When the closings hit, I watched how art schools reeled back.
I listened to a meager dozen webinars reporting how the “inessential” industry took one hit, and then two hits, and a third. I watched it join hands to stand up for itself.
“Think big. Work big. Don’t let COVID restrain your creativity,” the slogan read.
And then, “Document it all.”
Documenting It All
Over the course of the pandemic, I:
- dug out the old furniture from my attic and built a studio in my basement;
- prepared three canvases, one of whose’s diagonals are longer than I am tall;
- sketched compositions for three oil series;
- started three new art forms, and rekindled twelve.
I did not realize I had the materials for fifteen.
But, I dragged my easel out of the basement in autumn because the weather was getting too cold. I studied how the light of day passes it by, the ugly glow of backlit yellow, the cast shadow of my silhouette because I set it too far from the window.
And I have not touched it since.
In April 2020, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the International Council of Museums reported 90% of the planet’s museums closing, at least temporarily.
In July, 61% of respondents to Culture Track’s “Culture + Community in a Time of Crisis” survey reported that “[…] Arts and culture organizations in [their] area[s] were really financially struggling because of COVID-19” (The survey was based in the United States with 124,000 respondents. 32% reported neutrality).
From April to July, the Brookings Institute estimated a loss of 1,383,224 jobs in the fine and performing arts industries, representing 50.00% of all occupations within those two industries in the U.S., and a 27.00% loss in projected total sales.
In September, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reported a rapid digitalization within the arts sector, deemed “innovation.”
The Art of COVID-19
The reference folder for the three series sits on my laptop screen. The last time I added to it was yesterday. Somehow, I feel dust already collecting.
There is some floating joy about the quiet. A member of German street artist group Quintessenz recalls, “[Sitting in my studio] brought me back to the time before we had any success, when we had the time to experiment, or just hang out in the studio, even if we didn’t get any work done.”
Since coming to Concord Academy, I have treated painting as if I were a viewer: an escape. It was a choice to perch in the studio instead of getting dinner. Perhaps now it is the harsh daylight which plants the worry that our work has become of lesser quality. My vision blurs. Too much solvent? But I just opened the bottle. How can you be the one passing by if the world picks itself up and starts spinning entirely?
Survive. Endure. Innovate. Persevere.
I miss the museums. I miss installations. I am lucky enough to not need to rely on steadily producing sellable artwork to make a living. So, I keep watching the daylight tick by. I trace a nail on the dried Gamsol, and I do not know what to say, if the art of us has become, irrefutably, the art of COVID-19.