Art in the Time of Covid

By: Robin DeWan

Welcome to the brave new world. This term could refer to many developments in our rapidly changing, pandemic stricken world, but how does it apply specifically to the arts? These days, with a new normal rolling out, one has to have more courage than ever as a professional in any field of the arts. It’s no secret that the Covid-19 situation has ushered in a whole new set of challenges for people across many industries, so let’s take a look at some of the ways it has affected culture.

From a purely practical viewpoint, artists and those who serve the infrastructure that supports the arts have been hit hard financially across the spectrum. Many galleries, theatres, music venues, museums, etc., have had their operations suspended or have even had to close their doors for good. The lockdowns have been responsible for a massive disruption in the production, distribution and consumption of art. Jobs have been lost, work situations have decreased, and opportunities to engage in the arts have been stifled. Across the globe the consequences of the corona situation have greatly reduced the output and consumption of art generating a disastrous financial fallout, which professionals in Finland have also had to come to terms with.

To get an idea of what artists are facing, consider the plight of musicians in the country. Yle recently ran an article about the dire situation faced by the music industry which stated “the industry’s export lobby, Music Finland, estimates that the pandemic and restrictions will wipe out about one third of the sector’s income this year [2020].” Furthermore, the article speculated that many musicians and businesses in the sector are considering calling it quits or facing bankruptcy. Given the extent to which society at large has shut down during this pandemic, it comes as no surprise that artists across all fields are facing dramatic financial insecurity.

Not only does this situation in many cases make it more difficult to maintain a career as an artist, it impacts the very creative process. Working in the music industry myself, I have personally heard numerous accounts among musicians who have shelved projects, stalled record releases, and are just waiting for the time to return when they can tour and play live again. As frustration mounts, creativity suffers. Even in the best of times, earning a living as an artist is challenging. When stress levels rise due to diminished opportunities, quality and output often suffer.

On the other hand, creativity and adversity have often gone hand in hand. Some of the world’s most treasured art has been created and inspired by crisis, both on a personal as well as a societal level. What the world is facing today is unlike anything any of us saw coming or could have imagined. It requires new approaches to working as an artist. The conditions and infrastructures are changing at an accelerated pace. Some new models of presenting art will work and others will fall by the wayside. One dramatic shift in all areas of society is the great migration online. As so many people are working from home these days, art is also making headway in shifting to cyberspace. We are living in a period when the entire way in which art is being presented and experienced is rapid changing.

These experiments are being met with varying degrees of success. For example, while the music industry is trying to remain vibrant by offering live, online concerts, the concept has yet to take off. Afterall, live music is all about an exchange between the audience and the musician, not to mention the field of energy created and shared by all present. No matter how good your sound system and how many friends you invite over to watch, it’s a poor substitute for the real thing. While the jury is out on whether virtual concerts are the wave of the future, it’s a sign that novel approaches to marketing art are increasing in their scope and inventiveness. 

The great reset of the brave new world is coming fast and furious and artists, out of necessity, are finding ways to navigate the new landscape. It is too soon to tell what new modes of art and models of commerce will rise out of these turbulent times but one thing is certain: creativity will always find a way. Not only will art find new outlets but, as it has throughout history, will give expression to the very times it is born out of. The pandemic will serve as raw material from which artists will fashion new, bold creations, as is already happening. As they find new ways of earning a living and society begins to open up again, artists in all fields will continue to serve their vital function in filling the world with delight, imagination, and inspiration.

Robin DeWan is a musician specialising in didgeridoo and electronic music. He is also a creative writer and resonance therapist. A native of Colorado, USA, he currently resides in Helsinki where the winters are long but the culture is awesome! His music can be found here on SoundCloud.