Aaron Copland’s orchestral work “Quiet City” has entered my mind in the last weeks. It has been so strange. Watching the news every day, hearing of the deaths, the suffering, the fear. The lives of friends, family, in fact everyone’s life has been turned upside down. Whether continuing to perform your normal work with an abrupt, new sense of apprehension or being forced to work from home or suddenly having no work at all… Courageous, overworked health professionals fighting for lives and risking their own on the battlefield of hospitals around the world. The already difficult existence of the most disadvantaged; refugees, the poor, the elderly and the weak have now also become the most vulnerable. Through the international media we are all global witnesses to these bizarre and frightening events.
My own city of Amsterdam, which right now should be inundated with tourists enjoying the many bustling shops, cafes, restaurants, night life, concert halls and museums is empty. During my now less frequent early morning walks there are no hordes of bicyclists speeding towards the Central train station or to offices. No children exuberantly clamoring on their way to school.
And yet, if I’m honest, my own experience as an artist in the middle of this Corona madness has for the most part, been one of heightened enjoyment.
My studio life has been more inspired and productive in the last weeks than in the last few years. I live and work in the middle of the Jordaan, a cozy, intimate enclave of small streets and narrow sidewalks in the center of Amsterdam. Typically my street is fairly quiet but in the last month it has been VERY quiet. Fewer cars on the street, no airplanes overhead, it is a meditation. But perhaps my fertile studio life can’t be entirely attributed to this shift in the cities mood. In the months previous to the outbreak I was doing a lot of traveling and so I am having no problem now staying put in my studio and translating my many visual and emotional experiences into paint.
And I realize as well that I am fortunate in this regard. Most of us have had our careers upended, isolated from colleagues or students, not to mention orchestra’s, theater and dance companies whose work has become totally impossible.
Charles Dicken’s opening line from his novel “A Tale of Two Cities” sums up my seemingly schizophrenic experience during this Corona crisis pretty well: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times….”