The world has changed. It sounds dramatic – the kind of situation you would normally encounter in a fantasy movie or dystopian novel. Empty streets as people withdraw into their homes. Empty supermarket shelves as panic takes over and survival instinct kicks in. Uncertainty. Fear. It’s all here and it’s on a level that most of us have never encountered before.
There’s a lot of information around at the moment on how to react – keeping a safe distance from other people, practicing stringent hygiene to avoid infection, stocking up on food and medicine. We are encouraged to engage in “social distancing” and “self-isolation”. These recommendations may keep us safe on a physical level but they go directly against the innate human need for community and connection. We are left, alone in our homes, our lives on hold while we try to work out what happens next.
Why is creativity important during challenging times?
This seems like the ideal time for an artist to really dig into their craft. There’s an abundance of subject matter from social commentary to themes of fear and isolation. There’s gratitude for what we still have and the chance to find something new, to challenge ourselves to make this new reality as comforting and supportive as possible. There’s time where we might previously have been working or socialising that now stretches out, empty and waiting to be filled. There’s an online community to share our art with, all craving the connection we are missing in our lives.
Creativity is also excellent for mental health. Engaging in a creative hobby or activity has been shown to increase happiness and reduce anxiety, help in the processing of trauma, improve cognitive function, encourage mindfulness and give a sense of productivity.
How do we channel situations into creativity?
In my experience, there are 2 main ways to create from a situation, experience or feeling.
The first is to use your art as a tool to process the situation. Create art that expresses what is going on and how it is impacting you. This can be quite broad depending on your approach. In the last week I’ve seen beautiful but haunting images of deserted streets, depictions of self-isolation and being cut off from the world and humorous images commenting on the excessive stockpiling of toilet paper that seems to be going on worldwide.
The second is to create an escape. This might still relate to the situation at hand, for example creating conceptual, dramatised images of a dystopian society that are inspired by current events but take the story in a new direction. Or you might choose to make art that shows the world the way you would like it to be, creating an environment that you can step into when you need to get away from the current reality.
What if you can’t create right now?
I have to admit – I’m not feeling creative right now. It might be because I haven’t yet processed the situation and the feelings surrounding it enough to express them clearly. It might be because my art can often feel vulnerable and I need a safe space to create it which I’m not feeling at the moment. It might just be that the ideas are quietly bubbling away in the back of my mind, still in fragments that haven’t come together.
The biggest lesson I have learnt is that creativity can’t be forced. Sometimes it is a case of stepping away and giving yourself some breathing room. As artists we often panic if we are not in a constant flow of inspiration or production but it’s the rest periods that allow our brains to start setting the groundwork for the next creative burst. For some people the cycle is shorter and they don’t need much down time, for others a full creative cycle can happen over months or even years.
It can help to really look at how you operate – what is the ideal environment that you create best in and what steps can you take to reach that. My plan is to turn my focus to self-care because I know that my creativity flows better when I feel more stable in other areas of my life. I’ve lost a lot of my routine at the moment so I need to put some practices in place to bring back a sense of normality, even if it is a different normal to what I’m used to.
How does your creative practice respond to a challenging situation or time?