Finding it difficult to get motivated and use your creativity during the current COVID-19 lockdown? It’s easy to feel uninspired or struggle to get your ideas to fruition during this difficult time, so here are my tips on getting creative during lockdown.
With the current Coronavirus pandemic, it can feel a little like we are all in prison. Of course, there are many songs about being imprisoned written by people who never went to prison. Johnny Cash’s ‘Fulsom Prison’ is probably the most famous of these. Bob Dylan’s ‘Hurricane’ may be the best, and even helped get Reuben Carter freed. The point here is that creative artists have great empathy.
Creative artists also take their own experience and transform it into art. Even extreme, harrowing experiences can be turned into art – for example, Billie Holiday’s seminal version of ‘Strange Fruit’ or the righteous rage of Nina Simone’s ‘Mississippi Goddam’. Creative artists have memory and voice. Creative artists take their own experiences or vision of the world and make them into something universal, into art.
Creativity is how we define ourselves and our time. We know ourselves through our creative relations with others. As the famous Modernist poet TS Eliot (author of ‘The Wasteland’) said: ‘no poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone’. We live in time, we are of our time, great creative artists make sense of that time, and its changes.
Great artists know and show in their work that it also takes a mighty effort of will to fight for our own continuance in the world. Great creative artists see the beauty of the world. In short, great artists are creative, and use their own experience, vision and their understanding of life as well as the lives of others, to create great art.
So, what is the best way to go about using your creativity during this uncertain time? Here are some tips for making the most of your creative skills:
It’s easy to be intimidated, but don’t put too much pressure on yourself! There is not a limited amount of creativity in the world. Just because someone else has a lot, does not mean that the reservoir of creativity is drained. The more you create, the more you have.
The white space on a page is there to be filled, the air is waiting for the reverberation of sound. Every sentence you utter is your own, delivered in your own way, said with your own tonalities and intentions. Creativity in any form of language (whether spoken, played or strummed) exists as a necessary condition of our existence. As we are, we create.
As the Darwinian philosopher Daniel Dennett pointed out, the human body is a survival machine. Engineered over millions of years, our bodies are able to creatively react to changes and actively engage with that change. That is how we adapt and survive. As the ‘knowing’ species, humans are engineered to be able to adapt and alter our behaviours creatively.
The Coronavirus has forced millions of people to change their everyday lives overnight. And yet, we manage. This allows us the possibility of creative change using our ability to adapt and make creative responses.. We just have to channel that ability for ourselves.
The great philosopher Aristotle claimed that Virtue (and alas, Vice) can be learned. Within all of us, there is the potential in us all to act badly, or act well, but the doing of good things can be developed as a practical aspect of living. We learn by doing, and so we can learn from the works of others.
A great place to look is the artistic exemplars of excellence – maybe Jimi Hendrix on guitar, Beyonce on the vocals, John Coltrane on the Saxophone etc. We can learn from the great works of others – even if they aren’t necessarily strictly musical. For example, the world of music can learn a lot from other industries, such as the video game industry, or actors and filmmakers such as Bruce Lee!
Jim Morrison of The Doors read poetry and novels in order to write great songs. The Beatles learnt lyric writing from Bob Dylan, but taught everyone else the art of the pop song. Billie Holiday learnt to sing the blues from Ma Rainey, and so on. We can use this time in lockdown to learn from ‘the best that has been thought and done’ and created before us by our artistic exemplars. Those who built the world we live in and filled it with its glorious sights and sounds.
We all need a space for creativity to blossom in our lives. Many will be familiar with the 19th century Romantic idea of the ‘poor garrett artist’ – the solitary genius working away in their room, alone with their thoughts and dreams.
Luckily, in this day and age, we don’t need access to a huge physical library. We have the biggest library ever assembled – the internet. All we need is the discipline and time in order to create, as well as a space to do so. Either mental or physical, where we can ‘be ourselves’ artistically and creatively, and explore our own thoughts and ideas.
The example of Beethoven suggests how we can make a space for creativity. He wrote his scores where he was, e.g. in restaurants, taverns, his flat, the court etc. The space he needed to write was in his mind, not a physical place. Artists like Nick Cave have spoken about their use of a physical space. They literally ‘go to the office’ to work. The idea of a creative space does not however have to be physical, it can just be a place in our minds where we go to create.
Our minds and our lives are a palace of ideas from which we can withdraw anytime. The trick of the creative artist is to capture these ideas and act upon them. After all, a tune hummed into an Iphone is a tune remembered. It might be the beginning of a song, or a symphony – whether we hummed it in the bath, or on a walk. A lyric scribbled on the back of an envelope might be your next hit song, or the beginning of a novel. Keep track of your ideas and bring them into your space.
The great metaphysical poet John Donne wrote ‘No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main’. In the world of Coronavirus, this poetic fact seems more starkly true every day. Whether we like it or not, we are connected to other people and we do not live in isolation. Even in lockdown!
We live and thrive in social networks. These networks change all the time and are different for each of us. Naturally, some people live in close circles of friends, with all their friends being connected in their social network. Alternatively, other people live in less closely connected groups, in which each friend is unconnected to the other.
Never has the power of the real-world social network been more present than in the current pandemic. During this time, the behaviour of each individual (their power to spread, or not spread the virus by their behaviour), brings so readily to our minds the different outcomes of different social networks.
The phrase ‘social distancing’ has entered everyone’s vocabulary. But the aspect which is worth remembering, is that our network connections are vital. They are what makes the world as it is. We are all aware of the power of social networks online. For example, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram connect millions of people across the world with art and music, ideas and information.
If we create alone, we may wonder why we find it so difficult to share our newly formed art with the world. Our lack of connections then becomes a barrier. Though we may need space to create, we also need space to connect with others. As mentioned above, these connections are partly with the fields of creative exemplars in our record collections. But they are also with others we communicate with, share our ideas with, and live alongside. For further advice and resources during lockdown, check out our list of COVID-19 resources for creatives!
Even in lockdown, we are never alone, since the world is around us vicariously at all times. Lockdown won’t last forever, so we can use this time to reach out further than before. Make friends across the internet. Send your ideas to others. Lyricists can collaborate with singers, producers with DJs, and so on. There is a world of infinite possible connections all around us waiting to happen, and we can be at their centre if we choose.
When the world springs forth in new life after the crisis (as it will do), be ready to spring with it!
Once you have got the creative juices flowing, why not enlist Music Gateway’s help to amplify your music, or get your music in TV, film and more. You can also find people to collaborate with. Try Music Gateway for free: