As I dismiss yet another notification for a worryingly high screen time, I lay my phone down on my desk. A surface now covered in an accidental mural of pencil markings and paint stains. Between stacks of card and coloured notebooks, my paint brushes submerged in a stained coffee mug, the water emulating the algae green of an unchlorinated swimming pool on the first day of summer. My wall, once an offsetting magnolia, now hosts a messy mosaic of handwritten letters and paintings. My bedroom floor: a labyrinth of sketchbooks, sheet music of forgotten piano melodies and an untouched pair of Nike running shoes. For me, art during lockdown is just another temporary distraction from the coalescence of days spent at home. Only when I start to grow sick of the opening theme tune of a Netflix show I’ll perhaps consider picking up a paintbrush.
Even in the most unprecedented of times artists from all sectors of the industry are continuing to create. From the simplicity of a painted rainbow in a window to the intricate models of a sculptor. Between Instagram stories of 5k runs and drinking challenges emerge numerous art accounts showcasing the previously undisclosed talent of my peers (Who knew that girl in my chemistry class was so good at poetry?). With even street artist Banksy taking to the platform to share his latest piece: his signature rats engaging in an anarchic frenzy in what appears to be his household bathroom accompanied by the novel caption “My wife hates when I work from home”.
It’s said that mankind’s biggest muse is mankind itself, yet the absence of such is proving poignant. At a time where art production would be expected to be at an all time low, we find the pandemic serving as a muse, birthing from it a new wave of talent. It’s unavoidable; Facebook posts of supermarket checkouts adorned in hazard tape as they once were in tinsel. An empty Moroccan souk, at one time heaving with vendors and tourists alike, now just another vacant alleyway in an otherwise static city. This inspiration coupled with copious free time makes it no surprise that art production is on the incline.
Yet for others lockdown has jolted every aspect of their livelihood. As those who pursue art as a career struggle to adapt. The caricaturists who once occupied the lively Barcelona streets, pencil in hand and euro in pocket, now reside in their houses, the silence of the city falling uneasy in comparison to the usual touristic cacophony. Choir ensembles curse their poor WiFi connection in the robotic audio of another failed Zoom call and dancers who once toured global venues now dance alone in their living rooms, pining for the day they can take the stage again.
Another notification of a cancelled music event (until next time Boomtown) lights up my phone screen, in its company are emails of cancelled art exhibitions and 15% off that clothing store I never got round to unsubscribing to. During times like these the public’s reliance on arts and culture is truly evident as I find myself, like most, longing for trips to galleries, cinemas and bookstores.
Yet in the midst of it all there are still ways to connect: culturally reminiscent of pre-lockdown life. A cinema trip once characterised by overpriced popcorn and the irritating low-level noise of the audience is now a simple online subscription in the form of sites like Netflix and Hulu, where you can stream cinematic masterpieces through your laptop screen. Art galleries, once a crowded haul of teenagers on Instagram shoots and overpriced entry are now accessible via the Google Arts and Culture initiative, allowing users to virtually walk historic sites and galleries without the crowds. Likewise, poets, readers, and even singers take to the virtual stage to perform to an on-screen audience. The experience, although not quite as immersive, is still something.
As regulations begin to loosen, we look towards a future post lockdown. In all the uncertainty it draws into question the future continuation of publicly funded institutions. The transparent donation boxes usually rife with £5 notes and the occasional £20 of a generous tourist are responsible for fuelling the exhibitions we so aimlessly attend. Will these decline post lockdown? Or will time without these events only fuel our appreciation and perhaps encourage us to delve just that bit deeper into our pockets.
[Tiarna Meehan – she/her]
[Illustration by Octavia Bromell – @tinkoutsidethebox]