Art works for isolates

Dissertation, University of Melbourne (2020)
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In a Covid-19 world, everyone’s circumstances changed. Most of us are living and or working in quarantine or lockdown. There is evidence that lockdown itself can have serious negative psychological impact (Brooks et al., 2020). Nonetheless, strategies are being proposed which, arguably, mitigate these harms. Artmaking is one such strategy. As ‘art therapy’, it has been usefully deployed to address a wide range of mental health challenges including anxiety, depression, fatigue and post-traumatic stress (Regev & Cohen-Yatziv, 2018). Given that these self-same impacts profile the mental health challenges identified in relation to pandemic isolation, art may be useful in mitigating mental health issues associated with lockdown. This paper does not address how the role art can play in the therapeutic mix for serious mental health disorders. More specifically it is focused on a narrower brief of ills – predominantly those associated with boredom and a loss of stimulation associated with the constrained circumstances of lockdown. The kind of ‘art therapy’ this paper has in mind is more accurately described as ‘art engagement’ as it concerns individuals actively engaging with art. Art engagement is taken as self-administered utilising the time-out imposed by lockdown as an opportunity to take stock and reset. I will argue that to be of optimal benefit to people in lockdown, the art engagement model should support art practices that are easily accessible to a wide range of people, and be broadly scoped regarding areas to explore. Finally, because the benefits flowing from art engagement are central to this quest, our art engagement model will need to be able to track how art enriches or impoverishes its practitioners. This paper will set up a framework for art engagement that provides an apt account of art practices suited to people in lockdown. I will examine how the resolution of two art puzzles point the way forward in developing an art engagement model. Adventitiously, understanding these puzzles will also prove useful for art making in constrained living arrangements. Managing the first of these puzzles requires a rejection of the notion that art can be determinately defined. Instead we opt for a model that privileges practices and products that enrich the lives of practitioners. The second puzzle assumes creativity relies to varying degrees on appropriation and so appropriation acts need to be included in the model. However, this comes at a cost. Appropriation disrupts any notion that art works are stable things situated forever in the realm of art. It will be shown that appropriation causes us to adopt a more expansive view about the fluidity of what counts as an artwork. This fluidity may take us into and out of the realm of what is traditionally thought of as ‘art’ entirely and leads us to abandon any dependency on art masters and art institutions in our artmaking quests. The paper will conclude by using the model described to outline three art engagement examples that demonstrate how sometimes ordinary everyday experiences can be enriched by taking an art-engaging stance even in the highly constrained environment of lockdown.

Author's Profile

Paul O'Halloran
University of Melbourne


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