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On Artists and Isolation (or Composers and the Coronavirus)…

In the UK we are entering the end of our fourth week of ‘lockdown’ in which families and individuals are asked to stay in the their houses, to try to work from home and to avoid contact with other people at all times – you don’t need me to tell you about how unprecedented, challenging and destablising the whole situation is. But it is what it is, and it is for the safety and health of the nation, if not the world, that we isolate ourselves. Much will be written about this period, I’m sure of that, with the challenges to society, to the economy and the fate of institutions, states and nations all to be discussed in the years following this pandemic. Alongside the grander narratives there will be the human stories of loss, love and hope and no doubt all of these will be woven together to create the communal mythos of Coronavirus and all that entails. Maybe at some point someone will ask about artists, about writers, painters, filmmakers and composers – ‘what were they doing during this unprecedented period of introspection, time and freedom?’ Well, let me give you an answer from North East Scotland…

Very little.

Now, I may need to unpack that glib statement a little, if not to explain my own creative situation but to assess the assumptions that the wider world may have about artists (of all persuasions) at this time. I should preface this with a disclaimer: all artists are different, and all create for different reasons, so one size does definitely not fit all in this case, but some general trends do seem to be permeating and perhaps giving an unfair representation of what it is like to be creative person during this quarantine.

The main issue I have, is that the overwhelming assumption is that all artists are suddenly super-creative, are suddenly freed from the shackles of more worldly concerns to concentrate fully on their art and their aesthetic. This period of isolation can be nothing other than a good thing for artists, to delve deeply into their craft, their reason for being, and to come out the other side with ground-breaking work that represents their struggle as a creative being and makes some sense of the chaos of the world for others to appreciate and understand. And believe me, many appear to be embracing this challenge whole-heartedly. Now, some of this is a self-coping mechanism (which we all need in some fashion), some of it is trying to make the best of a bad situation (again, nothing wrong with that), some of it is just trying to keep busy and active (ditto) and some of it is just plain opportunism. Whichever it may be, it still doesn’t get away from the fact that it is about artists continuing to be active, to be creating, and to not be impacted on by the difficult environment that they are now operating in. Some of it may well just be habitual, moving their sphere of influence from the gallery or the concert hall to the living room or spare bedroom via social media.

But what of those artists who aren’t creative? Who aren’t inspired? Who can only just manage to get through the day no matter how free their schedules are from mundanity and other earthly concerns? Their voices aren’t heard as loudly, or perhaps as often – what are they doing? I ask this question, as I am one of them, one of those creative people who is just finding it incredibly difficult to be creative…in any form…at all…hence, why I’m writing this blog…which is sort of creative but not…if you get my point. I find the tsunami of creativity on social media, on the TV, the radio or from talking to other creative friends completely overwhelming – it is too much. I am very happy for everyone to be so busy, to be making the best of a bad job, to have written so much music, to have finished this book or that, to have learned a third language, to have mastered the ancient art of something, or whatever has made people so busy. That is fantastic, but it isn’t my current experience. I can’t get started on looming projects, I can’t tentatively consider pieces I’ve always wanted to write but never had the time, I’m even finding it hard to complete dull university admin tasks. It’s desperate.

But maybe it isn’t? Maybe that is OK? These are difficult times, people are dying, families are grieving, societies are struggling to come to terms with these new modes of being – why should I feel the need to be creative amidst all this uncertainty? For I think it is the uncertainty that I find such a block: will these pieces that need writing ever get performed? Will there ever be concerts again? Will the creative industries be decimated? Will I lose my job? Will the football season ever recommence? There is so much we just don’t know – I don’t know about you, but I find this uncertainty just a little difficult to comprehend, never mind try to conjure up some worthwhile new music.

There are other, mitigating, factors to my lack of creativity: I am a father to two precocious and concerned children who now need home-schooling, and I am the husband to a wife with a full-time job with her own concerns about creativity and the lack thereof. I also have a demanding job in academia with management responsibilities – none of this adds up to producing a conducive environment for creativity to take place. And if I’m honest, I find being creative incredibly difficult at the best of times, I’m always looking for excuses not be creative…now I have as many excuses as I could ever need! For quite a while I’m imagining…

But this isn’t to detract from those artists who are creating during this difficult period, and despite my envy and hatred I am incredibly impressed by some of the things that are happening. So many virtual choirs (of varying standards, but this one must be amongst the best), virtual orchestras, family bands, online teaching of every possibility, virtual tours of zoos, museums and galleries – it is overwhelming, but sometimes in a good way. Coronavirus will leave an indelible mark on the world, that is safe to assume, the mark it leaves on artists is yet to be confirmed and only time will tell. On a cold, but sunny April morning I think I’m feeling slightly inspired…now where is that admin…

PAC

 

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