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  • The Merge

“Non-essential artists” — Providing resilience by invoking better times

Updated: Feb 25, 2023

“Art” lies in a grey area, it is a blurred category of professions. It also highly depends on what everyone individually comprehends it as. As art evolves, and the meaning of what art constitutes evolves with it, the age-old adage that, “art is subjective” is now truer than ever. The average person’s idea of art and the artist comes in as many varieties as……you guessed it, art itself.

Non-essential artists

A leading newspaper in India had an article on the most "non-essential jobs during the pandemic" and Artists were #1 on that list.

Within its broadest confines, just as art is often revered and celebrated, so is it often looked down upon in our society. In a recent survey conducted by The Straits Times to identify the most essential and non-essential jobs during the pandemic, the job of the artist topped the list of non-essential jobs. The reported sample size and sampling strategy is summarized as a representative sample of 1000 individuals across age, gender, and income groups.

“They had to commission an artist to make this” — Jeremy Nguyen, a cartoonist for the New Yorker magazine

Upon taking a closer look, the results do tell quite a robust story; they have placed artists as presidents of the non-essential club. Unfortunately the results of art, for the most part, are intangible which is why art as a profession is so undervalued and so underrated. When the truth is that art and design is included in literally every field of work.

Now we do understand that this survey was merely in the context of the pandemic, but it shows lack of respect, social stigma against art and extreme ignorance society has for the crucial work of all artists. The wide-ranging work of artists across professions is often overlooked and artists are taken for granted. This isn’t something new. Society has never failed to demean artists and their art, be it in a pandemic or not.

Providing resilience by invoking better times

Art is revolutionary. It is transformative. It has the potential to articulate emotion like no other medium can. Many people have taken it to social media to explain how art is only non essential and not worthless. This view, in my opinion, would also be wrong. Art is and will always be essential. We fail to realize that we consume art all day, every day. The shows and movies you stream online, the music you play while you work and do your chores, the books you read, the quotes and words you turn to make sense of the world and events was all brought to life by artists and their vision. The cool robot vacuum cleaner that made cleaning easier, the video calling apps you’ve used to stay connected to your loved ones, the reminder you set yourself on your e-calendar to ensure you do not forget a deliverable is art come to life.

These survey findings fail to acknowledge that it’s not always a zero-sum game. Some jobs do not have to be more important than others. We have utmost respect for medical professionals, policy-makers, informal economy workers, and everyone who kept us going through the lockdown. Their jobs are essential, as are the jobs of the scores of artists and designers that made your life easier, a little more beautiful, equipped you with the tools to communicate with others and yourself, and work on your mental health.

Artists express the feelings/emotions of all non-artists in forms that can be enjoyed by all. They keep the essential workers uplifted and entertained and help relieve their stress. It is a form of escape to a safe space especially in times like the pandemic. Look around you — creativity is at its peak. Art is more essential now than ever, it is acting like a catalyst to bring change and positivity. People are revisiting their old hobbies and indulging in new ones during the lockdown. They are having their imaginations stirred. Art is not only mirroring life but helping us adjust how we navigate it. It gives us our resilience, by invoking better times gone and better times to come.

Art as a profession carries a stigma just because it lies outside society’s narrow definition of “job”. Art is everywhere around us, it gives life to everything around us. It is the intangible essential, much like the air we breathe, that we need around us to survive.

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