Creativity blossoms during the time of adversities and moments of hardship often lead to creative renaissance
If you are feeling tormented by the pandemic-imposed isolation, reflect on this for a moment: William Shakespeare came up with some of his greatest works while being quarantined during the plague in the 1560s while Isaac Newton discovered differential and integral calculus, formulated a theory of universal gravitation, and explored optics during a long period of isolation at his home in the late 1660s during bubonic plague.
The moments of hardship have often led to a creative renaissance. History is a testimony to the fact that creativity blossoms during the time of adversities. It acts as a balm to the wounds inflicted by isolation and loneliness. Across human history, crises have always presented opportunities for innovation and will always be fertile ground for those fearless enough to look past the obvious obstacles at hand.
Why is great art so often born of suffering? In situations where there are no constraints, we tend to follow, what psychologists call, the “path of least resistance”, rather than investing in developing new ideas. But constraints force us to rethink, and this is when the creative juices start flowing. When our lives undergo sudden and profound changes, our minds change, too — often opening up to a new level of our own creative potential. An endeavour to survive through the challenges and cultivate the grit to resume the journey is what defines human existence in this unforgiving world.
The tech world has responded to the ongoing pandemic with a string of innovations that’s helping us adapt to the new reality.
There is growing evidence that adverse situations can be a vital component of our emotional tool kit and a motivating force that helps us look for creative solutions. While the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the rhythm of human life across the world, it has also kindled newfound skills among people as they are coming up with innovative devices, products and services to tackle the pandemic.
Before the pandemic outbreak, our lives resembled a relentless race with no moment to spare to connect to our inner selves. Forced into isolation due to lockdowns, many people are now discovering innate talents they never thought they had in them.
In the last one year, social media feeds have been brimming with creative posts, with people taking up myriad activities — painting, dancing, singing, baking, learning how to play musical instruments, making TikTok videos and much more.
Facing a never-seen-before challenge, businesses have realised the importance of creative solutions. Brainstorming meetings look much different than they did barely a year ago.
Any creative art, whether commercially successful or not, will trigger a flood of dopamine, the feel-good chemical in the brain that leads to a sense of happiness and accomplishment. It can spread a message of hope, struggle, and victory over an invisible and unpredictable enemy like coronavirus. In a way, art reminds and assures us of our interconnectedness, more so in troubled times.
If Shakespeare had experienced a burst of creativity during the quarantine period, it only means that art excels in times of crisis. Human imaginations are uniquely fitted to the task of responding to global distress and uncertainty in strange and brave ways. In fact, creative writing is a cathartic process, but its effect is therapeutic as it seeks order from chaos and shines light in a dark forest.
When the world first went into lockdown last year, the creative world was quick to respond. Museums launched virtual exhibitions, theatres streamed performances, musicians collaborated via TikTok, painters held Instagram Live art classes while fashion designers held virtual salon-like presentations.
In the last few months, there has been a sharp uptick in the popularity of literary works dealing with plagues, epidemics and other forms of biological crises. Peter May, a Scottish crime writer whose dystopian novel “Lockdown” was rejected by several publishers in 2005 for being ‘unrealistic’, was in for a surprise when he was flooded with requests to get it published. The novel, a mystery thriller set in London in the backdrop of a deadly influenza pandemic, was grabbed by a publisher last year and is receiving rave reviews now.
Literature and arts have often captured the spirit of a time, documenting collective human experiences, anxieties, and hopes. Significant works, both literary and visual, have emerged from past crises and trauma. In times of crisis, creative expression can also help us make sense of the world and our place in it.
Major literary works on pandemics come with one important message: human response to such tragedies across continents and ages is the same, regardless of culture and time. The moving literary works on pandemics — Daniel Defoe’s “A Journal of the Plague Year”, Giovanni Boccaccio’s “The Decameron”, Gabriel García Marquez’s “Love in the Time of Cholera” and Albert Camus’ “The Plague” — demonstrate this striking similarity in human responses quite effectively.
Shared grief and shared struggle call for collective action, empathy and solidarity, be it the plague outbreaks centuries ago or the currently ravaging coronavirus pandemic. We simply cannot think selfishly but must ponder how our actions will affect others.
“All a man could win in the conflict between plague and life,” says Albert Camus, “was knowledge and memories.” When confronted with the arbitrariness and ruthlessness of infection, the randomness of illness, we must contend with the reality that we are not masters of this world.
Literature takes us beyond the cold statistics of global deaths to show how the crisis has affected the individual lives of those infected, their families and communities. The purpose of the literary narratives on pandemics is to come to terms with the collective grief and try to make sense of the raw experience of panic, horror, and despair. The drive to engage with literature and the arts can also offer a sense of community, helping us feel connected across space and time.
When we eventually emerge from this pandemic, the creative processes would have provided us the healing touch and equipped us better to deal with the new normal.
(The author is a senior journalist based in Hyderabad)
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