When the pandemic forced governments across the world to put lockdown measures in place to stop the spread of Covid-19, many hailed the new-found time as an opportunity to work on half-finished projects and new ideas that had been repeatedly pushed to the bottom of the to-do list, as more urgent and pressing tasks were prioritised. These projects took many forms, some decided to learn a language, others took to working out at home, some wanted to learn to play a musical instrument and many, myself included, took the time to widen their culinary repertoire, with banana bread being a popular choice.
The gift of time, however, was a double-edged sword. It provided a rare interruption in our frantic lives to engage in novel and interesting activities. For many artists and people involved in the creative industries, however, the prospect of spending an indefinite period at home with next to no exposure to the outside world was stressful and offered little inspiration.
There were countless ways to reach others by video calls; Microsoft Teams, Skype and Zoom all spring to mind. Still, the type of social interaction offered by those mediums is largely inauthentic and plagued with buffering and connectivity mishaps that tarnish the very essence of natural human exchanges. Art and the creators of art are largely inspired by human interaction and by those around them, two aspects that often provide an original idea for a piece.
Even the work of novelists and poets, artists whose artforms ostensibly seem to be very independent and solitary pursuits, depend saliently, if not wholly, on human contact and interaction. The act of putting pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard in the modern-day, is based on a plethora of micro-interactions. The stimulus for a novel, a play or the main traits of a particular character can be traced back to a simple memory, a scent, an individual crossed on the street or even the place where the writing happens.
The Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa, for instance, was known to frequent the A Brasileira café in Lisbon, as shown above. He always sat at the same table, which is where his statue stands today. Having lived in and met the residents of many of Lisbon’s neighbourhoods, Pessoa was well-known for creating many heteronyms that he used in his work. While the focus of this article is not Pessoa, he surely exemplifies the effect of humanity on an artist and their work. Social interaction and those around the artist offer stimuli for creativity, stimuli that have been mostly – if not wholly – inaccessible since March.
As I established earlier, articulating the human experience through art, whether it be music, sculpting or dance, is almost completely dependent on human interaction. The nature of that interaction, however, is not what you would expect. According to Dr Mehrabian’s study, 93% of communication is non-verbal. In fact, he concluded that 55% of human communication is in actual fact visual. Simple experiences such as seeing strangers in the street, sitting next to someone on the bus, waiting next to someone in the queue or bumping into somebody at a concert are all forms of interaction and in some way offer a form of communication, even though we are not directly aware of it.
The truth of the matter is that Covid-19 and the lockdown limited inspiration, it was a period of creative stasis, a dip in creativity. This is because one of the aspects that makes the world so exciting is the people in it, the way they live, the activities they pursue and the way they think and connect.
Although it is ironic that I am expressing this idea to you via a screen, understanding the way people live, the activities they pursue and the way they think cannot be transmitted over a series of illuminated pixels that blur and glitch. Facial expressions, seeing people exchange handshakes, hugs, kisses and frowns are all parts of humanity that are lost when face-to-face contact is not possible. Many human characteristics such as scent and personal attributes such as passion and charisma cannot be transmitted through a digital medium. Nevertheless, when normality resumes and life as we knew it, or indeed a form of it ensues, there will be scope for artists of every kind to embrace humanity and social interaction. Perhaps a new conscience and understanding of humanity will emerge as a result of these bizarre, troubling and dare I say it -unprecedented- times.
While the impulse for artistic creation has been limited, so has the funding to ensure the survival of venues and creative organisations during tough economic times. Music venues, theatres, recording studios, independent cinemas, Jazz clubs, restaurants, food markets and art galleries have all had to close for a substantial amount of time due to lockdown measures introduced in March, with several cultural venues setting up crowdfunding pages and the like to guarantee survival.
Not only do these places provide the general public access to art and creative content, but they can also be used by artists as a prompt for new work. The financial impact of such stasis cannot be ignored. The closure of creative businesses and organisations affects artists’ livelihoods; in a world of online streaming, musicians who cannot perform or go on tour suffer financially, artists whose exhibitions are cancelled struggle to sell paintings and independent cinemas who can no longer receive visitors or show the latest films struggle to pay bills and rent.
The Creative Industries Federation claims that ‘the UK’s creative industries are on the brink of devastation’, and that prior to the pandemic the UK’s creative sector was growing at ‘five times the rate of the wider economy’; however, now, it is predicted that 122,000 permanent creative workers are due to be made redundant before the year’s end. Social interaction fuels the production of art and is integral to the experience of consuming art, whether it be a theatre, a restaurant or a gallery.
Social interaction is fundamental for the financial wellbeing of creative industries, to provide a stimulus for new art, to exhibit art and also to remunerate those who devote their time to create it. While the lockdown measures are important and necessary to prevent further contagion, the impact of Coronavirus has truly disrupted the economic model of creative businesses and organisations, deeply affecting the general public’s access to art, and of course the artists themselves.
The very act of transmitting human experiences through art depends on interacting with others. The development of new ideas and trends is only possible when artistic stimuli can be shared and approached by different people. Equally, the places that house art and exist to exhibit also require human interaction. In light of this, it is only natural for artists to have experienced a block or a dip in creativity since March, and for venues, theatres, galleries and the like to have experienced financial difficulties since the lockdown announcement. It has been damaging, tiring, frustrating and heartbreaking for many. Normality will eventually resume, and when it does, art will be as wonderful as ever.
Cover Image: Janko Hoener via Wikimedia & Creative Commons.