How art can help you cope with the confusing reality of COVID

These days, it can feel like people are coping with the same COVID reality in very different ways – or even living their lives in different COVID realities. There are double masks who isolate socially, fully vaccinated people who go out to theaters and restaurants, and still others who don’t believe vaccination is worth it.

Social isolation is once again encouraged and many of us retreat to the safety of our homes, feeling controlled by outside circumstances. Many report feeling discouraged and/or anxious, as if they were back where they were a year ago, when time stood still and life seemed stuffy.

Aesthetic immersion helps us cope during uncertain times when a balance of change and constancy seems to be the requisite for living with COVID.

Reading takes us and brings us connection

Source: Masjid Pogung Dalangan/Unsplash

The other day on Facebook, I saw a photo of a sign in front of a bookstore: “We moved some books. Travel is now in the fantasy section, science fiction in the news, and epidemiology in the self-help section. I thought of Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl who wisely taught us that “forces beyond your control can take away everything you have except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will react to the situation.”

The therapeutic action of aesthetic immersion

Earlier in this series, I talked about the law of opposites and how experiencing beauty during “ugly” times of stress was a good way to cope. In these times of flux, which are neither here nor there, artistic endeavor not only offers refuge, but also has a particular therapeutic action.

The paradox of aesthetic immersion is that when engrossed in any work of art, a person seems to be going somewhere without, in fact, going anywhere.

We stay and stay put. In these uncertain and changing times, when we wander and wander while staying put, we reflect or reflect our current situation. For when one is captivated, one is neither here nor there. Mirroring the experience helps strengthen the psyche, further creating a sense of internal balance. Mirroring gives us the feeling of joining, of connecting, so that we don’t feel so alone.

When you engage in art, you forget yourself and, in a way, you merge with art (music, a good book, visual arts, theatre, writing, etc.). Our attention is mostly consumed. When we are engaged in artistic activity, whether creating or consuming, we experience ‘experiential dislocation’. In this dislocation, experiences of time, space, meaning and individuality are momentarily altered and have a lingering effect. So even living with the limitations imposed by COVID, we can metaphorically travel and connect, more still or quite as alone.

As child psychoanalyst Adam Phillips has noted, we admire or love art because, in some way, it reopens us. He quoted Kafka: “Art breaks the sea that is frozen in us.” When travel can only be found in the fantasy section and the hunger to travel and “teleport me out of here, Scotty!” is vast, it is the immersion in the creative experience that can lead us into a world that is “elsewhere”, an existential place between here and now and the poetic world of the work of art. And, through the action of the mirror, such immersion can give us the impression of not feeling so alone.

Go in search of the art that speaks to you, and immerse yourself in it by traveling there without moving an inch. That’s what I just did while writing this post and I already feel better.

Christopher S. Washington