In 2020 the education world was required to make a quick and graceful transition to online learning. Teachers had to rethink and reinvent ways to engage and communicate ideas through their laptop cameras to students sitting in their homes, away from the formalities of the classrooms and lecture halls. The pandemic continues to challenge us across all our pursuits. Maintaining momentum towards individual and common goals has been reframed, we are learning that we aren’t indestructible, and that our lives and livelihoods exist in a chain reaction.
As creative students, COVID-19 prodded at and re-established that question in our minds (the ever-lingering halo above the art world’s head), what is the purpose of art? The internet splashed about darkly humorous memes of art students and professionals calling out into a desolate apocalyptic expanse, ‘WHO WANTS TO BUY MY ART!?’. It seemed that the onset of widespread panic meant people were no longer interested in buying ‘non-purposeful’ items, naturally. However, as the pace of life slowed and ground down to almost a halt, a window of shameless time hogging opened up.
For those lucky enough to have access to materials, government benefits and space to create, many artists shrugged off the endless expectation to produce art for money and money for art and created with what they could. For the creative type, it was a brief moment of reflection on productivity and ingenuity that was well overdue. Students studying from afar had to take time to reimagine their practice and carve out new understandings of its purpose in their life and the lives of others.
Across the world teachers were thinking of innovative ways to turn the chaos of the present day into nourishment for students dealing with the realities of distanced learning. At the School of Visual Arts in New York, art teacher Tomer Hanuka ‘asked his students to create moving-past-the-pandemic works in the style of a New Yorker magazine cover’ (Cavna, 2021). Impressed by the outcome he posted some works online and the response was overwhelmingly positive. The covers ranged from an elegant drawing of a woman smelling a flower after lowering her mask to expose her nose, to students escaping their cage-like zoom boxes undercover style (https://www.washingtonpost.com/arts-entertainment/2021/04/29/student-new-yorker-cover-class-art-pandemic/).
The state is now facing yet another spike and some of the highest infection rates this year. For students, this means checking emails daily for updates and being open to a flexibility with classes moving on and off campus.
Looking towards the future, art students can find passage if they look hard for it. Hats must be taken off to the galleries and establishments continuing to run programs, prizes and grants for those emerging and continuing to make work. In the current day there is no guarantee that there will an opening night or that audiences will be able to access the work like they used to pre COVID. However, art will always be made, pandemic or not.
If there is anything technically helpful this period has taught the art community it is that the online world can keep us afloat when we have to be physically apart. Do up that website, post that work in process and keep up to date, ready and connected to your community. Students should get to know the local studios and galleries operating in their area, attend openings and speak to as many people as they can about upcoming opportunities.
Newcastle is a thriving arts hub where the creatives and establishments genuinely want to assist and push students and early career artists toward paths to realising their visions and aspirations.
Cavna, M., 2021. [online] Available at: <https://www.washingtonpost.com/arts-entertainment/2021/04/29/student-new-yorker-cover-class-art-pandemic/> [Accessed 8 July 2021].