“…And when old words die out on the tongue,
new melodies break forth from the heart;
and when the old tracks are lost,
new country is revealed with its wonders.”
As we continue to creep out of the pandemic during which so many old tracks were lost, I continue to hear from other artist friends and writers about their slow recovery from what’s just happened — the slow recovery while we search for the new country and hope to find wonders revealed.
The creative lethargy is hanging on. I don’t know about anybody else, but I’ve turned much of my energy to creating a flower garden. I have flats of seedlings and pots of bulbs coming along and have spent time doing what other small garden tasks I can until things warm up a little more.
And I’ve made curtains for the new house. Found other small projects to make the house a home. But I did not paint in my studio.
Creative people are a stubborn lot.
And sometimes a bit narrow-minded about our work. I had no desire to shift from my “Colors of Jazz” to painting anything at all about COVID. I didn’t want to honor the disease with my work. I realize how that sounds, but I don’t know another way to say it. COVID created so many problems for us all that I did not want to let it have an even greater hold on my life. My work. My time.
So it is as if I’ve put it on hold for now. In Art & Fear, Bayles & Orland write of the “constants” that artists need. But we all know that the constants vanished when COVID came along. Nothing was the same and our day-to-day lives were anything but constant.
Here’s how my life went, in brief, without all the messy details. When I moved into my studio in the old hotel, I had great plans for small showings in the studio or possibly a larger show in the grand old lobby of the building. Art. Music. People.
But because the hotel is used by other people who live or work there, all of that went out the window the moment COVID hit us. The building was quarantined and I first had to move my work home, later moved back in but still could not invite anybody to my studio. We wore our masks, kept our distance, saw no one.
Artists and other creatives know about solitude. We accept it as part of the creative process. But solitude and isolation are not the same. And what we got with COVID was isolation. Even buying art supplies became a solitary and isolated act: where there had once been crowds in the aisles, we now had the place very nearly to ourselves.
Shows of any kind at any gallery were mostly out of the question. Or if you were able to arrange a small show someplace like a local restaurant, nobody would see it unless they were willing to sit with a cooling cup of coffee alone in a booth or at a table.
So a great number of us turned to other things. We stayed at home. We sketched instead of painted. We baked. We read articles about art. We thought about our work, but we didn’t quite have the heart to pick up a brush, or if we did pick up a brush, we knew we were not doing what we’d meant to do.
I’m not just talking about myself. I’ve heard from other artists. The NY Times even ran an article asking creative folks what they did during the pandemic. The answers were interesting.
I turned to Bayles & Orland’s Art and Fear for a look at what they might have to say and found it in the last chapter of the book. In the closing pages, here’s what I read.
“To a remarkable degree the outside world consists of variables and the interior world consists of constants. The constants are, well, constant: barring mental breakdown or a rare tropical fever, you’ll carry the same burdens tomorrow and next year as you do today. We experience life as artists no differently from the way we experience life in any other role — we simply exist, perhaps watching from an imaginary point a little behind our eyes, while the scene we observe from that steady vantage point changes constantly…
“The artistic evidence for the constancy of interior issues is everywhere. It shows in the way most artists return to the same two or three stories again and again. It shows in the palette of Van Gogh, the characters of Hemingway, the orchestration of your favorite composer. We tell the stories we have to tell, stories of the things that draw us in — and why should any of us have more than a handful of those? The only work really worth doing — the only work you CAN do convincingly — is the work that focuses on the things you care about. To not focus on those issues is to deny the constants in your life.”
COVID was not a rare tropical fever, but it was a mighty interruption that did break the back of Constants in many of our lives. Nothing now is as it was. We may need more time to get back to the work we love and were meant to do.
On the big calendar over my desk, a calendar of flowers, the flower for February is a photograph of a beautiful, fully blooming pink peony. I see it every day.
The garden is calling. I’m answering.
2 thoughts on “Searching for Constants and New Tracks in our Artist Lives”
Yes, Don, very much look forward to those fine possibilities…
And I think one positive about this scourge is that when things return to normal, all of us will appreciate the small things in life we took for granted until 2020 – like just raising a pint at dive bar without social distancing. And maybe we can also return to civil discourse.