Edward Hopper once said, “if I could say it in words there would be no reason to paint.”
Throughout history, pandemics have had a deep impact on the art being produced. Whether you are working on the front lines, have known someone who has contracted Covid, or have had your daily life turned completely upside down, words can barely express how much has changed in only one year. Covid has left a profound impression on our population, and that impact can be felt in the works of art created in the past year.
How we physically access art, and the symbols prominently used in that art, has changed. This provides a unique deviation in the types of art created, as well as the overall feel of the pieces.
How We See Art
The pandemic has limited how artists can showcase their work. Art crawls and exhibitions are, for now, on hold. This has pushed some artists, especially those lesser-known, onto social media.
The Getty museum issued a challenge in late March, asking artists to recreate their favorite paintings with household items, using the #betweenartandquarantine hashtag. Locked in quarantine, Instagrammers and artists alike have paid homage to hundreds of famous works of art, posting their own versions side by side. Some are meant to match the originals as close as possible, while others take certain liberties, such as subbing in a dog for Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring.
Artists are taking the opportunity to create virtual studio tours on Instagram, or have begun selling their art using Facebook. Artists may also be finding more time to follow their passions due to shifting careers.
There has also been a rise in the number of graffiti artists, sanctioned or not, creating murals. With very few public outlets for artists to display their work, it only makes sense that some would turn to such a public billboard.
Active Symbolism in Art
Regardless of the means that artists are distributing their work, the very look of the art being produced is changing.
Banksy in particular used his art early in the pandemic to encourage London Underground users to mask up, depicting his famous rats infected with the virus. Rats are an interesting choice of symbolism, given their association with the Plague.
Much of the artwork features healthcare workers, such as nurses and doctors, likened to superheroes. They are adorned with the superman shield, or capes, drawing the comparison that they are protectors guarding us from harm.
Some Asian-American artists are using their work to combat the xenophobia that has popped up, depicting the racist attitudes they have encountered since the start of the pandemic.
Art as a Time Capsule
Looking back at previous pandemics, we can see the effect that the sickness had on the art of the generation. In some cases, there is almost no art being produced. Where art was produced, there is a distinct tone. There is despair, anger, but also hope.