“Night and Day”
The Colors of Jazz
24″ x 18″
©2021, Molly Larson Cook
Acrylic on canvas
In the art world, as everywhere else, the pandemic has wreaked a certain amount of damage. And I don’t mean just lost opportunities to exhibit or to make sales.
The art wheels are turning slowly, creaking as it were, and I’m happy to report that it’s not just me who has noticed this. I’m especially happy to report this to myself, and to stop picking on me over the lack of motivation and quality of the work.
I subscribe to blogs and news from and about other artists. I recently received one message from an artist I’ve never met but whose work I like. She reports being as stuck as I have been. I felt an immediate pang of sympathy and sisterhood along with a personal sense of loss.
None of us wants to feel that we’ve lost the creative juice. None of us.
Most of us have gone through other problems, other times when we couldn’t work for one reason or another, but those times have been more or less under our control. We had a good idea what was going on and when life would get back to normal. The pandemic has been different.
I live in a county in Oregon that remains in the “extreme risk” category meaning that nothing is open. I feel fortunate to be able to get to my studio several times a week, but even that is an odyssey.
Years ago, I wrote a paper for a college theatre class about why certain kinds of art did not flourish in ancient Egypt. My conclusion was that little grows in a culture oriented toward death, and death, rather than joie de vivre, was much celebrated in ancient Egypt.
The pandemic has focused us all on death, death every day, death in large numbers, death where there was not death before, death that could come knocking on any door at any time. This, coupled with the politics of the last year, took away the joie de vivre we need for our best work.
We listen to music, we look at nature, we try to tell ourselves that things will be okay and we try to tell ourselves that the art spirit is alive within us no matter what, but we are lying. And we know the lies.
I wear my mask and see all the others in their masks and I know as I watch the eyes without the smiles, that I need to see those faces, those smiles – or even the frowns. I’m not a portrait artist, so it’s not the loss of a subject for my work. It’s the loss of the joie de vivre, the connection.
When the pandemic began we hoped it would end quickly. We were cheerful and tried to make the best of things. People created scenarios of famous paintings. It was all merry and light and fun. But the pandemic kept going and the world grew darker. Reality came knocking. The pandemic was not going away quickly. Our worlds changed.
In Art and Fear, Bayles and Orland have this to say about that:
“…art is something you do out in the world,or something you do about the world, or even something you do for the world. The need to make art may not stem solely from the need to express who you are, but from a need to complete a relationship with something outside yourself. As a maker of art you are custodian of issues larger than self.”
And I say that it must follow as the night the day: When the world is in the throes of a pandemic, art suffers. Art struggles. Artists are trying to function without much of a map these days. It’s not just within ourselves. It’s within a world where masked or maskless we cannot ignore the deaths. We cannot put on a happy face and pretend that all is fine. Well, we could of course, but serious artists are about more than that.
We need to complete that relationship with the world which is, for now, out of reach. The relationship that gives us the joie de vivre is — for now — gone.
I’m not trying to make excuses for us. I’m just offering this small consolation that one day, possibly soon, life will get back to normal – the old normal or the new – and juices will flow again.
We’ll be ready to do more than clean the studio one more time, read the books, shuffle through older work and ask ourselves when we’ll get back to doing things we once did with ease.
We’ll be working artists.
At our work.