Artist Extinction Event?
It turns out the unemployment rate for artists in the US is now well above national average. Total giving to arts organizations is down 14% since the pandemic. Galleries and museums have shuttered. The shift to online galleries is good but has been no economic boon.
I started to realize artists, musicians, writers, dancers and actors are in a kind of liminal state. Much like animals on an endangered species list. Despite good intentions of art advocacy groups, a large number of artists are too on a path to extinction.
But we can learn much from nature and notice how we treat the things we deem not “useful.” Or as a predator to control and contain as in the case of the wolves in Yellowstone. The entire Yellowstone National park reinvigorated after they reintroduced wolves. Wolves killed the overpopulating elk whom were reducing foliage throughout the park. The new landscape patterns the elk carved out gave rise to the regeneration of other systems. Wolves ate the elk but saved foxes, mice, beavers, bears, rivers and more. Art teaches us things about ourselves only nature comes close to.
I love what Trappist monk Thomas Merton said.
"Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”
We should not underestimate the role of the artist in our world. Art can tap into new ideas brewing in the collective unconscious and shed light on our shadows. Art reveals how we may be going about business as usual and need disruption. Or remind us of the great gift that is life.
The great Renaissance period followed the black plague. It was the new era of Humanism. A time when dignity and worth of the individual held great importance. They placed less emphasis on religious and secular dogma. What movements may follow the coronavirus? How we support artists of all walks of life will likely effect that outcome.
Many are suffering and more will suffer during this pandemic. It’s easy to see how art funding gets cut first. This has been the prevailing way for a very long time. But whether artwork acts to disrupt or to beautify, let’s not dismiss its important role. If we do, the only art left could be what's churned out by corporate profit machines. We may only get more popular songs that sound the same and more daft memes. And likely a generation who think of art only as graphic “skins” to change on characters in their video games.
Take away art (like the wolves in Yellowstone) and society will suffer. View and support art and artists and watch life flourish all around. It’s that simple. The Renaissance gave us Humanism. We will see if post coronavirus art could give us our Humanity.