The Catholic tradition has long been enriched by the work of men and women who have turned to art as a means of coping with fear and loss. by Dante divine comedy, and the mystical writings of Julian of Norwich come to mind. But in the ancient Greek plays of Esychlus and the Noh plays of Japan, we see the origins of the tragic genre, revealing how universal and sacred the need to elaborate suffering through artistic expression is.
With the prolonged closures, I think we have only gradually understood that we are living in a historic period of isolation. And in the same progressive way, we found ourselves turning to or creating our own art as a consolation.
Before Covid, John Robinson, a math teacher in Florida, was a live music enthusiast, often traveling the country to attend concerts by his favorite metal band Zao. It ended with the lockdowns, and he told me that hit him pretty hard.
To compensate, Robinson found himself collecting vinyl records. “I had started collecting a few in recent years, but sparingly,” he told me over email. As a teenager, he had “tons of records, and spending time alone in my room spinning records on my suitcase record player, absorbing the artwork, reading the lyrics…was a daily ritual” .
When Covid hit, he used his stimulus check to buy a new turntable and some new albums to spin. I’m a decade older, but I have to admit Robinson’s comments sent me to a collection of Hollywood movie soundtrack LPs from legends like Jerry Goldsmith and Ennio Morricone that I still keep in my attic.
“Not only did I enjoy listening to each new record over and over,” he said. “I found myself buying some of the classics from that era and reliving the experiences and thoughts of my younger years, but on a much nicer, updated system.”
As the pandemic has subsided, Robinson has been able to catch up with live bands and visit record stores in person, but he’s so glad the pandemic reconnected him to the old music format.
For Pittsburgh-based artist Sara Tang, the lockdowns offered an opportunity for more personal reflection. Tang is a freelance painter with her own websiteshowcasing a stunning range of portraits and prints.
“Art weaves itself through all of life,” she told me. “If I could compare time to fields being gardened, I found that alternating between fields of inspiration, creating, collaborating and of course, a ‘fallow’ field to let things seep , gave me a semblance of balance.”
Along with a fellow artist, Tang launched a virtual storytelling slam, “Stories in the Time Of…,” a Zoom-based community that has grown since the shutdowns. “I am amazed and amazed every time I attend and hear real, personal stories from everyday people. Truly powerful stuff. We are, after all, ‘the storytelling animal.’
Joanna Bratten, a wonderful American poet and teacher living in London, said finding time to write was never difficult, but the lockdown has given her more opportunities. She wrote a book of poetry, but not with the intention of writing her way through the pandemic. “Very little poetry deals with the pandemic itself,” she said.
But there was a personal element to settle: the sudden death of his father, a farmer from Ohio. “With repeated periods of self-isolation and distancing, being forced to withdraw into yourself to reflect, quite intensely, certainly led to a creative period,” she said.
It was something we shared, as I found myself diving into the search for what would become a two-act play that had been simmering in my mind for years before the closings gave me time to finally m attack it.
In contrast, Kevin Johnson, an adjunct professor of philosophy at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield and a veteran podcaster, has quit writing altogether. He found himself disconnected from everything. He stopped listening to music, watching television, abandoned social networks. Instead, he told me, he responded to the need to come out and listen. This led to experimenting with ways to creatively explore silence.
“I bet everything on the audio,” he said. “And I’m not talking about music. Podcasts. Listen to all kinds of nature sounds. I could literally sit and listen to the recorded surf. Or the wind through the trees or the meadows.
Johnson also began to explore more engineered pieces of artificial recording, such as generating the sound of someone walking through a train station or a library, which in turn inspired more ambitious ideas for creating a podcast as a radio drama. ., and given the explosion in demand for audiobooks, I can see such a company becoming popular.
During the early part of the pandemic, Ontario author Melinda Robinson did a lot of creative renovation instead of writing, but found that with the kids at home all the time, it was hard to carve out space to create.
As the pandemic continued, she felt the pressure to resume writing and eventually started a new novel. But she also found it difficult without some social creative engagement. And for that, Robinson found herself relying on her weekly playgroup.
“I know a lot of people don’t consider tabletop role-playing games to be art,” she said. “But I play Storyteller systems that emphasize collective storytelling and character development and don’t really allow for ‘out of the box’ storylines.”
Irim Sarwar, an American of IndoPak descent living in the UK, took refuge in music and films. Hardly a new outlet for her, she said, “But I leaned even harder than usual into the pandemic, dealing with emotions around identity, family, internal dynamics, crystallizing my faith.”
Currently a churchwarden exploring a vocation to the priesthood in the Anglican Church, Sarwar chose the music of Azi Schwartz, the cantor of Park Ave Synagogue, to carry him through the first year of Covid. She fell in love with her music on YouTube in the fall of 2018, “when her music helped me through the death of a friend.”
Sarwar also turned to Bollywood, in particular the music videos of films about the partition, the traumatic period of upheaval during the formation of modern Pakistan and India as independent nations, which continues to haunt so many families who fled.
Joanna Penn Cooper, poet and writing teacher in North Carolina, found herself through different phases of artistic engagement.
“Like many people with young children, my life at the start of lockdown was about trying to keep my child busy, and part of that involved making and consuming art. I bought Lynda Barry’s book Making Comics, and we sat down together and did some of these drawing exercises.
Her reading habits varied until the summer of 2021, when she began writing an entire collection of flash memoirs. As she dove into this project, Cooper read several books that straddled more than one genre, ones that blurred the lines between poetry, flash memoir and short stories – something she found appealing, especially living in an era that seemed designed to fracture attention spans. , she says. “These forms seem even more relevant.”
By contrast, I often found myself scouring eBay for classic sci-fi paperbacks from the 1960s and 1970s, and often for purely nostalgic reasons. It seemed forgiving to me at first. But then, art can also be born of nostalgia.
Image: Unsplash/Adrian Valeanu