Creativity in the time of COVID

by | Apr 23, 2020 | Blog

In the current state of our nation, I would guess that everyone’s focus is on their immediate necessities–food, water, health and safety, making sure we limit contact with others to slow the spread of this illness. As Maslow’s hierarchy shows, these are at the foundation of our being–those basic needs must be met before reaching higher level needs like esteem or self-actualization. Truly, how can we reach our full potential if we are deprived of food and water, or a safe place to reside?

Another theorist enters my thoughts as this pandemic continues, that of Viktor Frankl, founder of “logotherapy,” formed from an existential perspective.

He believed that the human desire to find meaning in life can help us endure hardship–that the meaning we discover, create, or assign to the events in our lives gives us the motivation to persevere.

So it would seem that, contrary to Maslow, the deeper, more self-fulfilling aspects of life are almost as life-sustaining as physiological needs.

Recently, I have found my mind venturing away from the mundane into the creative realm (at least sometimes!). And have noticed an upsurge in creative activities shared over social media–sidewalk art, neighborhood safaris, how to craft at home with simple materials…Necessity is, after all, the mother of invention.

As many of us are confined to our homes and the immediate surrounding areas–some with children used to a schedule we are not accustomed to providing, some unaccustomed to spending this much time holed up in one place–creative thinking and action are much needed respites. And not simply for the purpose of creating variety while quarantined, but for many, much deeper, more meaningful reasons.

Creativity allows us to transcend what is ordinary and make something meaningful, often relatable to the masses.

A music therapist with whom I attended grad school with has been creating musical parodies of familiar songs, themed around social distancing and quarantine. In addition to spreading much needed laughter through their hilarity, these songs are so relatable. He has translated his own experience of frustration and cabin fever into something we all know–the feelings, the circumstances, even the tune! And in this way, his creative product opposes the isolation of social distancing–it unites us.

Creativity has such power: It connects us with our own sense of life, of vitality. It connects us with others. It connects us with ourselves. It provides us with a way to make sense of it all.

We put into image, dance, song, poetry–metaphor–all that we do not understand, for that precise reason…to understand it. To find much-needed meaning. And this meaning, as Frankl proposes, gives us the strength to go on–to persevere–to move through the challenges because of the meaning we give them.

Your creativity need not be the next masterpiece, to be displayed in a museum of modern art, performed by a famous symphony, or change the world. That is what theorists call “Big C” creativity.

“Little c” creativity, on the other hand, is a simpler act of combining existing concepts or things in a new and innovative way. It engages our sense of play, of divergent thinking, spontaneity, and improvisation, among many other parts of self; in fact, it is one act that engages our whole self. When we engage in a creative process, we are fully present, fully invested in our endeavor, and therefore bring our full selves into our work–and in doing so, our need for expression is fulfilled and we are able to communicate our thoughts, feelings, desires, personalities, and we often discover meaning along the way, as artistic mediums have a way of revealing something about us of which we were previously unaware.

And this is the life-giving cycle of creativity: there is output and input, expression and discovery; we are not the same person we were when we started because we have created something new and learned something new.

So…acknowledge your feelings of frustration, anxiety, loneliness from the quarantine…and then utilize the restriction and your feelings as inspiration for something creative:

  • a new craft to make from cardboard boxes and toilet paper rolls (we know everyone will have plenty of those!)
  • a new activity that transforms your living space into a new environment
  • or a poetic piece about what this pandemic has revealed to you…The personal meaning you create from this unprecedented situation will change you, grow you, give you the determination to persevere and come out of this stronger.

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