During lockdown there has been plenty of time to think – sometimes too much. But in a culture that seems to value acquiring ‘stuff’ more than experience, and cash more than creativity, the enforced changes during the corona crisis make us ask some important questions. What do we actually need? What helps us cope? What helps us thrive? What has made you smile lately?
A lot of the recent changes have come from necessity. We can’t just pop out to buy a loaf of bread so there has been an upsurge in baking. Many are finding to their surprise that this is calming, satisfying and enjoyable, even if the scones are wonky and the bread not perfect. The ‘doing’ part of cooking is not just feeding the body but feeding the soul: much more than opening a shiny packet.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a trip with my mates grabbing a coffee in town, and miss it more than ever now, but shopping is now a vast leisure activity with time, energy and money going into buying things that we mostly don’t need, fuelling the climate crisis. Now that option isn’t available to us as freely, it is heartening to see the upsurge in creativity filling the space left behind.
As an artist, I would love us all to reclaim the joy that comes from making. Inside every person, our innate creativity wants to get out and can show itself in so many ways. You don’t have to be able to paint something that looks ‘lifelike’ – your creative passion could be something totally different. Whether you bake, build a fire, make someone a card, enjoy growing beautiful plants, love DIY, play games, dance, knit, make daft videos on YouTube: it is all an expression of that inquisitive, intuitive spark.
These small creative acts are now helping us process a very overwhelming situation in simple ways that are infinitely nourishing and very calming. There is no one right way to ‘do art’. Enjoy it just for you, or share it if you want to. One of the loveliest sights at the moment are the rainbows children have painted in windows, or chalked on pavements, connecting us in a way that words couldn’t. Then there’s the new social media trend for #portraitsfornhsheroes – artists offering to paint portraits of NHS workers for free.
This isn’t another pressure to be productive, it’s just a call to give yourself some space to do what feels good. These are challenging and stressful times, but creativity offers a way for us to connect with ourselves and each other. Nurture yourself with something that is slow paced and shut out the media babble. Be part of something timeless and as ancient as being human.
David Hockney’s recent series of vibrant iPad paintings made during lockdown show the emergence of spring with its eternal message of hope. In a recent interview, he reminds us that: “we need art, and I do think it can relieve stress…What is stress? It’s worrying about something in the future. Art is now.”
In a similar vein, sculptor Louise Bourgeois said “art is a guarantee of sanity”. I would say that is spot on for our collective mental health and wellbeing.
In any form, art helps our collective mental health and wellbeing, adds a richness to life beyond measure and is free for all to enjoy. Whether that’s baking a biscuit or painting a portrait of an NHS hero – it’s all good.