Art in the time of Lockdown

How have artists dealt with Lockdown? Has it affected their practice and what has changed for them? For myself as a curator of established and emerging contemporary painters and printmakers, it has been a fascinating and often uplifting experience working alongside this singular group, sharing stories and often learning from their flexible and creative approach.

Artists tend to work individually. They certainly spend considerably more time alone than those in other occupations and are often gifted with a deep and wide internal world from which they feed their work. Artists themselves are their own protagonists and their own harshest critics. They travel their artistic journey unaccompanied, propelled by an inner calling for expression, improvement and experimentation.

But this is not to say that the outside world is not as important as the internal one. Creativity may be influenced and fed by nature, culture, literature, politics or relationships. Inspiration might be triggered by working within a group or collaborating with peers. To have this tap turned firmly off in Lockdown could be as destabilising for an artist, as it would be in any other profession.

However, once the shockwaves subsided, many artists got to work! By nature creative and inquisitive, they are also a highly practical and pragmatic group. The removal of outside pressures, exhibitions which were cancelled, extended deadlines and with expectation reduced to nil, a void emerged that to non-creatives might be a dark and bottomless place, but to artists became a pool of possibilities. Art is, on one level, play. And here was the opportunity to play, free from distraction and unlimited by time. Here was the opportunity to experiment with new materials in different scales - through necessity or curiosity. Inspired by a raft of new subjects, simply having the time to pursue an idea which has been bubbling away, artists were ironically liberated by Lockdown.

Many artists that we work with discovered the brilliant ‘Artists Pledge’ initiative. A digital platform where artists submit work for £200 or under, pledging that by the time they reach £1000 of sales, they in turn buy a piece of art. This supportive network provided income and also for many artists a sense of much needed purpose and when sales picked up, independence.

The huge shake up which has been this long and vicious pandemic, has been a reset for many members of the artistic community. I have chatted to artists who since lockdown have broken ties with galleries they no longer really feel aligned with, or parted ways with agents whose demands and fees they have known were unreasonable for years, but have not had the confidence or found the right circumstance to break away. The pressure of being self-employed, paying for studios, materials, framing and often self-funding publicity is daunting. As a result, artists can be pushed creatively into a corner which might not be the place in their artistic lives where they really want to be, but it pays the bills. with all these day to day ties blown away, the artistic community was suddenly forced to operate in an alternative space where there was more time, less pressure, and increased artistic freedom with a wealth of subjects, emotions and politics to respond to.

As with nature, art flourishes in spaces where life was thought to be untenable. Passionately reactive it speaks where words fail. From my experience with the artists I am in contact with day to day, the artistic community has embraced the challenges of the day. Resourceful, inspiring and productive they are an example to follow in their flexibility, creativity and positivity. Art is a balm for those who practise it and a gift for those who appreciate it. We must all be thankful for every etching, drawing, painting and print which has been fearlessly created in the last twelve months and must continue, now more than ever, to champion and to support our artistic communities.