The lockdown has made us change the way we think and observe the world, and we are finding new ways to deal with our boredom and anxiety about the virus. The arts and their contribution to our well-being are evident and, in some ways, very central to the way we are coping.
In this time of crisis and isolation, the role of art becomes more central to our lives, whether we realize it or not. People on social media are sharing favourite Netflix playlists, songs, videos, and even artwork to reach out beyond isolation and share what they love.
Life in isolation is nothing new to us, communities before us have been isolated and invisible to the vast majority of the world for a long time.“Painting in Florence and Siena After the Black Death: The Arts, Religion and Society in the Mid-Fourteenth Century” by Meiss takes on Italian art in the aftermath of the bubonic plague.
The calamity upended Europe beginning in 1347. A pandemic had transpired. But Meiss reasoned that the plague also changed the cultural mindset of the larger society that survived. Millions who survived the Black Death, “their fear, their sense of guilt and the varieties of their religious response” shaped the next century of Italian art.
So, what does it mean to make art in times of COVID–19 and social distancing? Art made urgently and in socially distanced spaces will be a source of survival and it will change us all for the better. Awareness of mortality usually motivates people to live better and actively and that then seeps into art.
We see viral videos of Italians singing to each other from balconies and we shout thanks from our windows for health care workers. We are realizing that nobody is invincible when it comes to illness, and also how important it is to be surrounded by people you love.
But whether the coronavirus will inspire true social change is not clear right now. Until the time comes, we can look at art from plagues of the past to remind ourselves that our ancestors have faced times like these and emerged victorious.