting because I’m curious. I’m painting because I need to. I’m painting to set my soul on fire! I’m painting. I AM PAINTING. That’s it—end of discussion. Quitters are losers.
It seems to me that art became even more critical during a pandemic.
People were posting about the things they were creating or trying for the first time at home. Everything from kids crafts through to sculptures and paintings, picking up an instrument or getting creative in the kitchen. It was magnificent to watch the world seize art as a way out of this living nightmare and explore something that brings joy.
The slow process involved in creating something with your own hands is not perceived as convenient during this digital age. I think people reconnected with this tactile form of therapy an essential part of their lockdown experience and I rejoice over it! Thank you pandemic!
We all need art. Art is essential to the human spirit. If these reactions and behaviours aren’t absolute proof of the importance of art, I’m not sure what else could be.
At the end of September, I found myself delighted to be sitting in a socially distanced bubble, trying to hide under a blanket and stop the bitterly cold wind from freezing me to death to take in an outdoor concert. I had no idea who was performing, and I honestly didn’t care. Every second was delicious because I don’t know when I’ll get to do it again.
While this validation for art and the arts community make me want to fist bump the air like a lunatic, we’re a long way from ‘normal’, and my heart weeps for those artists, musicians and chefs who are facing some very stark choices and possible ruin.
There are so many talented individuals out there teaching us about ourselves through art and connecting us all. Think of the youngsters who might be just starting on their artistic journeys. I hope, for their sake, with all the financial aid being handed out to get us through this, that the arts aren’t one of the first things to be cut from schools or health and wellness programs to balance the books.
The arts are always the least valued, the first to go but the most missed. We need to stop taking it for granted, and we need to encourage its growth throughout every level of society. We’d all be lost without it; the pandemic has proven that.
I hope that when this is all over, the pandemic will consciously prioritise the arts in everyone’s minds and give it the value in our society that it justly deserves.
Rant over. Thanks for reading.
Sam Millard. How original art