Art in quarantine: Students turn to creative expression to reduce stress, occupy time

by Paulina Marinkovic | 5/14/20 2:10am

Forced to stay at home amid lockdowns across the nation, several Dartmouth students have been inspired to pick up a new hobby and use art, in its many forms, as a creative outlet. For many, art has been a beneficial tool for stress relief, taking a break from the news and bridging the gap in interpersonal connection created by social distancing. 

With fewer distractions and more downtime this term, Paula Lenart ’20 has found quarantine to be the perfect time to focus on creating artwork. She decided to take full advantage of having access to Adobe Creative Suite — provided for free by Dartmouth this term — and started taking a graphic design course on how to use Adobe Illustrator. 

“I didn't do digital art before, and I did not know a lot of the cool things you could do,” Lenart said. “So I'm literally having fun with the programs right now. I think as an artist, your creative vision always changes because everything is so fascinating, and you are always learning new techniques.”

Aside from tackling a new artistic medium, Lenart has focused on continuing her traditional style of artwork. Her paintings have largely centered on nature and landscapes through the seasons. To commemorate her time at Dartmouth, she decided that her latest quarantine project would be to paint her favorite places on campus — including an illustration of Baker-Berry Library that the admissions office posted on their Instagram page. 

“I didn't really post my work before either, so that's also new for me,” Lenart said. “For some of [the posts], I get good responses, and it makes me happy. But I'm not really looking for that yet. As I said, it's mostly just improving myself as an artist and a designer so a lot of the things I do is experimenting.”

Lenart stressed that it is important for people to create things that they enjoy and feel inspired by, since social distancing can cause people to struggle with finding motivation.

Matthew Gannon ’22, a film and media studies major and videographer for the admissions office and protest organizers such as Sunrise Movement, has also used his time in quarantine to expand his creative endeavors. As someone who often finds his documentary subjects in subway stations, Gannon acknowledged that quarantine has created constraints on the filmmaking process. 

“The biggest challenge is that I can't really start working on any big projects,” Gannon said. “I can't be going out and talking to people looking for new documentary subjects or going out and setting up camp [in] a subway or something, which is something I love to do. This weird time of isolation is not conducive for filming human narratives up close.”

Despite the restrictions of quarantine, art is a flexible medium, and it allows people the opportunity to create even in unexpected or uncertain experiences. As a result, rather than hindering his creative process, quarantine has inspired Gannon’s filmmaking in an unexpected way: It has forced him to slow down and reimagine the possibilities around him.

“I think something interesting about quarantine is how long the days are and how everything sort of stretches and blends into each other,” Gannon said. “I think this time is making everyone sort of slow down and appreciate things more.”

Gannon added that this distorted sense of time during quarantine has made him use longer takes in his films rather than the quick, eye-catching openings he usually incorporates in his videos.

“You can have a longer shot open a video and people will still tune in,” Gannon said. “It's a really cool time to explore weird ways of telling stories, especially when everything is suddenly becoming a story.”

With newspapers, old books she found lying around her home and her own drawings, Kasey Rhee ’21 started making collages and posting her creations on an Instagram account. Although this quarantine hobby was supposed to be a momentary escape through creativity and imagination, positive responses from viewers on Instagram prompted her to continue collaging and turn it into a vehicle for storytelling.

Through her collages, Rhee tells stories consisting of a range of topics, such as COVID-19, the presidential elections, Zoom and the patriarchy. 

“It's kind of funny to call it my art,” Rhee said. “This was not something I used to do at all. It only started because I had the time to do it, and it's been a really cool experience.”

Although Rhee misses the creative opportunities offered on campus, such as the pottery studio, she noted that social media has served as an essential tool to connect with other artists. A German art therapist invited Rhee to join an Instagram group of artists, and Rhee said that she is grateful to have had the chance to interact with artists from Russia, Spain, South Korea and other parts of the world.

“I think I wasn't expecting a response at all,” Rhee said. “So I was just excited to see any response in general, even if it was from strangers on Instagram. Or from my friends who would message me and tell me they had tried collaging today because they had seen my posts … I think I've been seeing a lot of other people from Dartmouth posting their own art on Instagram. So I love seeing that.”