Art and Life and Coronavirus: What Does it Mean?
So many folks are thoughtfully and often with great introspection finding meaning in the human experience of the pandemic. I have been doing my habitual undisciplined musing on that and almost anything/everything else, without creating the mental space necessary to really focus on the issue. All of the reminders to value what we have are lovely now as before, but I feel that there is something more here.
I know that any train of thought that I might develop matters little in this giant sea of change and pain. But one of the reasons that I started writing a blog about ten years ago was to bring a little form to my musings, teasing out something resembling conclusions from the mishmash.
I have been considering the twin truths of life being brutal and life being magnificent.
“Life is nasty, brutish, and short.”
I looked up this quote in Writing Explained to make sure that I had it right, and lo, look what I found in the explanation:
“This expression comes from the author Thomas Hobbes, in his work Leviathan, from the year 1651.
He believed that without a central government, there would be no culture, no society, and it would seem like all men were at war with one another.
- In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain, and consequently no culture of the earth, no navigation nor the use of commodities that may be imported by sea, no commodious building, no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force, no knowledge of the face of the earth, no account of time, no arts, no letters, no society, and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
If this does not hit home in our present circumstances, I don’t know what does. As the federal government has been working for 3+ years to dismantle our government itself in favor of an oligarchy run by big money, it has also undermined the response to the virus, making life much, much nastier and shorter for many.
What is the antidote, on a personal level?
The question of what is magnificent is is almost self-evident, so let’s shift that to—what is meaningful?
For me, family, studio practice, yoga, nature, close friends, wider arts community. Now as before. I am incredibly fortunate that much of that is as accessible now as always, maybe more so.
The creative practice is huge, almost a living, breathing thing.
In person and physical contact with family, friends, and the wider community is where we feel our loss most keenly. In our far-flung life-style, many friendships were already carried forward through social media, phone, email, and/or some form of live streaming; but in those cases, we also often lamented the distance. Here, we can look to appreciate all of those forms of communication—just imagine if we didn’t have them!—and also soften into the anticipation of being unselfconsciously with others again.
For a discussion of living in the Catskills during the pandemic and on avoiding the grass-is-greener trap, follow this link to a recent short phone interview with Brett Barry or Silver Hollow Audio, who is producing a new podcast platform, Kaatscast (you may recognize him from WAMC’s Soundbeat).
As the virus has doubled down on our resources, we can only double down on what we love, exploring new possibilities and cherishing the ongoing ones that are possible, albeit sometimes in an altered fashion, in these times.
I started this post before the murder-by-cop of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the protests that have erupted around the nation in the past few days. Is it possible that we have finally had enough, that this is a defining moment in our nation? And is it possible that the pandemic has played some part in our determination to change the culture and address racism head-on, after seeing the larger number of deaths from Covid-19 in black and brown communities? Are we in fact stronger, having gained fresh perspective on what is important?
I am sharing a painful yet brilliant drawing by my friend Veronica Lawlor.
You can view her blog here:
Building on what we have that we value most, this can be a moment of desperately needed change. If finally moving to reform the culture of a racist and violent police force comes out of this period, we will have significantly moved the dial forward in America.
Art and Life in the Time of Coronavirus, April 17.
April 12: Today is our Dad’s birthday. We had a sweet Zoom party with family, just missing Tessa among the grandkids. Tony is not in this screen shot, but he hung out for the latter half.
Then Tessa texted a few hours later that she is out of the woods and at Zac’s house. We should get some more detail tomorrow about her plans.
I am creating a zoom painting workshop for a few students who are, of course, stuck at home. Like so many others, they thought that there would be so much lovely down time, but the experience may instead present itself as a big void, punctuated only by anxiety-producing details. (Like, for one student, that she is self-quarantined in a small nyc apartment and her immediate neighbors have the virus, with at least one of them being taken to hospital. So this would make her fearful of her own hallway.)
I am looking forward to the challenge of connecting within the technology, which in this case will be much more intricate than with my hour-long yoga classes. But I’m aware that it doesn’t matter how much we have to muddle through. While I am always conscious the of the information I want to share with my students in any workshop that I teach, I think that just now, being together will be the best thing about it.
April 14: Talk is all about how we will come out of this confinement. It is clear that is will be tentative, messy, little-by little, and still involve infections and death. This virus is so very intricate in all of its details. This was clear from my early reading about Wuhan as they were fumbling about trying to get the first handle on it.
It seems that it can spray way beyond 6 or even 10 feet just through conversation. It appears possible that the incubation period is, on outside, more than 14 days. They worry that a vaccine will not be useful due to mutations, so a treatment is vital. They know that infected folks can be contagious while symptom-free or pre-symptomatic, and that tests often are false negative (not that we are doing nearly enough testing).
So, it seems that we cannot open back up again, or even maybe live in the next several years, with any assurance that the virus is gone. Maybe it is now a part of life on earth, going forward?
In studio, so busy! This is the edition of my first three color reduction linocut, though they are all inked differently and so technically not an edition.
I planned this print for my Atlas/Watershed site map, in progress. It shows the streams’ normal flow, along with flood zones areas and the extreme breach cause by Hurricane Irene in Phoenicia. Shown are the Esopus; north of it the Stonyclove: Oxclove (which runs through our back yard) and Warner creeks.
I am thinking of one of these for the map, mostly as a color choice:
Still working on the oil-on-board pieces. What makes me happy? How I tweaked the line of the swash multiple times to create that subtle lift and almost vanishing to the right. Just that one thing, the last that I did, took me from liking to loving.
It looks like Tessa will stay in Minnesota for the time being. Reentry into her VT community would include her roommate, who works with (essential businesses) farming and food security, self-isolating, and she could not see friends nor work (like all of the rest of us!). So she is better off in Minnesota with Zac and the 5 others with whom she has been in the woods maple sugaring for the past few months.
Trump is becoming more and more unhinged. I am amazed that it is even possible. He does love conflict, and has reverted—after a short spell of acting almost presidential a little bit of the time, due to national outrage at his irresponsibility over the Covid-19 suffering—to fomenting fights among our states and backing demonstrators against stay-at-home restrictions.
He is severely mentally ill and cannot sustain even the appearance of normalcy for more than a few hours. It makes those of us who are rational scared to death for the future of us all.
I did some color-mixing and related painting conversation via Zoom today with a few students with whom I am friendly. We worked out some bugs and they were happy to take steps forward in their painting practice, as they shelter in place.
This is a spiffed-up version of our chart for mixing blues, using just three colors and black and white:
I did a few last tweaks on the new Path painting this morning:
I’ll be starting a blog post that will document the process of creating a very large commissioned piece, 6’x8′. This is a multi-step process even for a smaller piece and in normal times, and is involving even more logistics due to the size and the constrictions that we are living with. I’ll publish the post once the final piece is completed, some time in June.
Art and Life in the Time of Coronavirus, March 26, 2020
Tuesday-Thursday, March 24-26:
In the past few days we have seen the news become worse and worse, with the NYC metro area suffering huge numbers of infected and new infections mounting exponentially. The issue of New Yorkers fanning across the country to flee—or just wait out— the problem is finally much in the news, with some states requiring quarantine.
This has been on my mind here in the Catskills, where every second or third home is a weekend place and many others are AirBnB investment properties, currently rented. I would do the same if I lived in nyc and had a place up here, but I would have come up weeks ago and then stayed, like my sister and brother-in-law did. It’s the recent arrivals that pose a risk to us all.
However, we are all supposed to be behaving as if we and every other person has it. I would say that, for those coming from the global epicenter, this should extend to face masks while shopping. And, since recently trailhead parking lots in the Skills are full when the weather is nice, remembering to keep your six feet from other hikers—it’s easy to forget while out in the fresh air. Gloves and speed at the post office, as many of us in this rural area have to pick up our mail.
On the whole, it seems that folks are good and buttoned up in their homes, as they should be, wherever they come from. Since we have a lovely series of hiking trails just up my dead-end road, our road is always the choice for neighborhood dog walkers and hikers, and it is so nice to stop for chats, as in the past, but with more distance between us. I haven’t seen many of the new arrivals in this mix, but we are all good as long as we maintain our six feet.
Cases are mounting in Ulster County, though we have had only one in Shandaken for quite a while now (maybe a week, in our new telescoped time). Otsego County, where my Dad lives in Oneonta, went from zero to five in the past few days. My dear friend Di (known locally as “Dr. Di” and also my Dad and his partner’s yoga teacher) is now City Health Officer for preparedness for Covid-19. When we chatted the other night she described their local efforts, but there had yet to be a known case in the county. I am sure that they are now on higher alert to avoid community spread.
In other Covid-19 news, the NY Times published an article yesterday by a woman in NYC whose husband has a pretty bad case—just teetering on hospitalization—and how she and her 16-year-old daughter are coping with nursing him and trying not to get it themselves. It is clear that at his level of misery, there is no way he could take even the most basic care of himself.
This brought it home in a very concrete way, since with this illness all previous protocols are out the window. Family is not supposed to step in, no one is supposed to get near—the only help can come from folks dropping off needed supplies, whether medical or food. Each household, no matter how small, is on it’s own, with a bit of doctor’s advice and the worst case solution of being hospitalized.
I am glad that we have worked so hard within our household to stay safe, though we could still, of course, be unlucky.
Daughter Tessa called yesterday, just a check in before she goes back into the Minnesota woods to continue maple sugaring until her original target date of April 13 or 14th. It was so great to hear her voice.
I had left her a voicemail with a little bit of info on what’s going on in this country, and she seemed unable to let go of the idea that Jack and I are reacting with outsized anxiety. It is such an unprecedented situation that if you are not living it, of course it would seem like that…
She is now with only six others of the original crew, all having ben there for over a month, safe and happily out of contact with the world. How she will get back here to pick up her car, and then onto her Vermont home has yet to be determined. I am dead set against using her plane ticket to Newark.
In the studio I finished the sand flats painting, Soft Glow over Tidal Flats, 30″x60″:
I wonder when I will see the sea again? Almost surely not the first of May, as originally planned, for my seasonal drop-off at Louisa Gould Gallery on Martha’s Vineyard.
Work is also progressing on the watershed Site Map; here, a detail of the most developed sections:
I have started painting the planned small oil-on-board pieces.
I am so focused on these projects that the studio constantly calls to me…I would happily spend even more time there every day, but there are both necessary and lovely other things to do—yoga, hike, cook, yard work, read, paperwork and phone calls (Jack’s job is shut down for the duration and mine—who knows?—so we are applying for all of the things), and all of the email and phone connecting with friends and family.