So, How Are You Feeling?

Prioritizing self-expression — in good times and bad.

Woman looking out window smiling.

Image source: Adobe Stock / Thais Ramos Varela / Stocksy United.

by RF Jurjevics

posted on 04-13-2020

So much of who we are and how we feel have been what fuels creativity, artistry, and ingenuity since… forever. Thanks in large part to social media, many of us are far more public, open, and eager to share ourselves and our stories with the largest audience imaginable — just about everyone, given the number of active accounts out there. Last year, Instagram alone reported over 1 billion participating users a month. And a lot of them are getting real, opting to share their stories with the wider world.

Brenda Milis, principal of visual trends at Adobe Stock, has had this on her radar for a while now, which led her to the concept of “Express Yourself” as a visual trend for 2020. “A visual trend is a type of imagery that scales in resonance and relevance,” she says. “It isn’t a fad — it becomes a trend when it has reached a tipping point in commercial demand, and in long-term interest for mainstream audiences.”

“Long-term interest” does not indicate “stasis” — far from it. Modes and trends of self-expression have shifted dramatically in recent years, along with the boundaries of what is considered “safe” or “too much” to reveal. The trend of curating an online (or offline) presence is beginning to wane in favor of frank honesty and openness about experiences good and bad.

Image source: (left) Adobe Stock / Filipe Mendes / EyeEm. (right) Adobe Stock / Jadiezlo / Stocksy United.

Relentless positivity and perfectionism can trigger burnout and depression, studies have found —and being honest about life’s low points isn’t always a negative. In a time when resilience is recognized as a positive trait and skill, “fail” has become less of a four-letter word. In 2018, a group of MIT students launched a conference series that they actually named “FAIL,” to which they invited noted scholars to speak about the struggles they endured and mistakes they made along the path to eventually successful careers.

Upsides to a downswing

This type of radical honesty — once frowned upon — has been steadily gaining traction, helped along by some of today’s most lauded creatives as they engage in public discussion about their very rough starts. J.K. Rowling, of Harry Potter fame, was, as she put it, “as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless.” Wildly successful rapper and entrepreneur Jay-Z recalled a time when he “went to every single record label, and they was like, ‘This guy is terrible. He’s nothing.‘”

Image source: Adobe Stock / Archan Nair.

Oprah, before she made billions from her eponymous talk show, was fired from her first broadcast television job and deemed “unfit for television news.” “I had no idea what I was in for or that this was going to be the greatest growing period of my adult life,” she told the Baltimore Sun in 2011. “It shook me to my very core, and I didn’t even know at the time that I was being shaken.”

At the center of all this is a radical brand of honesty in personal narrative, and with it the desire to both connect to others via shared experience and also educate a broader audience. More and more often, real stories are taking the place of more traditional, scripted content. In a recent ad campaign, Target featured businesswoman Bea Dixon, featuring clips where she speaks openly about the process of starting her personal care product line, The Honey Pot. Bea describes a mission that extends beyond her own success, saying, “The reason why it’s so important for The Honey Pot to do well is so the next black girl that comes up with a great idea — she can have a better opportunity.”

After the ad aired, Bea faced racist, hurtful backlash for her powerful statement, yet saw a positive come out of a negative when her supporters, her goal, and her products boosted sales by 50%.

Image source: Adobe Stock / Fancy Bethany.

Game-changing stories like Bea’s are the sorts of clues Brenda picks up on when she’s conducting research on visual trends, and she looks everywhere, perusing both TV viewing statistics and fashion news, for example. “I study virtually every type of creative industry,” Brenda says. “What I’m doing is, I’m looking at many different sectors for patterns that don’t necessarily seem to be connected but are, because we all are experiencing [these] very similar social, political, [and] cultural shifts.”

Staying apart, together

The biggest cultural shift of the moment is, of course, the global COVID-19 pandemic. With infection and death rates soaring, travel restrictions and shelter-in-place orders have gone out across the world in an aim to halt transmission of the virus. Quarantine has necessitated that we become increasingly inventive in how — and what — we communicate with each other.

In Italy, one of the hardest-hit areas, there are balcony sing-alongs and games of tennis played window to window; after dark, classic films are projected onto the sides of buildings (with optional-but-encouraged dancing). At pre-determined times of day, people are clapping and cheering their support for healthcare workers from their stoops, windows, porches, and rooftops, in Atlanta at 8 p.m., Vancouver and New York at 7 p.m.

Image source: Adobe Stock / Guglielmo Mangiapane / Reuters.

Humor, too, is alive and well, with an increasing number of viral “challenges” popping up across social media; some involve physical feats (lifting a couch), while others involve pets (“see a dog, share a dog”), but all invite users to tag a friend or friends to also participate. On the Facebook group “Social Distancing,” users began a thread for posting parodies of famous artworks that have been altered to reflect the current outbreak situation. One shows Grant Wood’s American Gothic couple inside their house (with the pitchfork left on the lawn); another is of the diner in Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks” but empty of its patrons.

Even the ill have provided some comic relief — these three roommates in New York, presumed to have contracted COVID-19, formed an impromptu band to perform a funny and biting PSA song about coronavirus.

Difficult times, difficult feelings

While moments of levity are a welcomed break, the reality of the situation remains — coronavirus continues to devastate communities around the world, taking a terrible toll both physically and emotionally. Self-expression in reaction to COVID-19 is hard-hitting, offering a very human take on a global state of emergency. On March 28, The Associated Press released a haunting portrait series of Italian healthcare workers, all of them in various states of shock and exhaustion. Healthcare workers have started a viral campaign by posting photos of their teams — some dressed in protective gear — on social media, holding up signs that read “We stay here for you, please stay home for us.”

Image source: Adobe Stock / Nilserk Vasquez / EyeEm.

Medical professionals are also taking to social media to show the gravity of the pandemic and its impact on their lives. Dr. Lisa Miller of Seattle tweeted a picture of fellow anesthesiologist Dr. John Henao wearing a makeshift protective face barrier, along with a detailed account of just how dangerous the shortage of PPE (personal protective equipment) is for healthcare providers. Her tweets, along with other messages from doctors, nurses, and support staff were featured in The Guardian. “I am horrified,” Lisa wrote. “Please call or write or tweet your elected officials to demand that we are given adequate equipment in order to treat you safely.” She concluded with #getmePPE.

On the other side of the crisis, those who have tested positive for COVID-19 are also taking to social media to share their experiences. They’re of all ages, races, genders, and locations, and include a handful of prominent celebrities who see the good in speaking up. On March 17, actor Idris Elba tweeted a video to announce that he had contracted coronavirus. His wife, Sabrina Dhowre, sat beside him. “Look, we live in a divided world right now,” Idris said, “but now is a time for solidarity. Now is a time for thinking about each other. There are so many people whose lives have been affected.” Tom Hanks, Daniel Dae Kim, Slim Thug, and Kristofer Hivju are also among the growing list of celebrities who have revealed that they have the virus.

Even as concerns grow by day and by hour, the creative spirit is continuing on amidst the uncertainty and fear. Dentist-turned-artist Sara Shakeel is posting photos of handwashing, adding a glitter effect to the water and soap bubbles, while Italian illustrator Giulia Rosa integrated face masks into one of her surrealist portraits.

Out of necessity, invention

With both the isolation and the need for togetherness comes a new kind of artistic collaboration. Feeling the need to bring her community together from afar, composition student Shelbie Rassler organized a virtual orchestra of other music students to play an ensemble arrangement of “Love Sweet Love.” The result was an instant hit — it even found its way to Burt Bacharach, who wrote “Love Sweet Love” in the ’60s. Burt spoke to NPR about the experience, telling reporter Elizabeth Blair that he was “proud and honored.” He followed this up with encouragement for both artistry and safety. “It’s great seeing them find ways to be creative and stay connected to each other while maintaining social distance,” Burt said.

Image source: Adobe Stock / Obiageli Adaeze.

Browse our Express Yourself gallery on Adobe Stock for more on-trend inspiration, or upload a new batch of your realest images.

Topics: Creative Inspiration & Trends, Creativity

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