Turning to the Arts in Times of Chaos | Sojourners

Turning to the Arts in Times of Chaos

Throughout the centuries, in good times and in bad, artists, authors, and creatives of all kinds have turned to the muse, to their source of inspiration for that creativity. Great works of art have been discovered during these times, when the good and bad things of the world brought forth words, colors, and more.

During the Black Plague, for example, people continued to produce great paintings despite the chaos. Even after Europeans brought death, disease, and later continual colonization to the Indigenous peoples of the Americas, we continued to create art through our cultures.

Art is a tether that carries humanity through history, and, when we pay attention, it leads us toward healing in all sorts of ways.

In the midst of this coronavirus pandemic, I find myself waking up in the morning longing for something that will make me feel alive and tethered to hope. I scan my bookshelves for something that will remind me to keep going. I listen to music that helps me stay grounded and secured to goodness. We watch shows as a family and play board games so that we can laugh. We go on walks and chase the dogs in the back yard because we are trying to do this the best we can.

And I turn again and again to words, and I wonder who my muse might be right now.

Can our muse be fear? Chaos? Doubt? I don’t know. But I do know that despite it all I am seeing humanity step up to do its job of loving and listening. I am witnessing children sitting outside their elderly neighbors’ door playing music for them. I am witnessing artists offering their gifts on Facebook and Instagram so that we don’t forget how music moves us.

Yo-Yo Ma dedicated an online performance to health care workers. Authors are doing live readings of their books and other author’s works to promote book buying and joy

Scholastic is providing resources for children who are out of school. The Met is giving free access to opera. Museums are providing virtual tours, artists are providing art classes, even Indigenous educators are rallying in Canada to provide lessons for kids and teens online.

It’s important that when things are hard, we can turn to the arts to remind us of our shared humanity. Right now, we are struggling with our own demons of individualism, and we have a choice to make: to stay inside, practicing social distancing to care for our neighbors, or to continue doing what we want and risking the consequences to those around us.

For those of us staying home to protect the vulnerable among us, we can take advantage of the opportunity to lean into authors, artists, and creatives who are sharing their beauty with us. And those of us who are the authors, artists, and creatives are doing what we can to remind the world through the screen that there is hope out there.

So maybe in a time like this, the muse is our next door neighbor. The muse is the woman in the hospital bed who can’t breathe. The muse is our dog, wondering why we are home all the time. The muse is the city sanitation worker or the grocer who can’t stay home. The muse is our kid and our neighbor’s kid, laughing and playing despite it all.

In times of chaos and fear, we lean into words and music, art and dance, and we ask what they can teach us. Then, we take those lessons with us into the world, and we let the muse remind us why hope is possible in a time like this.

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