While artists may be spending much of this pandemic in their studios working to produce new works, many of us are left without such established art practices to help us make sense of (or escape) our current radical reality. At the same time, COVID-19 has pushed art institutions and organizations to get creative about the ways in which they operate. Many have created resources for the general public, so that we can create, view or in some other way take part in the excitement and depth of art — from wherever we may be.
At a time when uncertainties, fear and illness plague our society, art remains a resource and practice which, in its essence, cannot be stamped out. And if we’re going to be quarantined, we might as well use our time at home to engage with that art: to pause, reflect, create and, ironically, participate. While galleries and artists scramble to keep their audiences engaged, most of them have offered up online resources — like virtual gallery tours, online classes or at-home activities for kids and adults that are readily accessible to anyone with an internet connection. (But be warned: Netflix and YouTube are lowering streaming quality in the UK to keep the internet from breaking there. So, it might be wise to watch our screen time and balance our modes of art appreciation between virtual tours and at-home projects.)
While the implications of a loss of patronage remains a very real threat for artists and organizations alike, there will always be a societal need for art and aesthetics. They are an intrinsic part of our culture; they are central to how we derive meaning and perform our identities as humans. So, while many of us are choosing to spend our non-working isolation hours binge-watching TV shows and checking social media, there remain a number of options and opportunities for changing the way we engage with that media.
Instead of binge-watching, what if we decided to watch one movie — maybe one we wouldn’t normally choose? What if, after watching it, we read some reviews and began to formulate our own opinions about the film? What if we started a virtual art or book club; used our social media networks to create real dialogue and share much- needed resources? Much of this is happening already, and it’s incredibly inspiring to see and take part in.
This pandemic feels as if it could constitute a paradigm shift for many people and places. We still don’t know what it will look like and how it will leave us long-term, but it is an existential threat, and one which people are taking seriously. So, what do we do in the face of that? How do we ensure that our artists and their interdependent institutions are supported? We need their voices and we need their work, but while a recession looms and self-quarantining persists, the number of individuals able to support them (whether with money or time) may quickly dwindle.
I propose we use this as a chance to step back. To inquire: what are our priorities as fellow community members? What is our relationship to art and how can we make space for it in our lives? These are, of course, the kinds of questions Artscope Magazine is asking every day. As individuals, though, we don’t usually encounter circumstances which push us to question our personal relationship with art, creativity and culture. If there is a silver lining in this pandemic (and I believe there is), it is ours to claim. And I think we can — we just have to look around and “reach out” (though maybe not with our bare hands) to the people and art that are already around us.