The Confined Creative: Artists Amid Pandemic

“Get a real job!” is a phrase most artists are familiar with. The sheer invalidation of their craft in just four words, by someone who refuses to recognize the time and effort that goes behind creating any form of content, is despicable. The pandemic has had drastic impacts on numerous industries, individual lives, and the world as a whole. The troubles faced by many such sectors have received international recognition. However, the artists and their world has been shunned as if it has no relevance. In today’s time, when the world is sitting at home, looking for ways to cope with the daunting uncertainty, people have turned to art, to creators and storytellers, to movies, songs, poems, and books - the very people who utter the words this paragraph begins with.

“Artists are at the bottom of the food chain,” says Raghav Meattle, an Indie singer-songwriter based out of Mumbai, currently stuck in Delhi for months due to the lockdown. When it all began, Raghav, like most others, did not foresee the extent of the quarantine. In fact, he was excited to be home for a proper holiday in his eight years as an artist. The initial excitement soon turned to an undying craving for the stage for not just him, but most other artists. Sejal Morris, 23, says that her “safe space (referring to the stage) ceases to exist for as long as this is going to last,” and admits to taking the lifestyle change hard on herself. On the other hand, Rudy Mukta, a 17-year-old artist, with a knack for painting, saw it as an opportunity to fool around on GarageBand, and ended up recording her EP on it. For her, the entire world is a canvas – be it her shoes or jeans, it all goes up on that easel! 

Despite the mixed reactions, most artists’ mental and financial state has taken a blow during these trying times. Meattle, who now works in the marketing sphere for a music label, reminisced about his days as a full-time artist – describing the highs and lows of his mental health during the time, the loneliness that came with it, and how having a routine job and colleagues has been a positive shift. Rudy, who was just starting out by landing campus festivals, Under25 Summit, feels that her exposure and learning came to an abrupt halt due to ‘Ms. Rona’. On the other hand, the pandemic compelled Sejal to join the corporate rat-race to keep herself afloat, music having been her life since 2015.

All three artists I spoke with had a different relationship with their art; each dealing with creative blocks in their unique way. “I feel one (creative block) when I work a lot within a short period of time,” says Rudy, having finished three songs within the first week of being quarantined. This left her exhausted for the fortnight that followed, pushing her to try everything in order to stay sane. Raghav, already having made a name for himself, felt more at peace that the pressure to constantly create did not loom over his head anymore. Meanwhile, Sejal felt a more daunting block: the confinement taking a toll on her routine and her outlook at song writing. However, she chose to adapt to it, and to find a work-music balance in the hustle to keep going. She eventually had a breakthrough in the second phase of the lockdown - “I think I have in fact overcome the biggest creative block during this period and I don’t mind staying here as long as I’m able to make the music I’ve always wanted to make.” This positivity and willingness to adapt is something all of us need to learn from the artist community. Despite the unpredictability of the industry, lockdown or no lockdown, artists always manage to remodel their ways, which is what they have done despite their resources being limited. However, all of them long to perform in front of a live audience soon for nothing compares to that adrenaline rush.

The restrictions to virtual presence were both rewarding and challenging for everyone. This shift resulted in people like Meattle, with a relatively higher following, going live on Instagram and bringing people on to perform. This small idea has now led to the formation of a family of artists and enthusiasts alike: referred to as the ‘conemunity’. While talking about the motivation behind this idea, Meattle’s candid response was quite unexpected. What started as a random Instagram Live turned into something a lot bigger than what he expected. Soon, many other major artists followed suit, helping provide a platform to undiscovered talents throughout the country and outside! I myself discovered Sejal and Rudy, and countless new artists through these live sessions, inspiring me to write some lines of my own.

Addressing the ‘new normal’, and how artists might need to up their game with a stronger online presence even post the pandemic, we can all agree that it was long overdue. Meattle has always believed in maintaining a digital persona as it plays a vital role in extending one’s reach. “It is high time that musicians start adapting to the online wave,” he says. As an alternative to playing cover gigs at a bar, and an added bonus, the virtual race has motivated many musicians to produce original compositions, to make the best of this time. People are exploring different platforms, learning new skills, and enhancing their existing knowledge. The lockdown anxieties are being rolled into melodious, heart-touching songs and poems, into artworks and stories, for against all odds, creators continue to create.

The artists I spoke with also shared some messages or tips for the readers - to recognize the strength that comes from engaging with more people, the power of building a community, and the humility that comes from focussing on the little privileges in life that we take for granted. As we keep on waiting, waiting on the world to change, let us bear in mind the day when it will all be over: when you will be able to hug your friends, when Rudy will be able to go to art school, when Raghav will hopefully record a new song at the studio, when Sejal will find her way back to her safe space - when the creative will no longer be confined.