Making Art During a Pandemic

On the surface, it seemed like all this time off to make art would be amazing. But, it’s not quite that simple, is it?

Some abstract stripes, inspired by agate slices.

First off, I apologize that this post is a couple days late. I had some exciting events in my personal life (I got engaged! It still seems a little surreal) that distracted me from my regularly scheduled writing. But I’m here now, and this week’s topic is one that’s been on my mind lately.

As I mentioned in my last post, the library I work at was initially only going to be closed for two weeks (until March 30). Once the initial shock of that wore off (the library closure definitely made things feel more real), the break almost seemed like a vacation. We had a return-to-work date, which meant I had a deadline of sorts, so I planned out some projects for myself and got to work. I finished a big painting I’d been working on (the Florida tree) and took some new source photos for my “abandoned” series. I did some work on this website and upped my Instagram post game. I did some drawings in preparation for a couple more “big” paintings, and ordered some art supplies from Blick.com. I did some small test paintings for an online workshop I want to put together.

Then our closure was extended another 10 days, due to the shelter-in-place order that our governor issued. Okay, not too bad, still an end date in sight that’s not too far off. Then, only a few days later, the date was extended again, til the end of April, with rumors of things being cancelled or closed into the summer months (I imagine many of you can relate to these closures and extensions; it seems to be happening just about everywhere). The news of the longest closure yet kind of left me reeling. I realize that I am in a very fortunate minority to still be getting paid during all of this, which lifts a potentially huge financial burden from everything else I’m dealing with. I recognize my privilege and am grateful every day for it. But it still sapped my motivation and even my ability to focus. Sitting down to work on a project seemed impossible for a few days there, while I adjusted from “this is temporary and a little exciting” to “this feels unending and I don’t think I like it.”

A rough sketch from a photo I took while camping last fall.

Years ago, when I first moved away from my hometown to a big city to go to grad school for poetry, I found that I had a similar problem — I was having a really hard time creating anything. I talked to a visiting writer who gave me some really great advice. I told him about having just moved to this new and different place, and how I was struggling to write. I didn’t really understand why that was. I don’t remember his exact words, but I do remember how he made me feel validated in my struggle, and how matter of fact he was in telling me that it made perfect sense that I couldn’t write, because I wasn’t done processing. He said I didn’t have to create complete works, because the experience wasn’t complete, but just to let myself write what I could, no matter how rough.

I’ve been remembering this conversation these last few days after wondering why I was having trouble creating — art usually brings me comfort and helps me process things. It’s not that I couldn’t create anything, it’s just that I couldn’t seem to create anything polished and complete, because this whole pandemic is an experience I was still processing in a way that wasn’t related to art. I had to loosen the reins a little bit, to let myself work again for the process itself, rather than the finished product. I don’t let myself “play” enough anyway, when painting or drawing, because I’ve been trying so hard to make something of a living off of this, to project an image. In a time like this, that’s just not sustainable.

Playing around with slightly abstract agate slice painting

I wondered, does this mean I’m being weak? What do I even have to process? What right do I have to feel this anxiety or unease, when I’m relatively fortunate that this has hardly touched my life directly, relatively speaking? But then I realized, these questions aren’t useful. I don’t have to validate these feelings to myself. It’s my job to meet myself where I am, to give myself space and time to process the experience. In the meantime, I can just try things out for the sake of trying, do some rough sketches or imperfect paintings. Not everything has to be part of a plan for a bigger project, or “good enough” to sell. Sometimes — as I found with writing, back when that’s what I did — creating anything, however small and seemingly meaningless, helps clear the path for the “bigger” stuff to come through again. So, the pictures in this post are some of the “small” things I’ve been doing lately. I feel like I’m over the slump, metaphorically speaking, though I’m going to let myself play a little longer before I get back to the “work.” Because with nearly the whole world on pause, isn’t now the perfect time for it?

Other creatives, or anyone trying to be “productive,” have you found yourself struggling to work? Did you get through it, or are you still struggling? If you can relate, let me know.

2 thoughts on “Making Art During a Pandemic”

  1. Actually I started one yet couldn’t finish it yet. I will share if I am done. I found virtual life more exhausting and time consuming. Working from home and taking care of family is like juggling with many things at one time.


    1. Yes, I agree completely! I realized in grad school that I did NOT want to spend my working life at a computer, and aside from this website, I don’t spend much of my home life there either.. But with everyone sheltering in place, it’s kind of the only option. I guess I’m glad we have any option at all, but I definitely feel that exhaustion.

      Liked by 1 person

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