How times of hardship can cause art to flourish

Wikipedia lists 83 films based on virus epidemics. The concept is a breeding ground for imagination, where creatives can explore far-fetched narrative routes and speculate on the possibilities of what might happen.

Film, literature, music, and art can all be temporary escapes from the shackles of real panic. Like we saw in Italy, they can also be liberating, joyful outlets in times of boredom and loneliness.

Albert Camus

From Albert Camus to Stevie Wonder, history has shown us that times of hardship have never stopped art from flourishing. 2020’s coronavirus will be no different.

Albert Camus’ The Plague is an obvious choice. But I’m not going to flesh out the extended rat metaphors, widespread fear and paranoia, and the complexity of a society split by indecision. That’s what we have Sparknotes for.

Camus’ novel, however, does offer a progressive perspective on how humanity could respond when pushed to its margins.

Antonio Zanchi’s 1666 artwork is a vivid reminder of the Italian Plague that claimed 25% of the population thirty years earlier. Zanchi’s thoughtful composition of light and shade draws focus to the skin of the victims and the fragility of the human body. Yet above all, this artwork embodies a fundamentally hopeful tone of salvation and survival.

Antonio Zanchi
Image: Scuola Grande di San Rocco

During the AIDS epidemic in the late 80s, Dionne Warwick, Elton John, Gladys Knight, and Stevie Wonder joined forces and released a stellar cover of That’s What Friends Are For.

The song raised $3 million for the AIDS foundation and landed at #1 for four weeks on The Billboard Hot 100. It’s impossible not to grin during Stevie’s harmonica introduction.

People turn to the familiar during times of hardship. They’ll revisit their favourite films, watch old television shows from a happier era, listen to custom playlists to pass the time.

We’ve seen it happen before—it’ll most definitely happen again. Boredom and isolation harness creativity. You can bet there are optimists out there, counting on the sun to rise, searching for a silver lining – or even drawing inspiration from the darkness – putting hours into the art we’ll consume in seconds.