Art in the Age of Covid

by Steven Alan Bennett | 10.20.20

Who is entirely faithful? What is true love? Who deserves our protection and fidelity? And who is to be avoided as a gamer and unfaithful fraud? Do the rational and the scientists rightly inherit the Earth or is it the dreamers and visionaries?

All of these questions play out in Gabriel Garcia Márquez’s famous novel Love in the Time of Cholera. Yet, today, as we battle Covid-19 amidst the worst political enmity in a century, the same questions asked by Garcia Márquez are thrust upon us, leaving us, unlike his protagonists, trapped in a comic strip world with word clouds containing the single character: ? Or, maybe worse, demoralized and appalled, searching in vain for an exit. How do we pull ourselves from this swirling existential vortex of moral and physical disease, disingenuity and ineffectuality? How do we keep our sanity in a time of dangerous illness, lack of consensus and outright
abhorrence? Where do we go to be washed clean?

Other than God, who must always be the first stop, the next best answer lies in art in all of its forms—painting and sculpture, literature, poetry, music, photography, video and all the others. Like meditation, art helps us find our way beyond the monstrous and incomprehensible and leads us into the deep truth that lies somewhere outside of the right-angle world. Beyond rationality and majority rule, physics and rectitude, rules and derision, art is a place that welcomes all people and gives them respite. It is the realm of the creators and the sensitive, the mediums and the makers. Sadly, it is these same people, the artists, who are most likely to catch the spiritual diseases that their work is meant to address—ennui, languor, dejection and melancholy.

Our urging to these vulnerable priests who can minister through art to our existential infirmities must be this: do not give up, remain faithful to your craft and calling and please, please help those of us who do not have your gifts. Show us a way forward, hold up a mirror to these times, help us to see with new spiritual eyes, enable us to get beyond ourselves and our times. Above all, do not be brought low such that you abandon your vision or give up on your art and descend into the abyss of anger and lethargy that threatens to consume the rest of us.

For those of us not blessed with artists’ gifts, the message is similar but different. Engage with these creators, support their work, encourage their vision and place them on a path that enables them to keep doing what needs to be done. If their grip starts to falter as they hold up the mirror to our eyes, grab them by the arms and help them to power through their weariness and fatigue. When they stumble, pick them up. Do not let their loneliness consume them. Tell them they matter. Support their work. Encourage their visions.

Art cannot exist without creators and appreciators. And today, in the midst of this crisis of both health and faith, each of us must fulfill our role. Above all, we need art to uplift us; we need the creators to make it and we need the appreciators to cherish it. In this time of Covid, let us pull together and find our way forward, through art, through artistic vision, and with the help of the artists who see in ways that we cannot.

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