Art World

Business as unusual: Creativity in isolation

Why we can anticipate an explosion of new art when we emerge from this crisis
Write something!

I’ve noticed that hard times give some people a genius for living and a lot of flair for the fun. Like so many of us these days, my only excursions outdoors consist of daily walks. Lately, my neighbors, several of them, have left chalks out by the sidewalks to invite us all to “Write something!” or “Draw something!” I’d already enjoyed some of these efforts, like the funny-faced multicolored animal drawn outside my house, a thought balloon over his head greeting me with a “HELLO.” These message-in-a-bottle-style communications range from “We will get through this!” “Stay safe!” to more philosophical musings like the one I saw yesterday: “If I’m clean when I get out of the shower, how does my towel get dirty?”


People in my neighborhood are also placing teddy bears in their windows facing the streets to create games for children. The parents drive their little ones around and they have a “bear hunt” to see how many they can count from the car. On Easter, a neighborhood Easter egg hunt came to life organically with sidewalk drawings of eggs and decorated paper eggs hanging in trees in out-of-the-way places just waiting to be noticed.


I can think of two eras during my years when life hit the pause button. The first time was right after I finished my undergraduate degree. I was working a third-shift job of the dead-end variety, and I hadn’t found my footing in terms of what I was going to do, or who I would become. This went on for about two years. Eventually, even my dreams took place in nighttime. One thing I did was paint and read — all the time. I went inside myself, and when I eventually came back to the world, I was richer for it. I had a head full of ideas and a studio full of paintings, and I was ready for what came next.

The next pause was when I left Michigan and came to California. I had resigned from my job and was living on savings for a few months. I took a road trip with my nephew across the United States, and we decided not to make plans and let the trip take as long as it needed to take. We gave ourselves the freedom to be spontaneous. “Let’s take advantage of unstructured time,” I remember telling him. “Let’s have a real adventure,” he said. We don’t get that very often. That unstructured time was a gift, as uncomfortable and insecure as I was about where I would ultimately find myself.

To say that the last few weeks have been difficult for everyone would be an understatement. The specters of illness, financial hardship, and psychological uncertainty are too real. The truth is we don’t always expand our possibilities when life is routine, when it’s business as usual. When business gets unusual, self-expression provides us with a kind of evolutionary leap. This is what I’m finding in myself, my neighbors, and in the global community during these early months of 2020. 

What we create for ourselves in our imaginations during this time will help to define the world we will inherit. Van Gogh created paintings to fend off his inner demons, and we are all better for it. The sociopolitical upheaval of the sixties gave us some of the most meaningful songs ever written. Beethoven composed music after he became deaf, and Monet made some of his greatest paintings when cataracts had compromised his vision. 

So what is it we think we can’t accomplish? When do limitations become possibilities? Songs, poems, stories, paintings, films — these are signposts along the roads that map our personal histories and measure out our moments that extend into years. Living well is its own art, in whatever form that takes. When we exercise our right to be creative beings, we send the message that we are not wholly controlled by a disaster like this virus. Ultimately, creativity is an act of rebellion. We are not defined by our circumstances, and through art we transcend. 

I’m looking forward to reading the great books that are now in their gestation period, and going to live concerts supporting albums full of songs that are just now being written. I want to see all the paintings being painted, and experience all the ideas being shared. Most of all, I look forward to seeing what we will become. 

Sharon Anderson is an artist and writer in Southern California. She can be reached at

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