Art In Times of Crisis: What Art Can Tell Us About How We Can Cope


Jonathan Lopez

‘The Great Pumpkin Blaze’ consists of thousands of pumpkins carved and filled with light, in order to create a wide array of artistic effects.

Emotion always works its way into the creation of art, including powerful emotions such as sadness, anger, fear. These all fuel art, as it is part of being human to seek comfort in times of desperation. Some turn to religion, while others turn to friends and family. Yet others still find that sense of hope and fulfillment in the act of creating art, such as music, painting, or writing. It is what makes people human, to understand and express strife beyond the surface level. During the current novel Coronavirus pandemic, which has raised stress levels for almost everyone around the world, looking to art in order to find mental and spiritual solace is more important than ever.

The late 19th century saw the rise of Impressionism in painting. The artist who best embodies this movement is Vincent Van Gogh. His life started out with turmoil, as he bore the name of his stillborn brother, and he would find no comfort in the next few decades to come, struggling with poverty, depression, and alcoholism, during his short life.

The only thing that Van Gogh found solace and comfort in was painting. Van Gogh used painting as his way of coping with pain. In the short time of his life, he created some of the most powerful paintings of all time.  Pieces like Starry Night (Museum of Modern Art) or Cafe Terrace at Night (Kröller Müller Museum) have survived long after his death, because the world has found great beauty and solace in the art that Van Gogh created.

Nearly a century later, the United States found itself in the depths of the Vietnam War. The sheer brutality of war was on full display for the American public for the first time. Napalm scorched the earth, entire countries were bombed to waste, and many soldiers came home from war no longer fully themselves. An entire generation of Americans was traumatized by horrors heretofore unfamiliar to the general public. 

Music at the time grew to reflect the shared trauma of the Vietnam War. Rock & Roll was the choice of popular art for society at the time, for the ability to share messages across distance and language. The Rolling Stones made one of the most iconic Vietnam era songs of all time, ‘Paint It Black.’ Its lyrics touch upon dark themes, something most relevant to veterans returned from war. The song lyrics, “I see people turn their heads and quickly look away,” refers to the common occurrence of people looking away from veterans struggling with their problems. 

The song itself is structured in fits of harsh vocals and intense humming. Oftentimes, veterans would be wracked with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and would find themselves being too unstable to live a normal life. Songs that originated from the Vietnam era act as a time capsule, giving us insight in 20202 to what many felt during this uncertain and difficult time in American history. Many were confronted with emotions and feelings that they just could not process on their own. 

Dr. Adam Tramantano, an English teacher at Bronx Science (and a painter in his spare time), was able to provide me with an interview on his views of the importance of art, and the role that art has played in his life. He recalls that growing up as a teenager in the 1990s, he found solace in much of the music from the 1960s and 1970s, well before his time. “Protest music of the 1960s resonated with me and articulated what it was that [I felt].”

He was also able to give me his opinions on art in the COVID-19 pandemic, that musicians have been very clever in adapting, performing online concerts and making use of various platforms. Dr. Tramantano also discussed popular art, such as movies and TV shows. He said that there are popular forms of art, such as TV shows and music, and that trying to look at other forms of art beyond what is in available in museums can alter our perspective in a valuable way. 

Dr. Tramantano left me with a bit of important advice on the creation of art. He firmly believes everyone should have an artistic outlet, in order to find joy in the process of creation itself. Dr. Tramantano also noted that, while art should be shared, it can ‘incubate for years, even decades.’ Artists must wait until the time is right in order to share their art. 

New art experiences exist even now during the Coronavirus pandemic, all around us. Many musicians, like Arturo O’Farrill, John Legend, and Elton John, have all done virtual performances. They, and many other artists, all understand the importance of music as a way to lift spirits in times of difficulty. Museums like the Guggenheim Museum and Museum of Modern Art have virtual tours, allowing everyone to continue to see famous pieces of art, regardless of whether or not they can come to the museums in-person (currently open with timed tickets and social distancing rules and mandatory mask wearing in effect). Modern social media platforms, such as YouTube or TikTok, have given millions of people a platform to express themselves across vast distances, something more crucial than ever in times of social distancing and quarantine. 

While we may live in times of stress and turmoil during the Coronavirus pandemic, it is more important than ever to create our own art and to seek out artistic expression from artists themselves. In order to share art with people and to find comfort among the current difficulties of navigating the Coronavirus pandemic, we need to take the initiative. As Vincent Van Gogh wrote, ‘though I am often in the depths of misery, there is still calmness, pure harmony and music inside me.”

During the current novel Coronavirus pandemic, which has raised stress levels for almost everyone around the world, looking to art in order to find mental and spiritual solace is more important than ever.