Blog: Freedom and the Art of the Pandemic

Christine Alfery

Posted on May 19 2020

Blog: Freedom and the Art of the Pandemic
Featured image: She's Riding High

Understandably, many art magazines have recently featured articles about how the pandemic is affecting art and artists. So much of the discussion seems to touch on the idea of reacting creatively or making a statement – but are political statements or reactive creation a form of personal, unique and free artistic creativity? Are they art that is true to the artist’s creative individuality?

In my essays I often examine the question “what is art?”. I explore the ideas of what defines art, and thus often explore what is NOT art. In light of this, I look at historic times we are living in, and I ask myself:

What is being created during the pandemic? Is it art?

To me art is all about individuality and freedom. It exists outside of the lines, breaks the rules, and seeks change. So if an artist is creating art by taking a political side, inspired by the statement of a group, expressing another’s message - are they expressing their own voice or just making a poster for someone else’s message?

In graduate school I studied the work of the French philosopher Foucault who examined the relationship between the governing power of societal institutions, labels, and knowledge.  I think of Foucault because he fought for the individual and was a champion of free thinking. What would he think of the herd mentality of reactionary creation or political art that expresses the power of one side over the other? Just because you are expressing, is that form of expression truly free thinking?

I don’t know what it is about human nature, but it is always easier to stay with the same, the agreed-upon, the popular, the comfortable, the familiar. But with challenge comes change – so will this challenging time bring forth new ideas in art and expression? Why is so much of the art we see coming out of the pandemic reactionary, political, or binary?  

For me it exemplifies the loss of educational curriculums and disciplines that teach creative thinking, discovery, exploration, and new ways of thinking differently about a problem. When students are taught how to choose the right answer – that one answer is right and one answer is wrong – rather than taught how to seek new solutions or problem solve, we see a loss of the creative freedom that results in unique individual artwork. But this type of thinking is not limited to art – it applies to science, it applies to philosophy, it applies to government, it applies to all the arts and to life.

I do not see the art of the pandemic resulting in free thinking, new ideas, challenge bringing change. I seek freedom, but I am not seeing it in the art magazine articles I read lately. So I leave you with this challenge – think creatively, admire individuality, express your own voice, seek new solutions, find your own message. Art is not about choosing sides or making a political statement – find and express your own voice, your own freedom, your own uniqueness, your own individuality. Accept the challenge of the times we live in – let it inspire you to find something new.

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