The Importance of Art in a Time of Crisis

It’s official: COVID-19 has been drastically reshaping our lives for over half of 2020 now. In some ways, it feels like we’ve been stuck in self-isolation and quarantine for seven years, not months. In others, time is not an accurate measurement anymore. I know that, in my own life, the days blend together seamlessly— one day melting into the next, a monotonous lull only interrupted by the occasional existential crisis: How much longer? This must be the apocalypse! None of this is fair.

And it’s not.

Because we’re not just living through a global public health crisis, but a serious mental health crisis too. Ask any college student, essential worker, teacher, or parent. The fear of contracting this deadly virus pervades every waking moment of our lives, and so do the effects of that same fear. It manifests in different ways. For one of my close friends, it’s an intense preoccupation that her severely immunocompromised sister might get sick. For me, it’s an increased sensitivity to my own health: uncontrollable worry, exacerbated panic disorder, and an ever-increasing fear of leaving my apartment in case disaster strikes. 2020 has been hard— for all of us, preexisting mental health issues or not.

Art is what’s been getting me through the worst of it. I take time each day to write, a project I started pre-COVID as a means of becoming more productive in pursuing my passion. Each night, I block off intentional time for poetry and prose, which, admittedly, has become more difficult since classes are now in session. But I do it anyway because it’s one of the only aspects of constancy left in the flux of this season: sitting down, sometimes with a cup of tea and other times curled up in the corner of my boyfriend’s living room while he plays games with his roommates, and pouring out my burdens, dreams, and frustrations.

I’m very impressed by the way others have been incorporating their art into the new configuration of their lives. I’ve witnessed friends start lifestyle blogs from the comfort of their bedrooms, learn how to master the art of cooking delectable, Michelin star-worthy meals (still uncharted waters for me!), and dig up a buried love for playing instruments or painting. My roommate from freshman year even started her own sticker business on Etsy. It’s inspiring to witness these unexpected beacons of hope spring up out of uncharted waters. If there’s anything beautiful about the course of this year, it’s that we’re being introduced to the artists that have been with us the whole time, finally emerging from their shells in a time when our communities need them most.

Not all of us are comfortable calling ourselves artists, and that’s okay. Nor should you feel compelled to become one— expecting a complete transformation while stuck in quarantine. You’re surviving a terrifying pandemic, and that’s a full-time job! Think for a moment, though, about what you’ve been consuming for entertainment over the past few months. This summer alone, I’ve discovered new shows that I can’t help but binge over and over: Normal People on Hulu, for example. It’s the TV adaptation of Sally Rooney’s best-selling novel. I’ve watched the series at least four times on repeat, falling deeper in love with the characters and afterward watching countless actor interviews. I can’t help it; it’s an obsession. I’ve also gotten into Flannery O’Connor’s short stories and discovered that I have a deep love for American gothic literature. Some other new addictions: curating Spotify playlists for very specific moods, watching YouTube videos of concerts by my favorite musicians, experimenting with makeup trends (admittedly failed with that one), and lying face-down in bed, wallowing in emotion to Phoebe Bridgers’ Punisher all night.

The common thread: all of this is art.

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