Can you make art during a crisis?

One of my favorite moments of television happened on a 2006 episode of Anthony Bourdain’s show, No Reservations. It was supposed to be a travel show about the food and culture of Beirut, but Tony and his crew found themselves in the middle of a violent conflict. They watched the airport get blown up from their hotel room, and saw whole neighborhoods get blasted.

They were trapped there for a week before being transported out. And there is this scene, where in the middle of the tension and chaos and fear – Tony walks into the kitchen of the hotel, and he cooks. For a moment, he loses himself in the chopping and stirring, the creation of something to share with others.

That moment brought me to tears.

Tony cooked because cooking was his art.*

That’s how he shared his love and passion.

That’s the creative lens through which he translated the world.

We are in crisis right now. In a million different ways, this country is in crisis. I feel it in the pit of my stomach, and it’s breaking my heart. I wonder, why make art? Why write? Why create anything when things feel this uncertain, when so many people are suffering? What is the point of creating in crisis? I stare at the walls and leave my projects untouched as I sit with my fear and pain and anger in my own little internal Beirut.

But as I think back to that episode, Tony Bourdain answered my question for me. We create  – we cook or write poetry or cross-stitch – because we are human. Because we’ve been doing this since the beginning of time. Because we made cave paintings before we bothered to figure out farming techniques because art was more important than eating regularly.  Because art connects the discordant, makes sense of the senseless, and gives voice to the unspeakable.

Creating something – anything – that makes you feel alive is imperative, especially in times that feel stressful or uncertain. Whether that stress is on a national level, or a personal one. So, if you paint, please, I beg of you, paint. If you sing or quilt or take photographs of the insects in your backyard, please go do it. Please make all the things, and then – here’s the important part – share them with the world. Don’t keep your creations to yourself because your ego is saying that’s not really art, or that someone else already did it better. Get brave and get it out there, so we can experience beauty and stay in touch with our humanity.

We really need that.

In later interviews, Tony said that the experience in Beirut “changed everything.” When he and his crew came home, they kept thinking, What’s important? They made changes, both to the show, and to their lives. Tony’s Instagram from less than two weeks before his death reads – “An eventful week. On the battlefield and off. Making art . Every motherfucking day.”

So that’s what I’ll do. Life may feel like a battlefield. But I’ll be here.

Making art.

Every motherfucking day.


*I originally wrote about Tony in present tense, and it really sucks to change that. 


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8 Replies to “Can you make art during a crisis?”

  1. Totally agree Lisa. Any creative skills that are not shared, are little more than ego masturbation in that there is the shallow and short term satisfaction, and a distraction … but little more. Creativity, in any form, surely achieves its value when shared after all, a writing; a painting; a sculpture (etc. etc.) can only generate a reaction if given public exposure. If such public exposure can trigger an emotional reaction then, from my perspective, ones efforts have received the ultimate reward. Other lives have been impacted. What more could anybody wish? 🙂

  2. Love this my friend! Yes, I too saw that episode, and it was incredibly moving. I have created what I consider to be some of my best art in moments (days? weeks?) of crisis. Create we must, And creating in times of crisis can also be what helps us to move forward. It can also be what helps others to move forward. Love to you, and keep creating.

  3. As always, you have written something beautiful. Thank you. I look forward to your posts so very much. They always resonate with me and frequently you voice what I am thinking but can’t manage to give voice to.

  4. This. This past week all the hot mess has been getting to me in a way where I can’t open apps that are filled with current news. But one thing I’ve been doing in this time that has been keeping me afloat is pushing onward and upward with the book I’m working on. And in the past few weeks, I’ve finished a second draft of it, formatted it, prepped it for my beta readers (something new I’m trying) and I look forward to working with my beta readers to making this book the best it can be.

    Art has often been my therapy during and after crisis. Now is no different. I just need to remember that and keep creating.

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