Staying home for more than two months now is not easy. Many people are struggling with the quarantine and being around their families 24/7, working from home or not having a job at all. Actors and influencers are stepping up to the challenge and producing content from their homes, keeping us entertained and engaged from afar.
While nurses and doctors are battling COVID-19 on the frontlines, others are stuck at home, bored, stressed, or demotivated. It is as if the world itself is split between those who “see” the impact of the virus and those who don’t.
When faced with death and tragedy, one can have one of several responses (i.e. coping skills):
1. Pretend it isn’t happening, i.e. denial and avoidance. I think it has been easier for some people to deny the severity of the pandemic, the need to stay home, wear a mask and avoid others. This denial and avoidance could lead to more anxiety, anger and eventually depression.
2. Fight for one’s or other people’s lives, i.e. direct confrontation. Much like in a war, to keep the analogy people have been using to speak about the pandemic, this direct confrontation with the “invisible enemy” is going to have a long-lasting effect on people for generations to come. This pandemic is going to change us. It is going to affect our children, our hygiene practices, the way we design and structure our homes, the way we think about the common cold and the flu, the way we work and communicate. Many health care workers will have PTSD and other trauma and stress related responses because of the large number of people, who are going to lose their lives to the virus. But time will really tell how exactly we are going to be affected by it.
3. Obsess over something else, completely non-related, i.e. displacement. For example, toilet paper. What does toilet paper have to do with fighting the coronavirus? This is an interesting displacement from the virus on the outside that is evil and deadly, to the internal equivalent in our bodies of waste and dirt that we need to get rid of.
4. Engulf oneself in work or other busy activities, i.e. distraction. Limiting the amount of news we watch every day, staying busy with work, childcare, hobbies and sports is a healthy way to manage the stress of the unknown. Home workout routines, new TV series, live streams, virtual tours and dance challenges have flooded social media, offering creative and engaging ways to distract from the reality of the pandemic.
5. Turn to creativity, i.e. aesthetics. There is something about “boredom” and free time that allows people to access their creativity in a way they cannot during “normal” daily schedules and routines. As you have probably noticed, I am interested in this form of coping as it has the most impact not just on the individual but also on the collective. This pandemic is a historic moment and how humanity copes with it will leave a mark not just on history but also on our ethnopsychology as a nation and as human species. The confrontation with death has served as an inspiration for artistic expression and creativity throughout history. I am going to leave it to the art historians and academics to write and say more about that. For now, I wanted us to look at one aesthetic way that humanity has been coping with the pandemic – The Getty Museum Challenge.
The Getty Museum Challenge
A creative challenge by the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles has been keeping the creative spirit alive by challenging folks to recreate their favorite works of art with household objects, people and/or pets. You can find the prompt for the challenge and some examples on the museum’s website here. The #gettymuseumchallenge or #betweenartandquarantine hashtags will lead you to the hundreds of artistic expressions of people from across the globe on Instagram or Twitter.
Psychoanalysis is interested in the creative and aesthetic fields because they provide an alternative to violence, symptoms and illness. It is one of the paths of the talking cure to guide people towards the creation of something new within the social link that comes from the unconscious and did not exist prior. The Getty Museum Challenge presents us with a global phenomenon in response to a global crisis that will contribute to the history books as a form of digital or modern art that allowed people to be playful and artistic from home with their loved ones during the COVID-19 pandemic.
What images and works of art people choose to recreate speaks to something, coming from the unconscious that is outside the field of language. Words cannot capture the experience people are going through and there is something elusive, yet tangible in their art that communicates it non-verbally. Some are funny, some are sad, others disturbing yet poetic. The challenge gives us a fascinating look into the lives and experiences of people worldwide – a unique way to document what it feels like to live through this pandemic.
That being said, I am going to leave you with the faces of the coronavirus pandemic; the faces of young and old who will outlast this moment in time and freeze its presence forever in the field of the aesthetic: