How the Creative Process Is Shifting for Artists in Social Isolation

Artists share their thoughts on creating in isolation. Hannes Magerstaedt/Getty Images

A few months ago, there were flickering warning signs of danger that hinted at the havoc that coronavirus would soon be wreaking all around the world, but the shattering impact the pandemic has had on New York and its surrounding states in particular cannot be overstated. Over 1,500 people in New York City have died due to complications of the virus so far, and virtually every formerly-thriving industry has been compromised. For the art world, this has meant mass layoffs and furloughs for museum and auction house employees, the total reorientation of gallery exhibitions and the cancellation of most art fairs in the immediate future, and this is only the beginning. While this institutional upheaval can feel endlessly complicated, artists are also bearing the burden of the pandemic; often as independent contractors. How are creative people supposed to keep working through something like this?

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Rachel Klinghoffer, a multidisciplinary artist based in South Orange, New Jersey, told Observer that she’s been sheltering in place with her husband and two children, who are 11 months old and three years old respectively. Klinghoffer had multiple sales of her work in progress when it first became apparent that the coronavirus was an urgent threat, and said she isn’t sure whether those sales are still going to proceed.

My work has also shifted in terms of what materials I’ve used,” Klinghoffer said. “I work at home, and I do have facilities to accommodate low-toxicity materials. But even with that being said, my three year old can’t be sitting next to me while I’m doing some of these things, and my baby can’t be attached to me while I’m standing. So how I’m going to do the physical work—I’ve done it in crunches before and this is how artists have worked forever. Yes, I understand I need to work at night and I’ve got other fish to fry right now, but I’m a maker and I always figure out a way to make.”

Artist Jeanette Hayes said she’s been dealing with social distancing-allotted alone time by setting up a website to sell her work, which lately includes a deck of cards featuring images of Pokémon paintings she’s done. “I’ve had two shows cancelled, one in Toronto and one in Stockholm—hopefully they’ll end up just being postponed, but everything is so up in the air right now,” Hayes said. 

“I’m painting alone in my studio or asleep alone in my house, I’m doing fine and no one should worry about me,” said New York City-based painter Sam McKinniss, who added that one of the most important activities currently is taking care to support your immediate community. “To the collectors and the art advisors: Buy art from small galleries right now,” McKinniss told Observer. “Call ten of your favorite small galleries and buy something right now and then do it again once a week until this is over. Do not ask for a discount. Also, buy art from young artists off of their Instagram accounts. If you like it, buy it. People need to be doing this. You’ll save someone’s life, I’m not kidding.” 

Ultimately, the question of how to remain artistically stimulated and sane during a pandemic is an important one, but it has to be answered on an individual level: no two creative processes look exactly the same. However, there are some who might already have an advantage. “Artists will be fine, because if there are any people in this world who are good at sitting still and just thinking and working, it’s artists,” Hayes said. 

How the Creative Process Is Shifting for Artists in Social Isolation