Art by Pascal Campion (@pascalcampionart)
Written by Smriti Chawla
"The show must go on”
It is an intrinsic human quality to learn to survive in every situation. The coronavirus pandemic may have stopped the audiences from reaching theatres and stadiums, but the artists have found ways to bring the art to the audiences sitting at home, because the show must go on. Artists have had to make the transition to a digital medium, in order to stay connected with their audiences.
Due to obvious restrictions and limited movement, several music concerts, theatre performances, dance performances, movie screenings, stand up comedy shows, festivals, and sporting events have been cancelled for the rest of the year. Inclusive of Coachella, the concert of the Lumineers, K Pop’s World Tour, the Tokyo Olympics, Wimbledon, Broadway, the Met Gala, the Cannes Festival, the Edinburgh International Festival, and several other extremely famous events. The entire world has hit a pause. The number of people infected by the virus is reaching over 15 million. It is essential to remain paused, in order to keep ourselves and everyone else safe. With humans living in isolation under extreme stress and anxiety, the value of art is increasing by the day.
While in the pre-corona era, it used to be as simple as booking a weekend ticket to watch your favourite movie or musical, today one must find innovative ways to stay fresh and relaxed. Humans are social animals, and staying in the exact same physical space, and around the exact same people is not easy for most of us. Add to this, economic and political stress, and you have the recipe for an extremely anxious and stressed human being.
Online Art - providing comfort, relief and solace
One need only scroll through Twitter, Instagram or Facebook to realize that the only comfort humans are getting in 2020, is through art. With professional musicians hosting free weekly concerts from their homes (Ali Sethi, thank you), dancers doing free workshops to teach their art, and actors conducting improv sessions over Zoom meetings, we realize and accept that art is the only saving grace for the human race now. Online workshops on screenplay writing, musical notes, dance theories, and other niche subjects have been feeding us our creative juices through these tough times.
Perhaps the most famous event of this cursed year would be the Online Graduation Ceremony that the Obamas hosted for the class of 2020. With Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, Chris Martin, Katy Perry, Khalid and several others encouraging and inspiring students (and us!) with their words and music, it was a beautiful few hours.
Transitioning to the digital media, a daunting, discriminating task
Most artists, whether established or beginners, have had to willingly or unwillingly transition to the digital medium. While features like Instagram or Facebook live support the artists by allowing them to go live, with their audience sitting in their comfort zones and enjoying them, it doesn’t factor in the economic aspect. Established artists have been able to do digital performances with people paying to join in on their Zoom, or Google Meet. However, several artists, actors, musicians, and dancers who had just started out, have had to look at alternate careers to earn money. Perhaps the only thing they’re able to do that is close to their art is teach it, with people willing to learn, sitting at home twiddling their thumbs.
It’s not as if the “normal world” was any better, but now the opportunities are even less. As always, the privileged are at the top, with safety nets to fall back on. As the performances have had to go online, even auditions are now conducted over the internet. This process favours the privileged. Imagine, having to give an audition when you live in a small house, with not so great lighting, and less than exceptional acoustics. And this is when we do not count younger siblings screeching and shouting without warning. The world doesn’t audition just people anymore, but their backgrounds as well.
With the Delhi University altering the ECA quota to provide admission only on the basis of certificates for the academic year 2020-2021, we wonder what will become of those who have found solace in arts and not academics in their school life. Why is it that the ones with power and resources conveniently choose to ignore the ones with neither? Orwell answered this with his much celebrated work, 1984.
Artists - a valuable resource
At the front end of this pandemic are healthcare workers and law enforcement. They are caring for us, risking their own lives (the virus is contagious, duh) for our health and safety. At the same time, artists have been there for our mental health. Providing free workshops, concerts, and interactive sessions, they’ve been the relief and comfort that we have sought in these uncertain times.
Artists have also been there for each other, creating fundraisers to support local artists, beginners, and others in need. Assistance for Disaster Affected Artistes (ADAA) is one such campaign, started by musician Shubha Mudgal collected over 40 lakh rupees before closing the campaign, and is now supporting almost 150 families in several states for six months. Recognizing that the times are uncertain, we urge all those who can to spare whatever is possible and donate to support local artists and their families.
The uncertain future, a new world awaits
The entire world is impatiently waiting for a vaccine. Until we have a final solution, the threat of the virus isn’t going anywhere. Social distancing guidelines do not permit large gatherings. And with Americans protesting over their “right to get infected”, the world cannot be trusted to physically remain distant by themselves. As such, we can only sit on our sofas and indulge in art digitally, and perhaps learn to value it as well.
While we wait (with our outfits planned out and ready to go), we must devise ways to ensure that artists get the recognition they deserve. We must strive to integrate culture and the arts in economic and social regeneration strategies, recognising their tremendous value for the well-being of citizens, as well as their power to unite people in times of distress. The government must empower the sector to readjust their business models through access to consultancy, strategic advice and exchange of best practices. We must recognise and understand the value of art, while we casually scroll through Instagram and see an artist doing a live session for free.
Thomas Merton, the author, said, “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” Artists are the reason art exists. And while they “Art-from-Home”, the least we can do is appreciate them, and recognize them.