An opera singer serenades a quarantined Florence from his balcony. An artist makes coronavirus-inspired art. A renowned violinist performs a virtual concert from her living room. Despite our current isolation and despair, the arts are helping us feel connected. In fact, the impact of mass concert cancellations and public art events is creating a virtual arts renaissance.
We’ve all heard the common arguments for art and music in our schools and our society. Music helps math and science scores. Painting reduces stress. While these benefits are absolutely true, we often forget that the arts foster critical thinking, innovation, and empathy. They are essential to our success as a species. As the evolutionary biologist and author E.O. Wison writes:
“Like the sunlight and the firelight that guided our birth, we need a unified humanities and science to construct a full and honest picture of what we truly are and what we can become.”
― Edward O. Wilson, The Origins of Creativity
The growing COVID-19 pandemic has also abruptly shaken our powerful government from its complacency. Suddenly, there is a threat that cannot be solved with killer drones or dollar bills. The question of how America should handle a global pandemic offers no simple solutions. The answers require complex analysis and new ideas. Our nation’s first line of defense against this virus is our ability to think critically. Imagine how we could thrive if we enhanced our cultural focus on critical thinking skills. The arts can help facilitate this paradigm shift.
Once the pandemic subsides, we will have to rebuild our economy and transition to our new way of life. This next chapter in American history will require immense innovation, especially to remain competitive in a global economy. Solutions to emerging problems will be swiftly rewarded, making creativity itself more essential than ever. We must seek artistic experiences that keep us tapped into our creative selves and embrace an evolved, cultural zeitgeist that allows for experimentation, failure, and open-mindedness.
The coronavirus outbreak has forced a polarized nation to take a leap of faith. We must trust each other, regardless of political affiliation, to social distance and make sacrifices for those who are most susceptible. Trust requires a common ground of understanding. Art has the ability to increase empathy and compassion. When we engage with such art, it increases the common ground we need to reach compromises and trust.
The fear, pain, and suffering our nation is experiencing is devastating. But with this crisis comes an opportunity to rethink our values and reimagine our society in a way that ensures we will not only survive but thrive. We need critical thinking, innovation, and empathy to rise above this challenge and the countless unpredictable challenges in our future. We need the arts now more than ever. Not only because they make us better at math or help us appreciate beauty (although they do), but because they make us stronger as a nation. We should support the arts as if our lives depend upon it. Because they do.