Dr. Richmond’s Art Criticism Course: Art Papers Glossary Project
This spring, Dr. Richmond offered a graduate- level course in art criticism and writing. Throughout the course the grads studied various publications and forms of writing. For this particular project, the students were asked to produce short-form, written reflections on “isolation,” “social distancing,” or another term related to the novel coronavirus pandemic. The project emulates the “Glossary” section of Art Papers, and was inspired by a seminar talk with the magazine’s Editor and Artistic Director, Sarah Higgins, the class was still meeting face-to-face.
At the [original] time of this writing, it is 5:30 in the morning. The world outside is dark and still, the street silent. It is a fleeting moment in which one has an opportunity to reflect and meditate, or even simply to breathe. There is a certain beauty to this kind of solitude. One does not have to face the constant calculations of social interaction or worry what sort of impression one is making. In its own way, this kind of solitude is a very necessary time to recharge and regroup.
Solitude is natural. Isolation, however, is another matter…
Isolation suggests a forced, prolonged solitude—one that goes well beyond the bounds of what is considered natural. For the past two weeks, there has been no shortage of time to reflect on this. Some philosophers might argue that isolation is a cornerstone of the human condition—that ultimately, we are each alone from birth unto death. Allowing for a grain of truth in such beliefs, even the most dedicated introvert must eventually acknowledge the communal nature of the human species. We need one another to grow, to learn, to be challenged.
Set apart from others, we stagnate and become silent.
The crippling nature of isolation is, perhaps, especially powerful for artists. It has often been said that art cannot be made in a vacuum—that art is, at its most fundamental, a form of expression and communication. What can one express or communicate in the lack of an audience? How can one hold a conversation with no one to speak to? Even with such platforms as social media, there is no substitute for breaking bread with one another face to face.
In some cases, such as the current pandemic crises, isolation is a necessity. Still, it only throws into sharp relief the ways in which we depend on one another. Isolation is, by its very definition, the opposite of society.
— Jordan Walker, M.A. candidate
Each of us within our own silo of thoughts, feelings, and sensations: unique and always changing. Whatever bubble we construct around our silo: alone or shared, a membrane (imaginary or not), a cell (biological or concrete), an exoskeleton, walls (physical or psychological). A nucleus within a cell; an electron within an atom.
On a ferry in the Shanghai Harbour last summer, I stood stalwart against the gunwale as a sea of humanity pressed, literally, against my side. Half a head taller and considerably heavier, I maintained, with a streak of ire, my foothold. Much of my skin was bare, as it had been considerably hotter earlier in the day, and the sweat had dried to a thin briny crust. Fully one-third of the right side of my body was pressed in contact with another person’s skin. I realized they were trying to push me to fit in one more person at the rail, and I, vainly, foolishly, and feeling like a character from a EM Forster novel, defended my Western dignity, that is, my space. I have never felt more English.
Seen from above, a looping, calligraphic shape describes my movements within my confines throughout the day. Neither “going in circles” nor “bouncing off walls,” but if you imagined a combination of the two, that would aptly describe the path etched on my map.
I did in fact draw such a map: it resembled a character on a mahjong tile. More specifically, a wind character: north, south, east, and west – also apt, in these dreamy times.
Venturing forth: quick, incisive cuts. There, back. Straight lines, no loops.
–Diane Hiscox, M.F.A. candidate
I (n.) someone aware of possessing a personal identity
aware (adj.) having or showing realization, perception, or knowledge
knowledge (n.) the fact or condition of knowing something
know (v.) to be aware of the truth or factuality of : be convinced or certain of
truth (n.) the state of being the case : syn. FACT
fact (n.) something that has actual existence
exist (v.) to have being in a specified place or with respect to understood limitations or conditions
solation (v.) the process of changing to a sol
sol (n.) a colloidal solution
solution (n.) the condition of being dissolved
dissolve (v.) to cause to disperse or disappear
disappear (v.) to cease to be : pass out of existence
exist (v.) to live at an inferior level or under adverse circumstances
isolation (n.) see: SOLITUDE
solitude (n.) the quality or state of being alone or remote from society
alone (n.) separated from others
separate (adj.) existing by itself
being (n.) the quality or state of having existence
exist (v.) to continue to be
–Lizzy Storm, M.F.A. Candidate
iso·la·tion (ī-sə-ˈlā-shən) n. 1 the second audio track off the Closer album by post-punk band, Joy Division 2 the action of isolating : the condition of being isolated
Ian Curtis, front man for the post-punk band Joy Division, struggled with severe and frequent epileptic seizures. As a result of the attacks, his mental state deteriorated. This caused Curtis to fall into depression exasperated by alcohol abuse. Ultimately, Curtis took his life less than two years after his diagnosis. Curtis’ lyrics capture the anxiety he felt living a life between epileptic attacks. One such song, Isolation, Curtis defines the two worlds created when one has been diagnosed with a series disease; the world of the healthy and the world of the sick. He describes it this way:
Surrendered to self-preservation,
From others who care for themselves.
A blindness that touches perfection,
But hurts just like anything else.
The line, “A blindness that touches perfection”, refers to how the healthy can turn a blind eye towards the sick. In this time of Covid-19 and self-quarantine, let us not forget the lives and stories behind the statistics that flash on our screens. We have all, “surrendered to self-preservation”, through our isolation, but our time away from society should teach us all how to slow down, reflect, and become a more empathetic race.
–Travis Dodd, M.F.A. candidate
Once in a lifetime (phrase)
– An event or opportunity not likely to be repeated
Like the broad range of COVID-19 medical symptoms spanning from asymptomatic to requiring hospitalization and resulting in death, I imagine living through this pandemic also has a broad range of experiences. As of now, my family (me, my husband, and our 4 ½ year old daughter) is on the “asymptomatic’’ end of the spectrum. We aren’t anxious about ill family or friends (yet), our jobs seem stable and have been flexible. We are even accustomed to “sheltering in place” as we have rarely left home for dinners out or social events since our daughter was born.
“Quarantine routine” same as it ever was
Our living conditions are similar to our usual exhausting, yet at times joyous, routine of raising a small child. My husband and I begin our day bombarded with fussing and crying at around 6 AM that will not stop until one of us is out of bed and standing upright. The demands continue all day and are constant. The upside of parenting a small child is that there is little energy for worrying about outside events. Parenting requires an immediate presence and a tight focus that comes in handy when the world outside seems to be falling apart.
This “disease” is natural and will forever be repeated
As of now, COVID-19 has not made me ill, but pregnancy, childbirth, and sleep deprivation have brought me to my knees several times over. I previously prided myself on my physical endurance and athleticism until I experienced the long, grueling process of parenthood. During my pregnancy I experienced anemia, borderline diabetes, months of nausea, and being in constant pain. Once my daughter was born I struggled with caring for an infant while recovering from major abdominal surgery. My husband and I barely functioned while not being allowed to sleep for more than three hours at a time (researchers say that parenthood sleep deprivation can continue for six years). Eight months after my c-section, I went in for a hysterectomy to remove a uterine fibroid that had grown to the size of a grapefruit from its exposure to pregnancy hormones. My night at the hospital felt like a spa vacation. I had uninterrupted sleep and peace from an absence of demanding crying.
Parenthood is my once-in-a-lifetime event. I realize this essay is grim. Please click on video link below to view my joy.
–Jill Blass, M.F.A. candidate
I got drunk at my bar the last night they were open. Went home alone.
I bought a shitload of vegetables.
I bought a shitload of booze.
My office has never been cleaner.
My workshop has never been more organized.
I’m so goddamn bored.
Fucking pollen makes me think I’ve got the fucking virus every single fucking morning.
What if I run out of cigarettes?
I bought more booze.
I’m worried about my mom.
I ran out of cigarettes.
I ordered five pounds of pipe tobacco and a Zippo.
I made a Virtual EARL so I could see my friends.
We got virtual wasted together for two weeks, now we watch each other cook dinner.
Someone stole my shovels and pickaxe out the back of my house. I don’t know when.
Didn’t notice until now. I’ve been too busy.
I ordered three security cameras.
I’ve been playing a lot of records.
I bought seventy-five dollars’ worth of Zagnuts (you can’t get ‘em in stores, you know).
My friends had their kid during all this madness. Caesarian.
Trump. FUCKING. TRUMP. Goddammit.
I live under a flight path and a lot less planes go over now.
I leave my wallet on the dresser most days.
The cats are constantly UP IN MY SHIT.
I meet a woman whose company I really enjoy and THIS is what happens?!
Fucking of course it is.
I’m buying ridiculous piles of nonsense on Amazon:
Two guitar tuners (one acoustic clip-on, one pedal), a CB radio antenna,
Ten pairs of chopsticks, a pasta maker, two Bigfoot puzzles, fancy hot sauce, Popsicle molds, a mesh WiFi router, seed envelopes, security lights.
I’m worried about my mom.
I miss seeing Fabian’s face. He needs to get a tablet or some shit, I dunno.
I’m worried about James. He didn’t get out much before this bullshit.
The potatoes have fingers already. Crap.
Apparently it’s my birthday every day now. @discocowboyofficial indeed.
Very funny, guys. Seriously. I needed that.
We’re loving each other through screens. I fucking hate it.
This sucks. We’re all alone. We are all alone.
But we’re together in this.
The EARL started live-streaming concerts. Ben played the first one.
They give away meals nearly every day. John and Josh are saints.
I’m showering and getting dressed on school days.
I went and saw Damon and Eli’s kid through the window.
This is temporary. This is not the way things are forever now.
We’ll be alright in a while.
Though it may take a long, long time, someday we’re gonna be fine.
Except for Trump.
He can go right on ahead and fuck himself.
— Jordan D. Gum, M.F.A. Candidate
Quarantivities, quarantinin, quarantunes, are all new words popping up as we are all confined to our homes, (if we are fortunate enough to have one). I have been in quarantine for two weeks now, and as binge watching Netflix, sleeping in, and wearing my pajamas all day long become my new normal I go online to find we are all a part of this collective suffering. Outside is uncertain, dangerous, strange and we are all facing a new unknown reality. We have never had to truly suffer like generations before who went through the plague, Spanish flu, and war. We are all so comfortable and our lives have been relatively easy that we are all stunned, shocked, overwhelmed by our current and sudden life change. In this pandemic, in the wake of uncertainty, and the upheaval of our normal lives, all we can do is do something or sit still.
We need quarantine type activities to pass the time, to distract us, to make this passing easier. We need quarantivities. I see people painting by number, doing 2,000-piece puzzles, zoom drag brunch meetups, zoom happy hour meetings, push-up challenges, exercise groups, music on the balcony, deep cleaning their homes, and binge watching the Tiger King, then joyfully exchanging our experiences on group texts and social media. This keeps our focus in the moment, keeps our minds from jumping into the future, helps us to not feed the monsters living in our mind. Quarantivities will save us from madness.
Quarantivities: activities to do while under quarantine.
Quarantinin: What you are doing or who you are doing it with during quarantine. Who are you quarantinin with?
Quarantunes: Music played over social media or outside for the benefit of others. Listen to Ana Laube’s new quarantunes on Instagram.
–Felicia Castro, M.F.A. candidate