As I experience more isolation than usual, I wonder about the arts and its effect on isolation and community. I know that doing any art can be isolating, doing anything well often means some isolation, and having enough time to do something well demands isolation. And yet the art almost always gets some public attention, is presented as a play, or may be simply given to someone else. The isolation can be empowering if the end goal is to produce something that will connect one with another, and it also may be empowering if it simply expresses what is inside the artist and does not see the light of day. It seems that going away can lead to returning, and that producing art in isolation can lead to reuniting with society. But what about the reasons for isolation if they are imposed from without…if the artist is forced to isolate, like in a war, or in a pandemic?
War and Isolation
“Between 1940 and 1942, a young German-Jewish artist named Charlotte Salomon produced some 784 paintings while hiding from the Nazi authorities in the south of France. Less than a year later, she was captured and deported to Auschwitz, where she and her unborn child were murdered by the Nazi regime. What came to light after the war had settled was a series called Life? or Theatre? – a graphic narrative that tells the story of a broken family, plagued by suicide, mental illness, murder, and being Jewish.”—Quarantine and the Art of Being Alone: Artists and Isolation
Charlotte Salomon had to live with her art-making alone in isolation. Much like Edward Munch’s, “the Scream,” and the dreadful mental state as expressed on that canvas we become aware of isolation experienced by the subject in the work. What is happening now to us in our “pandemic-induced” isolation? It isn’t going well because this isolation curbs our need for space and distance and individual movement and is pushing us to scream. Can making art help us overcome this isolation?
Trust in Others
It turns out that putting trust into others is one of the best things you can do for yourself and your isolation. Trust starts with us and how we feel about us and expressing it through art is important. Trusting our art, at base is trusting our creativity and this is what really helps us feel better—the creative choice helps us to feel empowered and trusting others in art is like collaborative creativity. This can help us to get out of the trap of isolation.
We see this kind of work in classrooms every day. Asking children to understand different parts of the Everglades in Florida, for example, can be received as isolating for the children. But asking them to then take their individual assignments, and bring their knowledge to a group mural, where individual parts of the Everglades are collaboratively created makes their isolation just a part of the larger whole. A step in the creative process. When education can draw out of students their best work, their most important feelings, their need to express themselves, we help them to grow into more stable adults. When art education solicits their isolated knowledge and provides a creative outlet, they begin to trust themselves and others. This makes our society better.