Artists are always on the front line of a crisis. There are two main reasons why this is true:
1) Self-expression is a human need.
When the world falls apart, people need to express themselves. Art gives voice to those who don’t have the words, who can’t find a way to express that fits their state. Art becomes exceedingly important during crisis, not only because it can educate or heal, but because it keeps the human need to express – to share, to feel, to not feel alone – alive. Even wars use musicians.
2) Artists are people.
Most artists don’t make money off of their art. They have jobs. They don’t have a lot of disposable income. Even when they’re doing their art under the best of conditions, it rarely pays what the art deserves. And so artists are out there contributing in the ways that they can – protest songs, memorial murals, poetic manifestos – not because they’re artists first, but because they’re people first. See #1. Artists don’t ever have to make their way to the front line of a crisis. We live there.
I never make cases for artists as a species to stand up and do anything they don’t want to do. Art is not, by definition, mission-based. It doesn’t HAVE to do anything. That said, in times of crisis, I do believe artists need to step up where they can. To be clear: I am not telling you what to create. I am telling you that the very act of creation is a concrete aid when the world is crumbling. The virus we are fighting has a strain that infects more people than the virus itself: the strain of despair. Art – creating or experiencing it – is perhaps the best way we inoculate ourselves against depression, anxiety and overwhelming fear.
We tell people all the time that art is necessary and we get frustrated when people don’t recognize that, when our shows aren’t well-attended or no one buys your poetry chapbook. Well, the world is feeling it now. The world is recognizing that art is not just entertainment; it is also a necessity. People quarantined in their homes are recognizing the value in being able to see a live band play the songs they love or reading poems at an open mic to each other. It is important right now that artists – writers, musicians, painters, dancers, actors, all of us – stand up in our craft. Forget how professional it looks. Quit waiting to learn how to work Zoom. You already have everything you need to contribute.
Art is essential. We were never disposable.
Just create harder.