“Art is the only way to run away without leaving home,” dancer and author Twyla Tharp once said. COVID-19 has brought about unprecedented hardships and challenges, and it’s safe to say that quarantine was unlike anything we had ever experienced before. However, in times of tragedy, the world has done and will continue to do what it does best: create.
William Shakespeare wrote three of his greatest tragedies following the outbreak of the bubonic plague, and while we often look to ancient creatives like Shakespeare as an example of perseverance and ingenuity, many students today in our community have shown remarkable creativity during the pandemic. The last year has helped many students at KO hone their creative, literary, and artistic talents and given the world an outlet to see the beauty amid the darkness.
I sat down with three KO students, freshman Avi Lohr, sophomore Jillian Plaut, and sophomore Eli Brandt to hear about how the pandemic has impacted their creativity.
If you’re looking for a quintessential example of someone who discovered a newfound creative passion during the pandemic, then look no further than Avi. Avi has always been a free spirit with a creative mind, a lover of stories in music and literature. However, she had never thought to write a story of her own – that is, until the pandemic.
On one of the first days of lockdown, Avi and her family went on a hike, desperate like many other families to take in the beauty of nature and find some normalcy in all of the chaos surrounding them. However, it was on this hike that she had a stroke of genius. “I was listening to this song in the car on repeat,” Avi said. “It’s called ‘Dandelion Wine’ by Gregory Alan Isakov.” Avi laughed, brushing off the song as very obscure, but I instantly opened up Spotify on my phone and saved the song, hoping to have as epiphanic of an experience as the one she continued to share. “When I listened to that song, my mind saw a story of following a doe through the woods and then getting to the edge of the earth,” Avi explained, “so then I just decided to start writing that out, and that’s what started everything.”
That moment sent Avi off into the world of creative writing and introduced her to the creative outlet that helped her endure the pandemic. “I took a lot of what I saw, even if I didn’t write directly about what was happening in the world, and I kind of channeled that as fuel for my work,” Avi said. “If I hadn’t been able to, I probably would have exploded, so that was really kind of a lifesaver during the pandemic.”
As the world has slowly started to go back to normal, writing has become a staple in Avi’s daily routine. She keeps two notebooks, one for stories and one for poetry, and always has new ideas or verses swimming around in her head; she collects them in her notes app when she runs out of notebook space. “I always write in the mornings as soon as I get up,” Avi noted. “So in the winter, I write with the sunrise… [and] I have my window open and listen to the birds and watch the city, so that’s always a good inspiration for me.”
While Avi was able to discover a new creative talent during the pandemic, Jill took her previous passion for painting to the next level. Jill began painting in eighth grade but over quarantine, she truly developed her love for creating art. “During the pandemic, I got really into painting, I think because I had a lot more time on my hands,” Jill said. “Before that, I mostly was just testing and experimenting and trying to see how good I was, and then once I kind of figured it out, I started doing much longer pieces, and it definitely acted as an outlet for when I was ever bored or stressed out.”
Before quarantine, Jill had mostly been painting landscapes and realistic images, but the pandemic allowed her to tap into her more imaginative and creative side and discover new artistic influences. “I actually find a lot of my inspiration from Pinterest,” Jill said. “I look around and see all of the different kinds of painting styles on Pinterest and then combine them in certain ways that I want to.”
It’s safe to say that using Pinterest definitely paid off for Jill when one day over quarantine, she came across a Pop Art painting that would forever impact her journey as an artist. “I saw this one picture on Pinterest that someone did of Elton John, and it’s called Pop Art, and I really, really liked that,” Jill said. “So, over quarantine, I kind of tried to do my own piece like that, and I ended up really liking it, so I continued with that Pop Art style of painting.”
As an avid music-listener, Jill often draws inspiration from her favorite artists and captures them in her signature Pop Art style. Her favorite painting of all time that she has made is of Amy Winehouse, and her most recent painting is of John Lennon.
A day had gone by since our interview, and I was walking through Roberts Lobby when a brightly colored canvas caught my eye, and there I saw Jill setting up the easel that displayed her newest John Lennon Pop Art piece. We got to chatting, and when I said how completely in awe I was of the painting, she humbly pointed out some of the minuscule mistakes that she had made on the piece, but I hadn’t even noticed them as my eyes were captivated by the bright colors, separated by rigid lines yet seamlessly intertwining to paint the picture. That is the true beauty of art; it breathes life into our world yet takes our breath away.
Creative expression in all forms has brought brightness into quite a mundane yet eventful year, and avid printmaker Eli Brandt’s art truly flourished in the midst of all of the chaos. A self-proclaimed perfectionist turned printmaker, Eli’s creative journey began well before the pandemic hit. His first experience in printmaking was in his seventh-grade art class, where he got to experiment with many different mediums; he then began creating art outside of school during the summer after his eighth grade year.
Eli has been a long-time neighbor and friend of mine, so I know that due to growing up on a lake, his passion for the environment and nature has shone through from the get-go. I interviewed Eli about his artwork over video chat, and he joined the call from his basement art studio, adorned with vibrant prints of nature and wildlife lining the walls. I watched his eyes sparkle as he walked around the studio, showing me his favorite prints he has made over quarantine, one of a heron flying over a blue sea that was smaller than the palm of his hand, and another using algae textures that he had gathered and dried out from the lake during the lockdown.
Eli has gleaned inspiration for his artwork from many different facets of his life. “I’d say that overall, I get inspiration for my prints from places that I’ve been, what materials I have available to me, and just things that I’m passionate about other than art, like the environment,” Eli said.
Eli was already a seasoned printmaker well before lockdown started, but the pandemic and the events following aided in the evolution of his creative process. “A lot of the ideas that I had for prints, or still have, haven’t really made it to the point of me actually making it yet,” Eli said, “because they have been of the moment where I think ‘this is going to be my next project,’ and then when I get to that next project, the time for it, in my opinion, has passed.” He shared that although some of these ideas haven’t come to fruition, the process of generating them helped him to contextualize events going on in the world and was a testament to how the quarantine inspired and impacted his art.
Printmaking has helped Eli learn to take risks and tap into his creative side, and the pandemic only furthered his personal and artistic growth. He shared that quarantine was a key turning point for him in his art journey. “I used to get really frustrated when something wouldn’t go right,” Eli said, “and I think specifically during the quarantine where I had a lot of time to work on something and make changes and adjust things was really a big turning point in trying to reduce how much I care about something being perfect… I was also venturing away into more abstract art and stuff that isn’t as precise as carving, so I think that was also really important just to help me grow.”
Eli shared a story about how, over quarantine, he was struck with inspiration to create a project that would connect people throughout the world and tie together his passion for the environment and printmaking. “I had an idea one night, because that’s how all great ideas happen,” Eli laughed, “and the idea was to have a key card and tape it to the bottom of your shoe and then walk around, and in theory, you walking around would create different marks and scratches on the card… The project is that I have the cards and essentially people would send them back and I would ask them for a picture of where they walked, so you could see the physical point of view from where they were walking from both the bottom of their shoe on the card and from what they saw.” Through this project, Eli was able to represent the quarantine lives of people from Portland, Ore. and Hawaii and tackle his perfectionism head-on through the concept of “chance art.”
Avi, Jill, and Eli have each had their own personal and artistic journeys over quarantine and are a true reflection of the boundless creativity within the KO community. Regardless of how far along on their respective artistic journeys they were prior to the lockdown, art and creative expression have proven to be a uniting and driving force for them.
For Jill, painting has served as an essential creative outlet during the pandemic, and she shared advice for anyone hoping to venture into creating art. “I would say just jump right in because a lot of people think they’re not good at art, but you never know until you really try it,” Jill said. “Start with the basics, maybe some drawing, and then just test things out. Even if it doesn’t end up good at first, just keep pushing at it.
Eli shared similar testaments, describing art as a positive influence that has sparked an overall evolution in his life, and he also emphasized the importance of starting small and testing the waters with different mediums. “My advice is to keep an open mind with what medium you want to use and to focus on making art about what you are passionate about, and then try to interpret that into each medium and see what works the most with the way you want to make art,” Eli said.
For Avi, the pandemic brought out the storyteller in her and inspired her to find a magical escape amidst all of the chaos in the world. Avi’s advice holds true for both new writers and creatives alike, and for all of us as we make our way through these dark times. “Keep going and keep looking for the beautiful things,” Avi said. “Even if it seems like there’s so much loneliness and hate around, you’re still going to be able to find something beautiful there, and do whatever you can to share it with the world because you’re adding more beauty.”