The Blue & Gray Press

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Personal Essay: The power of self expression through COVID

4 min read

Cat Life


Staff Writer

I’ll admit that this last year has been more than difficult. With the stress of uncertainty for the future, political tension, and unstable circumstances, this year has proved to be one the toughest years that a lot of people have lived through. 

Despite this, there comes a time where people find ways to cope with the pandemic and the world around them. For me, a big part was being able to express myself and my experiences through visual art. 

Art isn’t just another hobby I happened to pick up this year, it is a part of me. Ever since I was young I was surrounded by art and the idea of creativity. It was one of the only things I had left this year that allowed me to process and deal with whatever came my way. 

Expressing myself artistically and critically in response to reality is second nature to me. Although this year was extremely different, art making didn’t come so easily to me as it did in prior years. 

A few weeks after the Spring 2020 semester had ended, I felt many things: anxious, frustrated, upset, and confused. One of the biggest questions that never seemed to leave my mind was “What is it that I could do to fill in all the time I have?” 

Surprisingly the urge to make art during that time was unappealing. It was a rare time where I had felt that not even art was by my side. It was terrifyingly out of character to say the least. 

I had avoided the idea at first because I didn’t know what to make art about. I also struggled with perfectionism in regards to creating and that obstacle was discouraging. I did not feel motivated enough to believe I could reach a level of near perfection. Although the mundanity of my daily life was getting old, and I eventually gave in. 

I didn’t want to make art in direct response to the pandemic, but I knew that what I was making reflected the mental space which the pandemic had put me in. 

I was drawn to abstract expressive art. Being able to truthfully and unapologetically express myself without thinking or having an objective goal was not something I was used to, but it was what I had started to do.

  An Unseen Moment In the Life of A No One 2020 mixed media 
Untitled 2020 digital media 
Ballet dancing 2020 digital media

I accomplished what I had wanted; making art that just represented feeling, the intangible and immaterial. It only took a couple trial and errors on a few art apps on my phone, or a few scribbles on a sketchbook, but I made do with what I had in front of me. It all felt like a sort of meditation, letting all my emotions spill out as my pen danced across the canvas was exactly what I needed. I let go of the self-destructive habit of overly criticizing my work. I was able to gain the skill of being half proud of what I created, while also understanding that I had the potential to do better.

 Making art during this time reminded me that it’s okay to make art that is not seamless as long as it holds integrity, character and made me feel good. I needed to have something that made me feel good; art was supposed to be an escape for me rather than an additional burden.

                           Wind Swept 2020 Digital Media 

Forcing myself to regularly make art, and to not worry about the process, had allowed me to develop my work. Those few months of my life was the perfect time to experiment and figure out what I wanted my art to say to the world. I figured that I had nothing to lose; I had allowed myself to forget my audience and tried my best to free myself from their gaze.

Cat Life 2020 watercolor, colored pencil, crayon, ink on mixed media paper 

I share most of my art online, and have gained an audience over the years. Later in the year, amidst the rise of the protests, I felt that my priority to publish more work had diminished. I wanted to rather prioritize helping those who were constantly on the streets calling action to injustice. 

I used my work to raise money for organizations and causes that were related to Black Lives Matter. I held an online giveaway and joined a bunch of artists in selling artwork underneath a fundraiser project. All proceeds from the fundraiser were sent to marginalized communities or organizations who needed financial assistance. I also shared crowdfunding efforts that other artists were creating.

It was one of the biggest moments in my life; I was able to directly impact lives with my art. It was a time where I got to watch the online art community really unite and create an impact.

Despite the chaos and state of this year, I am not hesitant to say that art made it a little more worthwhile. I really believe that the power of art and self expression could triumph even the worst of times.

This is not to say that art solves all of life’s problems, but it allows people to lose themselves a little in a world they created for themselves. It even gives opportunity for people to enact change within communities.

Art holds weight in the world, it touches lives, and it is for everyone. Everyone has the power to use it, whether to impact the lives of others or their own.

1 thought on “Personal Essay: The power of self expression through COVID

  1. Loved this essay, especially the parts about letting go of perfectionism when making art. It’s so hard to do. Also, your art is beautiful!

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