The nation is in level 5 lockdown, but as a resident of Kildare this is our fourth this year. Which means that we’ve been stuck at home with out loved ones for nearly a year, and counting. It’s hard, but it could be harder. And this is the hardest yet. Ireland in January and February is rarely much fun. One always pays the price during the post Christmas binge fest. But we didn’t even amount to that this year and we’re still stuck. Yet I know we are fortunate. We are healthy. We have no underlying health issues. And we can all work for home. And homeschool. We can take secluded walks in the countryside, head out the front gate and be confident we don’t have to jump across the road to avoid oncoming pedestrians. We have a roof over our heads and food on the table. We are loved and we love in return.
Yet I run my own business, and a creative one at that. I create, design and produce all my jewellery. And while that is not seen as an essential piece in the world we live in, not only is it my livelihood, but it is a form of art that brings joy to our lives. And like other creative industries, their value is not necessarily tangible, cannot be counted on a spreadsheet, is not traditionally ‘essential’.
And yet isn’t it?
What do we do to take solace and divert ourselves? We listen to music. We watch shows on TV or online to entertain, to distract ourselves for the real world outside and to enjoy. And yet these are all creative industries, essential to our wellbeing in this time of global angst. And these are the things that enrich our lives, and bring us joy and enjoyment. Afterall, we don’t just live to exist. We exist to LIVE. And it is art and culture in all of their many forms, that makes us human.
So then whilst I was thinking about this, I decided to research what other artists have said about the role of art and culture. And I don’t just mean the misattributed quote from Churchill. I mean Stella Adler’s view that “Life beats down and crushes the soul and art reminds you that you have one.”
And Robert Motherwell, the American artist, who affirmed “Yes Art is much less important than life. But what a poor life without it.”
Or to take it even further, the Canadian realist painter, Ken Danby claimed “Art is a necessity – an essential part of our enlightenment process. We cannot, as a civilized society, regard ourselves as being enlightened without the arts.”
So I am reassured that while my creative life is not one set down rigidly each day, it is in fact still a serious and worthwhile calling.
Yet I imagine when these folks weren’t trying to homeschool in the middle of a pandemic, care for their family and make sure there’s food on the table. I bet they had their own periods of creative stagnation. But I suspect it was unlikely that they were during a global pandemic. Which leads me to my next challenge - being creative during a global pandemic.
I arise each morning hoping that today I’ll get the headspace to think creatively. To find a relatable human concepts that reflect the zeitgeist. That I can feel. And from there find a way to represent my art in a 3D piece of wearable art that someone will enjoy. All before I have to tackle the homeschooling!
Usually, I would have travelled to new places, met and interacted with new people, visited locations that were new to me, walked different paths through the countryside, sparked with other people in jovial conversation. Explored. Opened my mind and drank in greedily all possible new experiences and new points of view. “An artist is an explorer” said Matisse. But how can you explore when you’re in a lockdown?
Well, I explore my emotions, my feelings as I go through each day. And I visualise my feelings in shapes and movement, and draw this back to human relevance and meaningfulness. Intuition. I don’t follow a path per se. But I read, listen, watch and look closely at the physical environment in which I find myself. It’s like how music makes you feel and the images and memories it can conjure up in you. So I guess I’ve adapted my creative process out of necessity.
No mean feat then. The trick is not to let this challenge overwhelm me. Things will change. They will turn. Life will evolve. And my work with it. I produced two lovely collections in the first lock down. But the homeschooling went to pot.
This time I’m struggling to “do it all”. Yes my educational capacity has improved but somewhat at the cost of my creativity. But I recognise that these times are very challenging. As I write I’ve had to deal with two tantrums over the xbox and a refusal to continue schoolwork. Just a typical day. Talk about a drain on creativity.
And tomorrow it will be the same. I find that very disheartening. Not having any event or occasion or meet up to look forward to. And that too inhibits creativity. Stagnation. So I try to wrap my self up, hygge-style. And try to focus. From what I hear many people are finding this one the hardest yet. I think we can definitely attribute that to grey skies and poxy weather. And a latent living with fear that is now inherent in us all.
Creativity is feeling the fear, and doing it anyway. Because you’re experimenting, and most experiments go wrong. You just readjust as you go. And that is my daily mantra. Or as I more colloquially put it in my very Irish vernacular “Fuck it, let’s do it”. Basically facing my fear and embracing it.
“Art is not always about pretty things. It’s about who we are, what happened to us and how our lives are affected”. Couldn’t agree more Elizabeth Broun.
When our first lockdown kicked in, what did we do but get creative - grow sourdough cultures, get our hands dirty in the garden, take-up the DIY projects we have put on the long finger, learn new musical instruments, listen to new music, stream new movies and shows. We reached for creative tools that would give us solace in times of uncertainty and adversity. Now collectively we have reached a stage of inertia and stagnation. The appeal to learn new things is waning across the board.
Yet that is my job. So I turn to the same routes again - nature, music. I learn new things, podcasts, books. And I work toward realising new ideas and bringing them to life through my medium of precious metals. My work isn’t just about making beautiful pieces fo jewellery. It s about finding a central concept, one that is relatable and that can be brought to life in a 3D piece of contemporary jewellery. My work is to create a piece of wearable art.
And so I will create a piece of jewellery that makes someone reflect on their lives and draw strength from what the piece of jewellery represents to them. Yet that they feel attached to its beauty and reassured that it reflects their own sense of self.
This is my motivation. So today I will work again towards achieving this goal and not worry if I don’t get there. As an artist failure is exploring every path until you find one that works. And then there’s always tomorrow.