Life during Covid-19 has forced us all to adapt in some way and it will undoubtedly leave its mark on many generations to come, affecting how we interact with others as well as our approach to food and our handling of finances. It is an anomalous time to say the least— we are all faced with new challenges, anxiety and extra time to be introspective.
There are reports and articles everywhere discussing how productive we should be in ‘lockdown’ and if we’re not creating or learning something we are wasting this time — This is also an opportunity to spend more time finding our humanity, inside ourselves and others.
Being a human is about more than being productive; This slight pause in many of our lives allows us to attempt to find our true nature, become more attuned to those around us and our deeper human history. Particularly now it is important to do some learning and unlearning. As an anthropologist I often think about what it is to be human and how humans would create community and connect thousands of years ago, it’s curious to see that some of these things are the only way we can connect right now.
One of humanity’s earliest forms of community, storytelling, and conscious creativity was through art and music. There is evidence from at least 40,000 B.C.E that some of the first paintings and instruments were created, and we now know that Neanderthalensis had the potential to sing. Archaeologists and researchers are always uncovering new data and theories are always adapting, so that timeline is likely to shift. One thing that has remained constant is that humans have always gathered around and been enchanted by music and art, whether it be by a fire, at a concert venue or a friend’s backyard, we are instinctually drawn to music and art. Early humans used art and music as a means of information sharing, community gathering and as a creative outlet — this remains true today.
In my neighborhood in Portland, Oregon I often see nightly, or weekly front yard jam-sessions where people hook up their microphone and amplifiers to serenade neighbors with music; some neighbors are coming together for the first time as a socially-distanced group to make music together. Art is seen on sidewalks, street art on buildings new and old, illustrations in the news, wood cutouts of familiar movie and comic characters are hidden in places around the city— art and music have come to the forefront of how to stay connected during Covid-19. Many professional musicians are turning to virtual concerts, some even free, to encourage community and connectedness during this time when one can feel a bit too lonely or lost.
Art and music are able to be easily adapted to a socially distanced world and have been instrumental for people to stay connected and find community. Art and music are part of our human history and we can use them now to express our stories, amplify the voices of others and I believe now that we can take the time and slow down at least a little bit, we can enjoy that story more and become active participants in our own lives and our ever adapting human history.
During Covid-19 we can take this time to reconnect with something deeply human, the stories that music and art can tell. Put on your favorite record, or maybe one you don’t like as much — what is the story being told? Why do you feel a connection, or why don’t you? What about it speaks to you? Do the same with art — look at your paintings on your wall (if you are minimalist and have no paintings, search around online or in books if you are able to get access to them right now). What are you drawn to? Photographs of landscapes? Portraits? Color or black and white? Just take some time and ask questions to yourself or others about their thoughts and feelings relating to music and art.
As humans, I believe we are naturally inclined to be curious about the world and objects around us, now is a great time to ask questions. Why does this song make me feel this way? Why am I drawn to this painting? What can I do to become more skilled at illustration? How did humans perceive the world around them 5000 years ago? Why is my sourdough starter not rising?
It’s a curious and frightening time, and many of us have the ability to stay home — wether we are out of work, or thankfully working. Now is the time to wonder, to think, to make plans and goals, think about the future and learn about the past and find connection through music and art. Use art and music as a tool to share your story, listen to the stories of others, find community, explore your own creativity and stay close to those that matter most to you.