Artists will thrive amidst the pandemic

Depictions of disease and the art that comes from disease can oftentimes inspire for generations.

The global pandemic has very few silver linings. Billions are in lockdown, and along with lockdown comes increased anxiety, declining mental health, and the potential for substance abuse.

Art, in all of its forms, has a tendency to thrive from these problems. With few outlets to express oneself by its regular means, people will without a doubt be turning to their notebooks and Word docs, canvases, and instruments.

Does this make a global pandemic worthy? Of course not. The trade off is poor and is one no one in their right mind would make. But depictions of disease and the art that comes from disease can oftentimes inspire for generations.

William Shakespeare, for example, is believed to have penned some of his greatest works while in isolation during the black plague, which some experts estimate killed up to 60 percent of Europeans at the time.

King Lear, Antony and Cleopatra, Macbeth, are all believed to have been written during Shakespeare’s isolation around the peak of the plague. These are works that are still performed up to tens of thousands of times every year.

The plague affected art in all ways. With many exposed to tragedy, profound works exploring death sometimes veered in to sardonic humour, and with death so close by, works like le danse macabre became commonplace, still recognizable to this day. Rich or poor, the dance of death unites all.

The Dance of Death (1493) by Michael Wolgemut

The pandemic we are dealing with now is thankfully not as graphic as the bubonic plague or the Spanish flu. The former caused the swelling of lymph nodes to the size of tennis balls, and the blackening of skin, and the latter caused patients to turn blue from oxygen deprivation.

Examples of creativity during isolation are plentiful. After surviving two near-fatal diseases and during the Napoleonic Wars, Francisco Goya, then completely deaf, used oil paints to create "las pinturas negras," or "the black paintings." The disturbing paintings include the iconic Saturn Devouring His Son, and a personal favourite of mine, "The Dog."

El Perro, The Dog (circa 1819–1823) by Francisco Goya

These paintings, and other works by Goya, who observed the fall of Spain from his Madrid home, are considered gemstones of artistry, and are still hung in art galleries across the globe.

La romería de San Isidro, A Pilgrimage to San Isidro, 1(819–1823) by Francisco Goya

Iconic American painter Edward Hopper's "Nighthawks" came in response to blackout drills that were placed in New York after Pearl Harbour. With New York a potential spot for a deadly strike and Hopper bounded to his home, he painted an unusually bright nearby diner. With darkness surrounding the city, the diner can be interpreted as a beacon of hope, or normalcy, a return to which we are all craving.

Nighthawks (1942) by Edward Hopper

We don’t know exactly how art will manifest itself in this current age. Tik Toks, viral videos, and even the funny 280 character Twitter post will be an interesting time capsule for coming generations who were lucky enough to be born after this crisis.

If one thing is certain, it’s that artists will continue to create.

How much of the art will be “good” is up to the eye of the beholder.