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Is It Worth the Trouble?

Monday, 14. September 2020 0:08

A friend of mine is a cold brew fanatic. For every pot he grinds the beans, measures the amount of ground coffee on a scale, and precisely measures the filtered water. And then he waits. Exactly 13 hours later, he drains the coffee concentrate and bottles it for the coming week. Recently we were discussing coffee and the subject of a certain coffee that he likes came up. “I don’t drink that anymore,” he said. When I asked why, he said that it was just “not worth the trouble.” It seems that that particular coffee causes problems for the grinder, which has to be stopped and started and unclogged repeatedly just to get enough coffee to make a pot.

Some of us are feeling that way about our art these days. In the last post, I mentioned some of the difficulties that photographers and theatre artists encounter when they try to pivot to a different way of doing things. Sometimes that new way of doing things comes with a very steep learning curve in addition to the unexpected difficulties. And then, the results are never quite what we had hoped for. The whole experience can be full of anxiety and frustration, and that leads some of us to ask whether what we are doing is actually worth the trouble.

Of course, some of us will answer loudly and immediately, “Yes!” Those are the ones who feel that because it’s art, it’s worth any amount of trouble. All that matters is producing, and circumstances be damned. Others of us might take a more measured approach. There have been, and probably always will be, projects that won’t be under-taken regardless of the external conditions. Those are the projects that are too big for the budget or that are too difficult because of their conceptual requirements. It may be that a project is completely beyond our capabilities. In the past when those cases came up, we would move on to other projects that were—because of their lesser cost or complication or requirements—doable. And we didn’t think less of ourselves for that.

So perhaps when it seems impossible for us to embrace an entirely new methodology and/or a completely new medium, we might want to cut ourselves some slack. Change is often difficult and always stressful, and a forced changed without a modification in schedule can be unmanageably problematic. So we might want to consider altering the schedule or the scope or the range of our work. We might want to find ways to make the situation into a workable one, or we may decide it’s just not worth the trouble.

Making art under the best of conditions is hard, but making art under extraordinary conditions we are experiencing in the US today is doubly difficult. Sometimes it does become a choice between bearing up under crushing stress or, as noted above, figuring out a way to make the situation more workable and thus more tolerable. And, of course, there’s always the third choice: declaring that it’s not worth the trouble and walking away. And we may find that we have different responses to different projects. Ultimately, however, which of these three paths we take will, as always, depend on each individual project and each individual artist.

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Pivot

Tuesday, 1. September 2020 0:04

If there’s one thing that 2020 has taught us thus far, it’s that things are not going to go right. And it’s not just the things that we expect to go wrong; it’s things we didn’t even see coming. No matter what art we are engaged in, we have to be ready to pivot. Some would say that this is just a variation on Bobby Shaftoe’s advice to “display adaptability,” but it’s more than that, or at least it seems that way. Things change and plans fail at a dizzying speed these days. Not only do we have to plan for normal contingencies, but we must plan for the extra-ordinary, and we must be able to do it quickly.

And sometimes that requires a whole new way of thinking, primarily because many of us are now working in uncharted territory. Even artists who are used to working alone are denied their normal in-person social network, or if they still enjoy that luxury, it is changed by the necessity for masks and social distancing. Things are even more difficult for collaborative artists. In addition to normal preparation, photo shoots, for example, now require immense preparation for health and safety reasons. This may include considerations that impact the work, such as lens choice, allowing the model their safe space and still getting the work done—so the pandemic influences the art, perhaps in subtle ways, but the influence is there nonetheless. Other choices for shoots are little better, risking the safety and health of photographers, models, and assistants, or postponing the shoot until who-knows when.

Theatre, perhaps the most collaborative of the arts, brings in a whole new set of issues that can overwhelm the savviest of producing organization. First is the choice of whether to attempt some sort of live performance with not only socially-distanced performers, but a socially-distanced audience as well. Most of us realized that this is not a practical solution. Then we pivot to some sort of virtual performance. And that brings with it a whole host of new considerations and problems. It begins with securing virtual performance rights. Since the agents who control the rights to live performances were, before April of this year, not in the business of granting streaming rights, they have had to pivot to incorporate that into their businesses. Because the process is new and because it requires decisions to be made out-of-house, it can sometimes delay a decision on rights acquisition for weeks.

Then there are the technical considerations: what platform or what combinations of platforms are the best for presenting theatrical fare like we have never done before? For many of us who have worked long in live theatre, there is much to learn—just in order to know what to try and what to reject. Sometimes, the most desirable approaches must be rejected because there is no way to employ them without exposing the performers and technicians to danger. And even after those choices are made, there are difficulties that come up for which we are not prepared: there seems to be no end to connectivity issues and timing problems and scheduling difficulties—because everyone involved in the production is dealing with all of those issues in their own lives, issues that are extra-ordinary, even after months of self-quarantining and coming to terms with the new facts of life.

So we have to be ready for nearly any eventuality—all the time—which means that we must be twice as prepared as we normally are, and prepared for brand new twists and turns. And yes, it can be immensely stressful. But art is what we do, so we, like any good basketball player, must be ready to pivot—sometimes with no notice at all.

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Anxiety 2020

Sunday, 16. August 2020 22:48

Just when it seems time to turn away from the pandemic and politics of mid-2020, some other aspect rears its head and needs to be addressed—because, in addition to impacting lives, it impacts the making of art. And today that aspect is anxiety. You know, what you and I and many of us are spending a lot of time experiencing.

Even if it were a simple form of anxiety, it would be a problem, but the anxiety that we are facing as we head into the latter half of the year is complex and multi-faceted. And we might as well say from the outset that these anxieties that we are experiencing today are so closely related to depression that they might as well be the same thing.

These issues have a variety of causes, but almost all eventually relate to a sense of uncertainty and helplessness. First there is the anxiety associated directly with the COVID-19: will we catch it? If we catch it, how bad will it be? How will we pay for it? Who will look after the dog, the children, our parents? As if that weren’t enough, there is additional anxiety associated with reopening—venturing out of our houses, where we have felt relatively safe—to go back to in-person school, in-person business, in-person shopping.

And so we reach out, but the only really safe way to do that other than social media is through a video-chat service, such as Zoom. But it turns out that virtual video meeting is nothing like a face-to-face meeting and can also cause stress, and sometimes significant levels of stress. And that stress leads to anxiety, which adds to our pre-existing stack of anxiety.

So we turn to the internet and Twitter and Instagram and Facebook and we begin to scroll and that turns into doomscrolling (or doomsurfing)—i.e. searching for bad news. And the news we seek is not confined to COVID-19 or reopening. It can be related to politics and the coming election; it can be related to Black Lives Matter and social unrest in the cities; it can be related to the current situation with the USPS, particularly if we depend on the service to pay our bills or receive our medications; it can be related to climate change or international politics, or all of the above. And it turns out that doomscrolling can quite easily turn into a habit that can morph into an obsession which can induce even more stress.

And so the anxieties build. And, so far as I can tell, nobody is immune. Even those of us who are introverts, who naturally seek solitude are as subject to the host of anxieties as anyone else—because it’s not just about enduring solitude; it’s about everything that makes up the world of 2020.

So what can we do about it? The first thing is to recognize that we might be experiencing anxiety. Many of us live very close to the edge all the time; when we stand in the kitchen crying because an ice cube dropped on the floor, it’s a pretty good sign that something is wrong. The next thing we can do is get some help. Even if we don’t want to seek out professional help, there are coping guides available on the internet. Many are general and offered by reputable organizations, such as the CDC and the Mayo Clinic. Others are specific; for example, almost every article on doomscrolling offers advice on how to break the cycle, and others offer help with anxiety related to Zoom and other video chat services.

The other thing that we can do about it is engage in some activity. It sounds simplistic, but we might—even in the midst of the pandemic—take up a new hobby, or renew an old one. I know at least one person who has done that. Or we, particularly those of us who are artists, might engage in our art. No, it’s not easy, particularly when we are spending all our time and effort worrying about all that is stressing us out. But if we can force ourselves to take that first step and write or paint or edit or photograph or sculpt or compose something, we will be the better for it. Starting is the hard part; once we begin, old habits take over, and we may soon find that our anxiety lessens as out concentration on creating increases.

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Stop Waiting

Sunday, 2. August 2020 23:11

A lot of us are sitting around waiting for normality to return. Then, we say, we will get back to work; things will be just like they were, and life will go on. And some of us think that will be really soon now. Not to be a doomsayer, but I don’t think that’s going to happen—at least not any time soon. The optimists who are saying that we will be back to normal in a few weeks have not looked at history. The most similar pandemic to the current one was the 1918 flu pandemic. That pandemic had lasted two years, had four waves, infected 500 million people, and killed between 17 and 50 million. If COVID-19 is remotely similar, we are looking at a long time of staying home, social distancing, and mask-wearing.

And we might as well face it: normal is not coming back—at least not normal as we knew it. Even when a vaccine is developed, things will not be the same as they were. The economy will have been altered. Society will be different. We have to remember that we in the US are not only dealing with COVID-19, we are also dealing with an extreme political situation and with a movement calling out racial inequality and police brutality. The world will not be the same on the other side of this; we will not be the same.  And the primary reason for that is that when this is ever over—assuming that it ever is over—we not only will be living in a different world, but we ourselves will have been changed by what we have been through.

You may already feel the difference. Many of us are not the same people that we were five months ago. We have endured stresses that we never expected to encounter. We have had to learn new skills in order to survive. We have changed our lifestyles. Some of us have changed the way we think, particularly about political and social issues.

And the future is fuzzy at best. For example, even when we feel comfortable putting a new play on the stage, the audience may not feel comfortable sitting shoulder-to-shoulder to see it. That may take a while longer. It certainly may take a while before actors are comfortable being intimate either on the stage or in front of a camera. Art galleries where we used to display our painting, sculpture, and photography may no longer exist, their owners having had to find other means of making a living. So we don’t know what the world will be like.

Like Vladimir and Estragon, we are waiting for something that likely is not coming. So perhaps waiting is not the best choice. Perhaps doing is the best choice. There is nothing to keep us from making art: writing, drawing, painting. Just thinking and planning constitute artistic doing, as does adapting our work to the world as it is today (which may be one of the most valuable things we can do).

But what if we spend our time doing all that and it comes to nothing? That is certainly a possibility, but, having exercised our creativity, we are in a much better place, both mentally and artistically, than if we had just sat and waited. Stop waiting; start doing.

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Comfortably Numb

Sunday, 19. July 2020 23:34

It’s almost too much. We in the US are dealing with far too many negatives in our lives at the moment to fully concentrate on creating. First we are trying to stay healthy and safe, which is easier for some than for others. For those of us fortunate enough to be able to work at our day jobs from home, the risk is somewhat diminished; however, that sheltering in place keeps us isolated. And that isolation can be detrimental to our mental health unless we are prepared to deal with it. Working from home presents its own set of challenges even after this length of time. We don’t quite ever have the tools we used to have, so every day is a learning experience as we discover new means and methods to accomplish our tasks.

Added to that, we hear news every day that more and more cases of COVID-19 are occurring and that the death toll continues to rise. Things are not getting better. And that weighs on us because it means that we must look at more weeks and months of isolation—if we are to stay safe and healthy. In addition to that, we also hear every day about police violence and brutality, about systemic racism and its impact on people’s lives, about political campaigns built on fear and lies.

And so we fret and worry and try with everything in us to make some kind of sense out of it all, to come to terms with our own situation and the state of the country. And it’s almost too much.

And then, the one-too-many headline comes and we don’t even bother to read the attendant article. The line has been crossed; it’s finally too much. Tears are not a choice; we are already dry and have been for months. The other choice is to close down, to go numb. Numb is when nothing gets to us; nothing touches us; nothing matters; the world moves on without us, because we are in an unfeeling existence.

Make no mistake, numbness is comfortable. We don’t hurt anymore; we don’t worry anymore; we’re not concerned any more. And it’s easy because we are used to hunkering down alone. There is, however, a down side: since we no longer feel, we don’t create; we don’t produce. We spend our time scrolling through Twitter or Instagram or YouTube or staring off into space and doing mostly nothing. But it’s okay because it doesn’t hurt any more. It can last for days or weeks or months or forever. We are comfortably numb.

The problem is that all the things we were concerned about before are still there, and, if we are to be honest, still need our attention. Even in our isolation there are things we can do. There are posts we can write. There are comments we can make. There are people that we can influence. There is creative work we can do. There are ideas and artifacts we can produce.

So when that one-too-many headline hits, instead of closing down, we might instead take a day off. Turn off The Washington Post, The New York Times, the Twitter and Instagram feeds. Rest. Breathe. Gather ourselves. Remember who we are and what we’re about. Then—do something creative. Perhaps even produce some art. The world will roll on and we can rejoin it when we are able, but in the meantime we must not allow ourselves to become comfortably numb.

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Stop Focusing on the Future

Sunday, 5. July 2020 23:28

Lately there is a lot of concern about the future; just plug “future of” into Google and look at the drop-down. We are concerned about the future of live theatre, live music, learning, visual arts, libraries, plastic arts, restaurants, bars, art galleries, movies, story-telling in general, and on and on. Not only are we worried about whether all of those activities and institutions will survive COVID-19, but what they will look like when and if they do.

And there’s the problem of dealing with the virus itself, of trying to stay healthy and safe and at the same time continuing to live when the means of making a living have for many simply ceased to be. Many in the service sector have seen their businesses closed because of coronavirus lockdowns. Artists are without venues or patrons or customers. All are wondering when things are going to get better.

Then there’s the political situation: wondering what the country will look like after November. Will the current administration stay in power, and if so, what will that look like? If the current administration is removed from office, will it follow tradition and pass power peacefully to the winning party or will the transition be difficult and strife-torn? And what changes will that winning party bring?

And that’s not the only political issue on people’s minds. There is the push for finally achieving racial equality as well as reducing police violence and abuse. These movements are intertwined and connected to the overall political questions, but they are separate issues that occupy the thoughts of many. And while small steps are being made, most people see these as future goals.

One thing that all of these concerns have in common is that they fill us with confusion, uncertainty, anxiety, stress, and for some, depression. That we are trying to deal with them all at once only adds to those feelings. Another thing that they all have in common is that they are focused on the future, so they take our minds to a place that is even more uncertain than our present. We humans are a very adaptable species, but we really need to know what we are adapting to, and the ambiguity of the future leaves us at a loss that only adds to our anxiety.

One solution is to stop focusing on that undefined future and focus on the present. But our focus needs to be even further refined. Some who look to the present give their attention to what they can’t do. In communicating recently with actors, musicians, directors, designers, I have heard over and over again what they couldn’t do. In some cases these complaints were serious in that they restrained income; in other cases, it seemed to amount to whining. In any case, concentrating on what can’t be done is not useful.

What is useful is letting go of not only the future, but of what can’t be accomplished. What we need to do is concentrate on the present—on what we can do. For example, I know of an actor who is writing poetry, another who is writing a play, a photographer who is making Christmas cards, a writer who is tending a garden. In none of these cases are the artists doing what they would like to be doing, but they are doing something positive, and it provides much needed work for their hands and for their heads.

And like them, we may choose to focus on a project that may not be what we want to do; it may not be what will increase our income, but it will give us a better state of mind. It will allow us to engage our creativity. It will reduce our feeling of helplessness. It will allow us to make it through another day. It might provide us a moment of accomplishment. It might engender our next big project. Whatever it does, it will allow us to make art—even in the middle of all this.

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The Appropriate Response

Sunday, 7. June 2020 23:08

The events of the last two weeks have been overwhelming. What began as a protest in Minneapolis has now spread literally world-wide and shows no sign of lessening. The question for the artist is how to respond to such events (assuming that one is not so traumatized that one cannot act). There have been a number of artistic responses, and each seems valid in its own way.

One could simply post a solid black image on social media or change one’s profile picture to a black image as many have done. As a matter of fact that was what I had thought of doing for this post. It’s simple; it’s elegant. And it’s easy—at least it would have been for me. Then I wouldn’t be sitting here struggling for what to say. And while that is certainly valid for some artists, for me it seem to be a dodge—an easy way to avoid talking about the situation.

One could shut up and listen to the voices of protest. That’s what artists from late night talk show hosts to Instagram star Leslie Jordan did this past week. They turned their microphones and their cameras over to people of color who explained the protests and the reasons from their own points of view. The hosts listened as did their audiences.

Internationally-known graffiti artist Banksy, said that his first response was to shut up and listen as well, but then he decided that “It’s not their problem, it’s mine.” He went on to say the problem was really a white problem that white people need to fix. He also did what he does best. He created art about the situation. It can be seen here along with his full statement, but the three-image Instagram presentation is more powerful.

Other powerful images have quickly appeared on walls all over the world (see here and here) as mural and graffiti artists have memorialized George Floyd and the issues of racial inequality and police brutality.  Perhaps the largest mural was a street-painting commissioned by DC mayor Muriel E. Bowser; it’s so large it can be seen from space.

Some artists, in addition to speaking out, have physically joined the protests. Others have donated to various nonprofits that provide bail relief for protesters. Others have said little and have ostensibly continued with their non-political art-making. And that too is valid.

Yet other artists are quietly absorbing impressions and information and letting it simmer in the cauldron of creativity until they bring forth works that speak to these issues in a more thoughtful way, perhaps in ways that we cannot yet imagine. I am reminded of how the “staunchly apolitical” Jean Anouilh, during the Nazi occupation of France, penned Antigone. Although it presents both sides of the argument over the rejection of authority, most have come to read it as a subversive anti-authoritarian work.

What new art these events may produce is, of course, as yet unknown. Some of it will have to gestate, and that is a good thing; it means that the art that will be made will not be of the shoot-from-the-hip variety, but will be more considered and perhaps speak more powerfully to the issues.

Still, we must beware of the shoulds. There is no “correct” response to recent events. Each of us is an individual artist who can only be concerned with his/her own response and certainly not whether it meets someone else’s criteria. The appropriate response is really an individual decision.

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You Can Make It

Monday, 25. May 2020 0:08

The past several weeks have presented many of us the opportunity for rumination. One of the topics that I have given some thought to recently is artistic success. So when I ran across Florida Congresswoman Val Demings’ quote in the Washington Post, it gave me pause. Representative Deming is quoted by Jonathan Capehart as saying that her mother told her, “You can make it. If you work hard and play by the rules, you can be anything you wanna be and do anything you wanna do.”  That quote led me to think about a number of people in the arts who are pretty sure they followed the rules and worked hard, but feel that they are not yet anywhere close to their dreams. That seemed to warrant examination.

Perhaps they never really defined what they wanted to do or be. To want to be a Broadway actor is a very different thing from just wanting to be a working actor who makes his/her living on the stage, which is a very different thing from wanting to be a working film actor, which is a very different thing from wanting to be an internationally-known movie star. It’s not that it’s better to be one or another of these categories of actor; it’s just that they are different and the paths to getting there are different and have different sets of rules that must be followed. So it may be that a person dreamed of being one of these, but followed the path for another, and thus ended up in a place different from where s/he wanted to be. Something similar happened to Jerry Saltz. In his book, How to Be an Artist, he discusses all the paths he tried before deciding that writing about art was what he really wanted to do.

As long as we’re talking about rules, there’s that whole “playing by the rules” thing. Again, if someone is playing by the wrong set of rules, s/he may not be headed where s/he thinks she is going, but another place entirely. It is up to each individual artist to determine what the rules are for the path s/he has chosen. The rules for becoming an outstanding teaching artist in painting are very different from the rules for becoming an artist whose work is collected by museums and auctioned at Christie’s or Sotheby’s. Before someone can “play by the rules,” s/he must first know what the rules are for where s/he is headed.

As for working hard, that too means different things according to the track one is following. Most serious photographers work hard at learning the craft aspects of their field, and many work hard at developing a high level of artistry in their images. If all a person is interested in is making excellent images, the hard work can be constrained to those areas; however, if one wants to do fashion photography, there are a number of other areas that will require hard work of several kinds in order to position oneself successfully in that particular area of photographic art. Similarly, other kinds of hard work are required by other areas of specialization.

One thing that is not referenced in the Representative Demings’ quotation is a time frame. Some artists do not find success until they have lived a while. And we are talking about a fair number of artists.  Jerry Saltz, in the book mentioned above, for example, talks about the difficulties he had in arriving at his goal of being an art critic finally at the age of 41.

So maybe those who are feeling they are not close to their dreams just aren’t there—yet. Or perhaps they don’t want to work so hard at ancillary things, or don’t want to follow a particular set of rules or find that the dream they started with is not the one they now want. They just need to remember that dreams, like everything else, can always be adjusted.

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Beware of the Shoulds

Sunday, 26. April 2020 22:53

So, you’re sheltering in place or you’re going to your essential job or you’re working from home or you’re passing the pandemic in some way or the other. Your situation likely is not like your neighbors’. As a matter of fact your situation is unique to you, and that’s why you ought to beware of the shoulds.

Every time you open an arts web site, some “authority” or the other is telling you what you should be doing during this time of international stress and disease. And many of them press the point so hard that if you were to take them seriously, you would feel guilty if you didn’t follow their advice. “Shakespeare wrote King Lear while quarantined; Sir Isaac Newton invented calculus while quarantined. You should do something equally spectacular.” “Make art, even if it’s bad art.” “Now that you have time on your hands, use it constructively.” “What a perfect opportunity to do research for that story you want to write.” “This could be the time for you to make your best art!” “It’s a perfect time to learn those dance steps you were talking about.” “Now you can set up that home studio.” “Now is the time to write that novel.” “This is a perfect opportunity to work on that difficult piece you want to play.” “Now you have all this time to edit that last photo shoot.” “Why don’t you work on that sculpture now that you have the time?”

STOP LISTENING TO THOSE PEOPLE!

They are not you and do not know what you are dealing with. You may feel like the world has changed completely; it has. You may feel that the rug has been pulled out from under your existence; it has. You may be spending so much time dealing with exigencies of doing your job on line that you don’t have time for anything resembling art-making. That’s okay. You may be dealing with the unbelievable stress of having to completely change your lifestyle just to survive. That’s okay too. You may just not feel like making any art today, or this week, or this month, much less attempting a masterpiece. And even that’s okay.

Those you-should-be-doings are other people’s; they are not yours. Only you know what is right for you at this particular moment in time, and, if you are anything like me, it changes from day to day. Some days you may be super-energetic about developing new ways to work from home or approaching some other project. Other days may be hum-drum. On yet other days you may be totally depressed. There is no one-size-fits-all formula. You have to take each day as it comes and deal with yourself and your situation on that day only.

And on some days you may make art, or you may not. Although it feels like we have been doing this forever, we are still just feeling our way along, trying to deal with the shock and grief and uncertainty as best as we can on a day-to-day basis. We have no idea where we’re going, but we keep inching forward. What we do NOT need to do is beat ourselves up for not being creative and productive every minute of our existence. What we are going through takes some time to come to terms with—if we ever can. Our minds will turn to art and making it when it is appropriate for us—as individuals—not according to an admonition by some smug Internet pundit.

Chapter 24 of Jerry Saltz’s How to Be an Artist, is entitled “There are no Wasted Days.” In this very brief chapter he says that “your artist’s mind is always working, even when you think it’s idling….You are your method; your life is part of your work.” And it’s true. All that time when you are trying to cope with the new reality, your creative mind is working, absorbing, combining, understanding. When it’s time for you to produce, you will produce. And just as each person’s art is unique, each artist’s method and timing is personal and distinctive.

You will make art when you feel it is time, and it will be as good as it can be. Until then, just keep living and learning—and ignoring the shoulds.

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Overload

Monday, 13. April 2020 0:19

It seems that there is only one topic these days. That, of course, is the Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic-social distancing-quarantine triad. And it’s understandable. It’s fair to say that this triad of connected issues has impacted our lives probably more and more profoundly than any other “event” we have experienced since we first drew breath. It has changed the way we live and is even now changing the way that we think and react. As I suggested in the last post, it will certainly affect our futures in ways yet to be determined. Everything that we see and hear seems to be related to one or all three of these topics. And, combined with what we are personally enduring, it’s just too much.

Not that some good things have not come from this situation, much of it virtual. Many of the responses to this situation have been truly beautiful. For example there have been some moving virtual musical productions done from quarantine, such as the Rotterdam Philharmonic’s abbreviated version of Beethoven’s 9th  Symphony or the Italian youth choir il coro che non c’è performing Crosby, Stills, and Nash’s “Helplessly Hoping,” which is impossible to experience without crying.

In art there is the remarkable Izoizolyacia Facebook group, where Russians and Russian-speakers are engaged in a project to replicate artworks while in isolation. The rules are only that entrants must only use items on hand and that the work cannot be digitally manipulated. The range, quality, and quantity of the recreated art works is astounding.  (And you don’t have to read Russian to understand and appreciate the images.)

It may be too early for fiction, but a number of excellent essays are being published every day. For example, David Patrick Stearns has written a timely article on “Why Beethoven is so relatable right now.” Stanford professor of classics and history Walter Scheidel has written an intriguing article on “Why the Wealthy Fear Pandemics.” And there is also a thought-provoking piece by novelist R.O. Kwon that suggests that part of the mental problems we are facing is because, without knowing it, we are grieving. And these are but a few.

Every day artists and thinkers in all disciplines are responding to the pandemic. Much of that work is moving and thoughtful and intelligent. And many of these artists and thinkers are looking at different sides of the situation, but it is still only about one thing. Even “Saturday Night Live” produced a virtual “At Home Edition” on April 11, which was all about the pandemic.

Perhaps it is too much to ask that artists and thinkers look in a different direction, consider other topics. Perhaps the pandemic is simply too big to be able to do that. But I am beginning to feel saturated, over-saturated. Whatever we see, read, listen to is about the pandemic. It is almost impossible to get away from without isolating ourselves even more than we already are.

And I can’t say that I’m recommending that. The head-in-the-sand approach is never desirable. What is desirable is that we—for our own mental health—take a break: turn off the TV, shut down the news feeds, listen to some favorite music, watch a movie—for a while. Yes, we need to grieve; yes, we may need to cry, but we also need to lessen the overload on our psyches. Now might be the time for us to think about a project completely unrelated to what we are enduring.

It may not be time yet to activate those sorts of projects, but it is certainly time that we spent a little while away from the current state of the world and think about some other possibilities for our arts.

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