I am reading a poem a day in The Heeding, a collection by naturalist and poet, Rob Cowen, during the COVID-19 pandemic. The book is vividly illustrated by Nick Hayes (an evocation of place is on the dust jacket). Unlike many other disasters with global impact (including the war in Ukraine), COVID-19 has had immediate, individual effects on each and every one of us, which means that artists can grapple with it in very personal, concrete ways. I haven't really collected Pandemic Art, but I became aware when I bought The Heeding that a cluster of books is forming on my bookshelf. Nicholas Borden's Lockdown Paintings is a virtual contribution, a reminder of how important place can be.
I pre-ordered David Hockney's Spring Cannot Be Cancelled (2021) and was delighted by it when it arrived. I reread it this spring; Martin Gayford's text is just as surprising and interesting as it was when the book was new, and the pictures of Hockney's Normandy farm through the seasons are revelatory.
Emily St. John Mandel's Sea of Tranquility (2022) is lighter weight than her apocalyptic Station Eleven, which takes place after a population-destroying pandemic. Yet who can resist a new novel actually written during COVID-19 about a fictional writer on a book tour to promote her unexpectedly prophetic novel at the outbreak of a pandemic in her world?
Ali Smith's Companion Piece (2022) is the most brilliant work of art in and of itself on my "pandemic shelf." I spotted it on our library's New Books shelf a month ago, borrowed, read it in one big gulp, and then bought my own copy (from a local bookseller, natch). I let a few weeks go by. The second reading has taken three gulps, but I've loved it even more. It's a master class in voice; movement by association as opposed to overt plot (though there is an underlying story line); and, finally, rueful joy over what it is to be human.
What about you? Have you run across any books that record an artist's way of dealing with what we are all going through? Have you found that practicing an art has helped you either cope or gain insight?