What does leading a creative, productive life in COVID look like?

Image of Roxane Gay and Debbie Millman.

Roxane Gay and Debbie Millman.

By Skillshare

Posted on 10-08-2020

Like it or not, the events of 2020 have profoundly impacted the creative process. From the ongoing pandemic to protests for social justice, many artists’ routines and sources of inspiration have been upended by the anxiety of what we’re all dealing with in our day-to-day lives. Over the past six months, creatives have been grappling with questions about productivity, social responsibility, and the value of their own work.

Despite everything going on, there’s still an expectation that healthy creatives should be using their supposed extra time during COVID to write the next great American novel or finish a masterpiece. The notion that artists are supposed to produce at the same rate as before is idealistic at best.

Most of our so-called “free time” these days isn’t actually free — artists and non-artists alike have families to care for and current events to digest. Being quarantined with a computer or paintbrush doesn’t guarantee a surge in inspiration and productivity.

“I’ve learned that creating requires us to be as realistic with ourselves as possible and demystify what it means to live a creative life. We can’t romanticize it,” says Roxane Gay, a New York Times bestselling author. “They say that inspiration is all around us (it might well be) but in these trying times, we might not know what to create with that inspiration. That’s okay. Creators need to remind themselves that simply just being during these times is just as important as creating.”

COVID brought these considerations to the forefront of every artist’s mind, and the rise of social justice protests introduced even bigger questions to the mix: Do creatives have a responsibility to create work that responds to recent cultural moments? How do you create space for your work when the world around us is more demanding than ever?

This debate around responsibility is a tricky one. Every artist has a voice, and in a turbulent year like 2020, they’re bound to feel some pressure (either internal or external) to use it — but the decision to “speak up” isn’t as simple as it seems.

As Gay puts it, art can “illuminate things we may not have cared about before.” Whether it’s a painting, film, or poem, a work of art has the power to convey ideas better than any channel of the doom-and-gloom news cycle. Because of this potential, some might argue it’s the artist’s duty to break through all the noise and spread a message that people need to hear.

But at the same time, Gay also believes that telling an artist they “should do this” or “must make that” defeats the whole purpose of creativity. No matter the circumstances — no matter how much 2020 throws at us — creative expression and freedom can’t be constrained. The moment an artist decides to create out of obligation, rather than inspiration, their work risks losing a sense of integrity that can be difficult to get back.

On top of all this uncertainty, 2020 is forcing many artists to turn inward and reflect on their own creative lives. The pandemic introduced a new cultural narrative that puts jobs into one of two categories: essential or non-essential.

It would be disingenuous to pretend that creatives belong in the same bucket as doctors, nurses, grocers, and the like. Those essential workers are saving lives by risking their own. And while most artists might not be doing the same, designers, authors, photographers, filmmakers, and other artists all play a central role in shaping our understanding of the world and guiding conversations about current events. From the products they make to the books they publish and the series they produce, creatives touch peoples’ lives every single day.

“Regardless of whether you’re creating work that responds to cultural moments or not, artists need to create ethically and with integrity. We are going to continue to see that shift play out in the near future,” Gay says.

Even the most successful creatives are grappling with all these questions and how they fit into the big picture of everything going on today. Join critically acclaimed author Roxane Gay and creative powerhouse and the host of Design Matters, Debbie Millman, to hear them expand on these ideas at Adobe MAX. Their presentation, Roxane Gay in Conversation with Debbie Millman, will discuss what they’ve learned about themselves during the pandemic and how you can use it in your own creative process. Their talk will be on October 20 at 3:30 pm. Register today to reserve your spot.

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Topics: Adobe MAX, Events, Creativity, Insights & Inspiration, Creative Cloud, COVID-19,