Artists grapple with a new normal


Illustration by Emily Brinkman.

The COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in a new normal for students across the globe, as students now have to adjust to purely online, social-distancing friendly class formats. While some courses did not have much of a difficult transition, the more creative-oriented schools within the liberal arts are having quite the time coping to this new world. Theatre, dance, music and art majors, whose crafts depend on live performances or collaborations, are now dealing with issues far beyond their GPAs.

Art professors like Carolyn Norton, who teaches a beginner’s designer course and printmaking, are attempting to help their students ease their way into this new normal. 

“My strategy is to give them something easy: a slow start, just to make sure everyone can use the online material, so it’s been real successful,” Norton said. “What I had them do was post something on discussion called ‘Good News’. They could post any image they wanted with some statement on it, so it was kind of nice. We got to know each other better.”

While professors are doing their best to keep students informed and heard, for many, the transition has robbed them of certain aspects of being on campus. One of these students is Taylor Lucien, a dance major graduating in May. 

“I never realized how much I feed off other people in classes until I had to do this on my own,” Lucien said. “So that’s been tough, not having a community, a place to congregate with other artists. It’s been real tough for me.” 

Due to the crisis, it is uncertain whether Lucien’s thesis, where she puts together her own piece to present to the facility, will get its due as a live performance.

Sheldon Mba, a theatre performance graduate student, is in a similar predicament. Mba was set to be one of the lead roles in Southern Miss Theatre’s now cancelled production of “Oresteia.” 

“I feel like so much was stolen from me, but I also gained a tremendous amount of time to have this moment of reflection before graduation that usually happens after graduation,” Mba said. 

Mba has found himself dealing with this crisis on three different fronts: as a teacher, a student and a soon-to-be graduate. Ultimately, though, this crisis has led him to think about his status as an artist.

“I wasn’t ready to be self-disciplined yet. I still wanted some time to be like, ‘Ok, I have a deadline, somebody’s asking me to do something.’ Now I have to get myself up in the morning, make sure I put myself on a schedule. It’s kind of rewarding to have control of my days again,” Mba said. 

While these artists struggle their way through these dismal times, they still are able to show a radiant disposition toward the future.

“We’re figuring it out, and artists tend to do that. We’re always answering problems whether it’s visual, or structural or concessional. We’re all trying to figure it out together,” Norton said. “Artists are usually up for a challenge.”