Making Art During a Pandemic
by Theresa Bear
How do we make the art that lives on the seat of the soul in the time of a pandemic? I believe the answer is making, finding and giving yourself a safe place to do so.
Collectively, the physical and mental health tolls on top of the financial exhaustion of Covid-19 has touched all of our lives in some way. Space, time, anxiety, and the unknown are all catalysts for a multitude of emotions to seep in like an unwelcome guest. And if you’re a human being, the reality is you have probably experienced both the good and hard emotions at some point during this pandemic.
The call to stop and create something from this collective emotional rollercoaster is so loud right now. As a photographer, I am always grappling with my privilege to hold a camera and how to use it in the world. But now more than ever I feel many of us are being called to ask big questions and make art. Questions like, "How do I want my art to live in the World?", "What is the intention for my art?" and "How and where is my voice and art needed in the world?"
This is hitting us all differently on a scale of emotions and reactions.
If you, like me, are asking these questions, then I am sure what follows suit is . . . ”How am I supposed to make art or reflect when I have a two year-old toddler who has the energy of a hummingbird?" — or “I am the teacher to my three kids now, with no child care and I am required to work from home” — or “How am I supposed to walk through this fear when I can’t move from my bed?” — or (Insert line here of whatever is keeping you from making art and finding the time to ask and hear the questions.)
All super valid! I am not a licensed therapist, nor do I have scientific proof that this is the answer. But in my 30-plus years of making art and experiencing many road blocks, I have found that my answer is: Giving myself a safe space to jump from.
Safe space is so different for everyone. This is the space you create and find when you need to reconnect. It’s the space where you get vulnerable, have a good cry, sit in the unknown, and breathe.
One person's idea of safe space could be sitting under a tree with their favorite person and a La Croix. While another person's could be a heavy metal concert through their AirPods and a walk around the city. This is personal; this is sacred; and this is important.
I can’t tell you what will be your perfect answer but I can share with you all the ways finding safe space works for me. These are my top twelve ways to feel and create an instant safe space. These always get my creativity flowing again.
1. Identify your safe space people! This is an exercise from Brené Brown in Daring Greatly. “I carry a small sheet of paper in my wallet that has written on it the names of people whose opinions of me matter. To be on that list, you have to love me for my strengths and struggles. You have to know that I’m trying to be Wholehearted, but I still cuss too much, flip people off under the steering wheel, and have both Lawrence Welk and Metallica on my iPod.” My own list is small, but I carry it everywhere with me. I look at it when I need a reminder that I have folks who love me for me. I can call on these people to always give me a safe space with a lot of love. Harry Potter's List would be Ginny, Ron, Hermione, Dumbledore, Hagrid, and Sirius Black.
2. Take a forest bath. As written in The New York Times, taking a walk in the forest is said to almost immediately relieve stress and clear your mind, heart, and body. Almost like a free reboot and reconnection to life.
3. Create a mood/environment. Find a time you know you won’t be disturbed. I know this may be a challenge, but make the time to find it for yourself. No excuses. Turn off all devices and beeps that call for your attention. Gather all your candles, pictures, incenses, fabrics, art, rocks, and things that make you feel safe and happy. Go to a room in your house and make it your personal space of comfort. I steal my two year-old's wave and star projector I got from Amazon to add to the feels. But it could be as simple as lying in your bed with the lights off and the intention to create a non-distracting space. My favorite thing to add to this is music! It truly invokes the feels and is a language all on its own. My go-to playlist is this one on Spotify. Once you have your personal oasis set up, lie down, or sit still for 15 to 20 minutes. Just be in this space taking it all in and letting your mental chatter flow in and out.
4. Be grateful. Naming the things you’re grateful about elevates our energy instantly and connects us to the good energy we can tap into all around us. For a week, month, or whatever time feels right, commit to creating a space of writing down or saying out loud what you’re grateful for everyday. My partner and I practice this before we go to bed. We both say three things we are grateful for.
5. Write and burn. Find the space to write it all out. Every thought, feeling, and worry. Don’t judge it at all. Just let it all come out. When you’re finished, release it to the fire. For proper burn instructions follow this link. Find a safe space to burn what you have written. I know it seems obvious but check out that link. You'll want to be safe and make sure you're not burning your house down or endangering others. I love doing this every year. When we go camping I bring all my writings I wish to release and give it to the fire. Such a simple and intentional act.
6. Sweat! Sometimes the most empowering spaces are ones where we can sweat out the energy and emotions we are feeling. Endorphins are the best for getting our juices flowing again. My favorite is dancing on my own to all the good beats.
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7. Plant a garden! There are so many metaphors in a garden. From seed to seedling, bearing fruit, and eventually composting into the soil. The simple act of growing our own food and flowers is one of the most empowering things we can do for ourselves as humans (and for the pollinators). Your garden can be pot-sized. A simple planter garden can give you a bounty of harvest. My little garden gives me a purpose and connects me to nature and her cycles. It forces me to go slower, gives me space to think and see these metaphors. I find my accountability to nature is also my accountability to myself.
8. Go on an adventure! It doesn’t have to be far. Maybe there is a new coffee shop in town you have been wanting to try. Or maybe you go left on the walk with your dog instead of right. Remember to wear a fun hat. It always spices things up. And as always, adhere to the social distancing rules in your state.
9. Make art that isn’t photography. Find an art form you have always been interested in and jump in. Mess up, fail, learn, and experience the joy and learning curves of a new experience. Maybe one day you can even add it to your photography :).
10. Use your emotions and make art about them. Make art that reflects what you’re feeling in this moment. Maybe you’re frustrated that you can’t see your friends right now, or feeling gratitude for the front-line workers. Explore what a photo based on that emotion would look like and make it. Communicate through your lens. That release and voice is an amazing way to heal and move mountains in yourself and the world.
11. LAUGH. Humor is truly the universal medicine. It totally builds bridges and shatters pain. Call a friend you know whom you can be silly with. Wear something that makes you laugh. Sit down to watch a comedy. Ali Wong: Baby Cobra on Netflix is a good place to start.
12. Pass on the love. Give, in whatever way you can. While in line, buy the person in front or behind you coffee. Go food shopping for a neighbor who can’t right now. There are so many ways to give, and the reward is felt so big on both ends. My favorite way to give is giving my loved ones the safe space to talk and share their emotions without much feedback. Showing up and seeing someone is most of the time all we really need to give. Love is contagious, friends.
We are all imperfectly perfect; constantly growing, dismantling our ignorance/fear and transforming it to love. Art is a tool to explore those realizations and transform our realities. But sometimes to make the best art, we need to give ourselves ways to move through what life throws at us.
I hope that you find a way to give yourself the safe space to feel all the new, uncomfortable, and wildly beautiful things — the unknown brings. Whenever life and your art feel overwhelming, give yourself permission to take a hot minute. Give yourself the grace and safe space to not judge the magic that is wildly growing within.
But mostly you must know we need your art.
More than ever we need your art.
So take the time you need, but find a way to get back to your art, dear friend.
In courage, long virtual hugs, and safe spaces for everyone,