Super-precious squee-worthy drawing of a little robin on a holly bush. SO CUTE, EEEEE.

The former director of the MFA program I graduated from signs all of his emails “Keep writing.”

I used to think, oh! That’s nice. A little boost to my day, a reminder to keep pen to paper even when I’m feeling blue or confused or unmotivated or scattered. (All things that happen.)

But now we are looking at a pandemic. A whole country has shut down. My partner is WFH for the foreseeable future. The hospitality industry is tanking; the stock markets are plummeting; the world as we know it is changing and looking like an even bigger dumpster fire than it was last month. So how can we view something like art in an appropriate fashion?

Art, after all, is elective. It’s a leisure activity. It’s what you do when you have a long afternoon to kill and a rainy forecast. Movies, books, museums.

Super-precious squee-worthy drawing of a little robin on a holly bush. SO CUTE, EEEEE.
But really, what good is this adorable little drawing of a bird? Image taken from page 78 of ‘The Poetry of Birds, selected from various authors; with coloured illustrations. By a Lady’

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, especially since I teach in two MFA programs. My students are non-traditional students, many of whom have been working for some time and who have jobs and families that often have nothing to do with their advanced studies. I’m writing this in part for them, because I want them to know:

Without art, there is no record of what we were. Where we have been. Who we were.

Think about it. Without compelling writing, we wouldn’t know about the costs of war. We wouldn’t know about the joy of exploration. And we’d know way less about the lifecycle of animals.

Botanical drawing showing lifecycle of woolly-haired caterpillar
Unlike her male contemporaries, Maria Sybilla Merian drew her studies of animals and flora in situ, choosing to observe them at each stage rather than pinning them for the sake of drawing them.

But it goes deeper than that, from my point of view. When we write, or paint, or make a film, we are letting the end user share in our sense of discovery, in our sense of wonder and confusion and fear. And in the process of crafting these paragraphs and sentences, in the process of laying down blobs of color or taking that photo, we understand ourselves a little bit more.

And without this deep, internal understanding of why we’re feeling what we’re feeling, we don’t have a real hope of learning from history. Of understanding why we do what we do.

Ultimately, it’s not the end result that matters so much as the process of getting to the end result.

So yeah. Keep writing. Keep producing. Keep trying to make sense of whatever’s going on in your world. It’s worth the effort, especially now.

Recommended Posts