Professor Mark Applebaum's Spring 2020 class, MUSIC 154E: Creative Agency in the Pandemic World, served as a distributed workshop for creative invention and artistic collaboration within radical pandemic constraints. Students imagined, designed, and explored emergent creative strategies for art-making under quarantine conditions. By reframing sub-optimal working conditions as super-optimal, participants created a modest canon of pieces that serve as a manual for sustaining creative vibrancy during stressful periods. The course included weekly synchronous conversations about artistic strategies and an overview of historical artistic constraints (both necessitated and voluntarily adopted); breakout group collaborations; consultations with the instructor; sharing of work; mutual critique, support, and mentorship.
Here is the problem: artists can’t do a lot of things that they are accustomed to do. To take music, for example, we can no longer commune in concert halls; ensembles cannot collaborate in the same place; the conventional use of recording studios is problematic; players can’t get to their pipe organs; etc. So how will artists continue to be artistic? What kind of artistic achievement and aesthetic practice will characterize humanity during this pandemic? How will artists remain vibrant and create artworks that will sustain their creative need and nourish our culture? This emergent course responded to the current coronavirus crisis, helping young artists develop techniques for increasing their creative agency, to be artistically productive and joyful, and to develop resourceful modes of artistic enterprise—ones that may be shared broadly.
The aim was to develop emergent art forms and creative practices that are optimized to the current quarantine conditions, not to make “less good” conventional art that simply lacks a more ideal opportunity context. By way of a rule of thumb, the question should be asked: “Is there a much better version of this that I would make if there wasn’t a pandemic?” It the answer is “yes,” then it may not be quarantine art. It may be simply an invitation to be depressed that you can’t do what you’d prefer to do. Conversely, a “yes” answer to the question “Did this occur to me only because of this weird coronavirus situation?” is an indication that you might be onto something quite valuable. While “pandemic art” must be practiced today out of necessity, the course also aspires to imagine a kind of “post-pandemic art.” That is, the successful work of art—as both noun (an artifact) and as verb (the manner of making art, the “working” of art)—that we undertake today should be valuable even after the current constraints are obsolete.
Our grief for lost opportunities and deferred experiences is real. We are entitled to that sadness. And planning for the future is a good thing.
These samples of work created for MUSIC 154E have been submitted by students for viewing. | Click each image to see the entire piece.
1 Hanging Poem by Yuka Arora
2 Cataract by Noah Berrie
3 Night Talks by Angela He
4 Video Diary by Ashleigh McArthur & Yeon Park
5 Cathemeral Counting by Jerome Nowak