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  • Writer's pictureKeith Johnston

The Pandemic of Creativity

(Some random/quasi-related thoughts?)


Music has charms to soothe a savage breast.

Music is a universal language.

Art imitates life.

Art allows us to perceive the world in a different way.


Most people have heard these phrases before. And over the past 24(!) months artists, musicians and arts educators recognized the importance of encouraging everyone to find a creative outlet to help them get through the stress of the pandemic. Musicians collaborated from across the world to create virtual concerts. Professional, amateur, and student musicians performed concerts from their front porches and balconies. Everywhere people were learning new instruments or writing new songs.


Artists and photographers rediscovered the wonders that exist inside of their homes, backyards, and neighborhoods. Creativity spilled into the kitchen as we had to rediscover how to cook and bake. How many of us tried to make sourdough bread!? Or learned to cook new recipes and meals that we never would’ve tried if we were still at the office 70-80 hours a week?


I’m hoping that we rediscovered that music - live music - had been taken for granted. One of the musicians I follow is a folk singer from NC named Jonathan Byrd. He’s the best musician you’ve never heard of. He worked hard as a touring musician playing small cafes, church and community gatherings, folk festivals, selling CD’s and t-shirts etc.


Pretty soon after the world shutdown, Jonathan and his band, The Pickup Cowboys, started to get together every Wednesday at a local bar called the Kraken just outside of Chapel Hill, NC. The bar itself was closed to the public, but Jonathan and his band presented a concert live on Facebook and YouTube. Every week. For months. He said his plan was pretty straightforward: First, we’re musicians. We perform, so we’re performing. If you like it, here’s my Venmo account. Send me something if you want. Busking in the age of the internet.


Not long ago he wrote a blog post talking about his experience. On the one hand he was excited that he got to stay home with his family for the first time in 20 years of being a professional musician. At the same time he had to find a way to make money.


Creativity struck again in the form of his live streamed concerts.


Porch concerts took off across the country, and are still happening. Just the other day a former student of mine and his band gave a porch concert to a very appreciative audience in his hometown.


Often when people think about “creative types” they think we’re all free spirits who throw away the rule book and just do whatever we feel, free of the confines of structure and convention. That’s a nice romantic thought. But not really accurate. As my mom used to say about Picasso’s famous renderings of ears in his paintings: first he had to learn how to paint a realistic ear.


Artists live and thrive in structure and convention. Form. Structure. Predictability. This is our starting point. The great artists are the ones who are able to manipulate and develop new ideas from within this existing world. And allow us to see the world through their absolute unique interpretation of the norm.


I think that when we look back in a few years, and are able to fully absorb how we dealt with this crisis, the “Pandemic Years” may go down as one of the more artistically creative times in the last century. And for the next 50 years we’ll all be reaping the benefits of this new era of creativity.


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