n 1848, Frederic Sorrieu painted “the Dream of Worldwide Democratic and Social Republics – the Pact Between Nations,” depicting various European countries reaching out to lady liberty, ready to cross over the boundary between monarchy and republic. Edith Piaf’s, “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien” was dedicated to the rebellion against Charles de Gaulle. Many national anthems are a result of popular revolt against erstwhile rulers. Langston Hughes—American poet and the leader of the Harlem Renaissance—expresses his desire for equality in an America that is his, too. From the age of cave paintings to today’s NFTs, art has remained a constant for humanity—almost as if our brains were hard-wired to pursue artistic expression.
Art is present all the time, everywhere. With the arrival of the internet in the 1990s and its popularity rising in the 2000s, art started to capture the digital sphere too. This was given a boosted due to the COVID-19 pandemic that shook the earth in 2020. Though artists were severely affected by a drastic drop in revenue—with an average of 50% of artists across various medium facing unemployment—individualistic art thrived. The pandemic opened the door for technology to support more people (such as Moodle, an open-source learning platform) and allowing for the mass sharing of knowledge and art, especially at a time when people returned to art as a form of relief or frustration.
“Art is not something that happens at the periphery of our lives. It’s actually the thing that’s right there in the center, a veritable engine.”- David Zwirner, art dealer with galleries in New York, Paris, London, and Hong Kong.
In 2021, one in three American adults said that they experienced some form of depression. To help cope with the issues that may inhibit daily life, art has proven to be an effective coping strategy. When used as a tool for therapy, creating art can help reduce stress in the short term and boost brain function in the long run. Lisa Bielawa, a classical music composer and vocalist, remarked about composing during the pandemic, “It was terrifying, it was raw and it also has brought me into a much more intuitive process… I hope that stays with me and informs my work in the future.”
Though the process of art digitization was ongoing, the pandemic accelerated this process. Whether it was due to the goodness of the hearts of the people providing the content or solely for financial reasons, many film studios, museums, and artists turned to the internet and social media platforms to keep a constant stream of traffic. With hit musicals such as Hamilton making its way to Disney+, driving app downloads by around 75% in a weekend, and “quarantine concerts” performed live on Instagram or Twitch (a live-streaming gaming platform), the general public consumed a normal, if not greater, flow of media, but on new platforms. People’s continuous online presence and an overflow of trends may have begun to satisfy appetites for western media, but music and poetry from other countries and cultures went viral—expanding the artistic landscape.
In fact, not only have artists benefitted from going digital, platforms such as Netflix and Twitch have seen increased viewership—showing that consumers were thirsty for new content. Twitch gained around 3 million new viewers between June 2019 and June 2020 and Netflix had its sharpest rise in paid subscribers, growing to around 7 million viewers.
Platforms such as TikTok have also aided in artistic expression. TikTok boomed during the pandemic due to popular dance challenges and #povs (point of views). Musicians and rappers have also had their “big break” on TikTok, such as AURORA with her song “Runaway.” With various sides of TikTok such as “#arttok”, “#smallbusiness” (mostly artistic ventures such as resin work, stickers, etc.), and “#booktok”, many small creators have been able to pursue their passion for art and promote it to a much larger audience. Though the internet was available before TikTok, the popularity of the platform and the political climate skyrocketed the demand for particular businesses, especially from communities that were previously excluded from the narrative, an example being black-owned businesses. This has helped these groups gain more traction and be recognized for their talents and entrepreneurship.
The pandemic saw greater traffic towards social media platforms and on the internet from both producers and consumers of art. When sharing art with friends and family becomes something done via the internet, it soon becomes of the internet and from the internet. Art has, is, and will continue to be politically, socially, and psychologically charged as humans lean on various artistic media as a support during the tough days of their lives. Though the sphere of art is changing, the concept and value of art has not.