Art in times of crisis

Can we lock ourselves in our homes without closing ourselves off from the world?

If home/house confinement has imposed itself on us in all its novelty at the risk of catching us off guard, we can now try to draw some lessons from this particular period. How can we, as eminently social beings, maintain a link with the culture that constitutes us from top to bottom? Can we lock ourselves up at home without closing ourselves off from the world? How can we decompartmentalize?

Art allows us to forget for a moment the current events and to take a step back.

Anxiety about numbers, waiting for announcements, the heaviness of economic issues, medical controversies, … what if we put all that aside for a moment? When faced with crisis situations, we tend to reduce the world to these anxiety-provoking issues. But wouldn’t it be salutary to take advantage of these special moments to survey the world in our minds and contemplate its riches? The history of humanity is certainly the history of the fight against diseases, of the management of bodies and the prevention of risks, but it is also the history of creativity, of the expression of singularity.

The history of humanity is also the history of creativity, of the expression of singularity.

While health crises remind us that we are living beings with needs that we must continue to satisfy and fragilities in the face of which we must come together, they must not obscure the properly human dimension of our existences: culture. To decompartmentalize is to continue to discover, to question, to enrich and to pass on, in short, to keep ourselves awake. Art allows us not to reduce man to his body and to reconnect with the greatness of humanity.

Art unites humanity in space and time.

Man is a creator, he produces novelty and he is able to inscribe in the world an imprint of himself and to bequeath it to posterity. This is what Hegel, a nineteenth-century German philosopher, already identifies in the action of the child who cannot help but throw pebbles into the water: he wants to see, in the appearance of concentric waves on the surface, a modification of the world of which he himself is the author.

Or unlike the ephemeral nature of waves, works can pass through time. The art object is a vestige, a historical testimony that, preserved from the bite of time, opens us to the past, makes us travel in time. It is thanks to art that we can access the intimate thoughts of cultures far from ours, in time or in space. Let us think of the lady of the fawns found in Catal Höyük, this figurine of about ten centimeters that contains in it alone all the expression of the new mastery of nature by man.

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Or what could be more liberating than this opening to the world and to history, in a period when daily life, sometimes punctuated by timed outings, locks us into a heavy monotony? Because artists can allow us to better understand the situation we are going through. They offer representations of our time, externalize our interiority.

This is indeed what the works of street artists and the critical hindsight, sometimes anticipated, to which they invite us about the health crisis testify. We can think here of the ode to health professionals by Fake in Amsterdam or by catman in London, of the reminder of containment measures by Nello Petrucci in Italy, of the criticism of American politics by the Mexican artist Himed Stencil, or that of Brazil by Aira Ocrespo, etc. The commitment of artists responds, worldwide, to the pandemic of covid-19.

The painting is a window on the world.

From then on, owning a painting at home is to open a window on the world. Not a window on the thousand times surveyed street and its routines but on a foreign world, that of a singular look. But this opening on the world which is thus offered to us by the work of art is not fixed. For if we never bathe twice in the same river, we must recognize that we never see the same painting twice since our perception evolves.

Sometimes a detail suddenly appears to us, sometimes the evocative power of the work moves us more than usual, sometimes a ray of sunlight comes to cast a new light on the canvas.

And when habit tends to numb our perception and our works of art no longer challenge us, why not take advantage of the confinement to reorganize our interior and expose in a new light those works that, blending so well into the decor, had ended up disappearing? Art allows us to cross the walls, the interior opens on the outside and the glance passes through the painting. Intimacy is never a closure, it gives access to something other than oneself.

Bonnard, Dining room in the countryside

Art invites a shift in perception.

When sanitary measures put us under house arrest, they impoverish our visual environment. Our eyes open and close every day in the same setting, and the sense of confinement is all the more burdensome. However, if we cannot change reality, it might be enough to change the way we look at it. Is it not precisely the main virtue of art to invite us to see what our preoccupations lead us to conceal? In the words of Paul Klee, “painting does not reproduce the visible, it makes visible.”

Art unveils reality.

For our perception is first of all an instrument that allows us to act and what we see is oriented by what we do, by our concerns, our worries. As such, our daily perception is impoverished, the world we perceive is reduced to the world of action, it is parasitized, and the beauty of things no longer reaches us, no longer surprises us.

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In this respect, we lock ourselves in, we suffocate. To awaken artistic sensitivity, it would then be necessary to detach ourselves from our imperatives, from the urgency of our daily lives and see differently. Thus developed for example the festival of confined arts which relayed every day at 7 pm on the website Agora Off different artistic proposals created during the confinement.

Photo by Samuel Moulin – Zeal excess

Adopting an artist’s eye means giving the world a chance to surprise us. This is illustrated by theater set designer Valerie Jung, who, perceiving the courtyard downstairs as a theater stage, has set up the project “Solitudine,” a photographic series in which passersby, one after another, take part in the play of our daily lives.

On this point we also find the feats of street artists who, deprived of their field of expression, as others have been deprived of their workshops, have shown inventiveness to circumvent the prohibitions. Thus the Normandy street artist Gaspard Lieb projected on the wall facing him, the return of children to school.

Take the opportunity to gain inspiration and play with constraints.

The rules of containment stimulate our ability to adapt and innovate. Many households have indeed taken advantage of this period to stimulate their creativity with the materials at hand. Putting the spatial constraint at the service of artistic creation, Joseph Hélie, an artist from Bordeaux, photographer and street artist, questions the limit with the project “horizon(s) 1km”. What is a border? What is a horizon?

Making constraints work for creation is also the challenge taken up by participants in the “Getty challenge” who reproduced at home scenes from master paintings, like the well-known painting “The Girl with a Pearl” by Vermeer. The art in art gave rise to a planetary viral explosion on social networks reminding us of the importance of art in the composition of social ties, including and a fortiori perhaps, in times of crisis.

Aesthetic emotion is an experience of escape.

In aesthetic emotion, we are actually torn away from our present condition, in a sense, we are no longer there. We leave our bodies. In this sense, emotion offers us a respite, a parenthesis during which we no longer define ourselves as that singular being separated from others but as a human being who can share with individuals yet very different from him, the spectacle of beauty. To see, in the museum, a student next to an octogenarian, to share the same affection for a painting, is to experience a humanity that brings us together.

It can be argued, then, that art has the power to connect us, even when context separates us. For even if artistic judgments/tastes are sometimes quite different, it is certain that in front of a work a communication is possible, a discussion can be set up. To hang a painting in one’s home is to initiate a common experience in which one can, alone or with others, escape from everyday life and
suspend isolation.

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