During this time of “social distancing” many have experienced starting in March 2020 (necessary due to Covid-19 virus), I have been thinking a great deal about social connection. We missed our friends, coworkers, neighbors and extended families, while we tried to avoid a virus spread through the air by a person’s speech, sneeze or cough. People, in essence, became dangerous to our health, and sometimes our very survival. And now more than two years later, everyone is racing back to “normal life.” I have been thinking about social connections even more.
I find it interesting that as an artist, alone in my studio, in a building with few other people (who I don’t know beyond a passing ‘hello’) – I have become focused on social connection. Maybe I need to be alone with my thoughts to realize that I am not my own best “company.” I am often in a focused state on work and not “missing” people per se, but other times, I guess I romanticize the workplace as this place of camaraderie and energy. (In truth, most workplaces I have been are loaded with stress and anxiety…but that is a story for another day.) There also multitudes of social connections in life outside paid work, too.
What drives social connection? Humans, after all, are social primates. We thrive in interaction in small and large groups — chatting, engaging, working together, even fighting. Yet, in the 2020s, we are more technologically advanced – so advanced we cannot be in the physical presence of any other humans and get all our needs met. Or so we think! The need for social connection remains a vital part of our physical and mental health and we do crave it when it is lacking or when reduced.
Humans created the digital social networks (you know the addictive apps and platforms) to connect us. In Facebook’s words, it aims to “bring the world closer together.” But we fail to really connect – we hid behind screens – so we can spin doctor our lives, apply filters to our photos and behave in generally nasty ways to strangers. What’s missing? Sure, we all kept “in touch” via Zoom. But what I missed most was “IRL” or “In Real Life” situations. Authentic in-person laughter with friends, smiles from strangers, and eye contact…those sorts of things that feed the soul and produce good, grounded energy. I could go on a rant about digital social networks, but I think we all know the deal on that aspect of life these days.
Today, thinking about the fall, and going forward in this almost “post-pandemic” world, I am continuing to seek out social connections, but in a more focused, authentic way. For me at least, I get more energy from a one-on-one conversation than a big party, or I would rather be at an art gathering of people more aligned on issues of equality and justice, than a large gathering of people I do not know. I am increasingly mindful of what social event brings me energy and what is draining, what invite I should accept or event I should attend and how I am going to feel before, during and after.
Can art drive social connection? Artists are often alone in the creation process, but then there is the putting one’s art out into the world…whether online on a website, or in an e-commerce shop or in an in-person art show or gallery. That experience is where one gets feedback, comments, sometimes affirmation. Art is at its essence is about communicating something through creation – the feelings of the visual artist are imbued in the brush strokes, roll of the brayer, or pressure of the pen. Human touch and the feelings of the artist are part of the process of creation, and the public viewing is part of the reception of the communication. It’s a social phenomenon.
So, in both examples – real-life interaction and my artwork, I intend to keep being mindful about human beings and our social connections as well as staying in touch with my needs and my feelings.