Most of us understand the power of art and culture to touch us, move us, and transport us to an entirely new realm. This transformative experience, whether it originates from a rock concert, a painting exhibition, a theatre play, or a movie screening, holds the power to make us feel things. Things that may be familiar to us but which we may not have focused on so much before. But most importantly, art and culture provide us the rare opportunity to come together and share a common experience with other people, even those people who perceive the world in a radically different way.
“The vitality of art and culture elevates our ordinary love for another person to an extraordinary level, a level where we feel connected to each other by a force that is greater than us”
Let’s take the exciting yet totally exhilarating world of dating as an example. While dating apps have done a fairly good job at helping us define our narrow preferences and meet with the types of people who can, at least on paper, make good partners for us, yet after a few days of chatting and calling over the apps, we want to meet with our potential partners and connect with them over our shared interests in everything from music to movies, food, and even fashion. The vitality of art and culture elevates our ordinary love for another person to an extraordinary level, a level where we feel connected to each other by a force that is greater than us.
“Through art and culture, we experience a reality that completely transcends our own. We witness the complex, hidden, and intricate dimensions of lives we don’t get to live ourselves.”
But bonding and connecting with people is just one aspect of why we need art and culture. Trust is another important part of the value that they bring to our lives. Through art and culture, we experience a reality that completely transcends our own. We witness the complex, hidden, and intricate dimensions of lives we don’t get to live ourselves. They provide us the capability to understand and empathize with the unique circumstances of people who are separated from us by the virtue of their race, color, caste, creed, or even just plain geography. All these gifts of art and culture help us create a more kind, caring, and harmonious world - a world which we truly want to cherish and celebrate.
What happens when you take away the value created by art and culture? After all, they are not as essential to our survival as, for example, food or water so we should easily be able to live without them, right? However, reality paints a completely different picture. The absence of art and cultural activities has wreaked havoc on not just the people who depend on them for their economic survival but also the people who depend on them to enrich their souls - which essentially includes all of us.
“56% of young adults reported symptoms of anxiety and/or depressive disorder during the pandemic”
It’s an exasperating truth that we don’t realize the value of something until it’s taken away from us. While dancing in clubs on the weekends used to be a casual fun hobby for many people, its absence during the pandemic forced people to realize how it was more than just a hobby - it was a medium to express one's spirit and energy in the purest and most unhindered way possible. Similarly, live music, which was at least in part taken over to virtual platforms during the pandemic, has made us fall to our knees as we continue to crave going out to attend our favorite concerts and festivals, further reinforcing the truth that real-life events are about more than just dancing or music - they are about experiences, memories, adventures and a sense of collective purpose.
It was only when COVID-19 took away all the art and cultural activities, that the adverse effects of not having the freedom to pursue them came to light. 56% of young adults reported symptoms of anxiety and/or depressive disorder during the pandemic according to the Centre for Disease Control. Research conducted by IRO Research in Finland found that these effects were most pronounced for people in the 18-to-34 age group as they are in the most socially active phase of their life - seeking out opportunities to look for and connect with friends and potential life partners.
A-rated celebrities are not immune from this isolating effect of art and cultural deprivation either. Shawn Mendes - the 23-year-old three-time Grammy-nominated singer who debuted atop the US Billboard 200 at the age of 17 told Times in an interview, “My emotions have been all over the place … some days I’m OK, and others it’s scary.” The ‘treat you better’ start also acknowledged that he has been face-timing with his parents and sister all the time and attending Zoom parties with different friends’ groups to feel some semblance of connection in these lonely times.
“As a step towards recovery from the isolating effects of the pandemic, Finland has launched the Museum of Contemporary Emotions, which seeks to help people reflect on the emotions aroused by the COVID-19 pandemic”
At the global level, efforts are being made to counter the isolating effects of the pandemic. Finland has recently launched the Museum of Contemporary Emotions, which seeks to help people reflect on the emotions aroused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The museum combines aspects of art and science to capture the feelings experienced during the pandemic. It carries visitors along a timeline of different stages during the pandemic and takes an in-depth look at the effects on people’s physical and psychological health during each stage. The museum relies on the emotions theory of Paul Ekman, recognising the six basic human emotions of anger, surprise, disgust, happiness, fear, and sadness. It can be visited online at https://museumofcontemporaryemotions.fi/.
When you take away art and cultural activities from people, you also take away from them the opportunities to bond with each other, their capability to trust each other and the magic that gives them hope for a better tomorrow. Art and culture are like water to the world-weary, hope-deprived souls, who rely on them for their spiritual strength, zeal, and energy. If the pandemic has made one thing clear to us it is this: yes we can exist without art and culture, but if are to live well, if we are to experience life to its full potential and if we are to thrive as a society - we need to give art and culture its due importance and acknowledge all the different ways in which it makes our lives more beautiful and fulfilled.