I’ve been too overwhelmed to write recently

How’s everyone feeling about the gradual return to normality? I’m mostly delighted by it. Seeing people again for laughing and drinking and having proper spontaneous conversations is the nicest thing. It’s just that re-adapting to a calendar which involves more than going up and down the stairs has been a learning curve. I’ve always been a busy person, and I like doing lots of things. But the last year has also made me value how much having time for rest and thought actually helps me achieve more sometimes, too – time without having to think about where I’m rushing off to next.

Not that going to see art, in the Before Times, was ever a hassle. It wasn’t always a good time (depending on the show), but it never felt like a chore. To strip it down to the basics, paying a visit is a set of very deliberate steps: plan, travel, visit, write. It was time spent with intention on something which was at least novel. I was trying to think of a word to describe the sensation, and the closest I can get – though it’s not right – is “sacred”. It’s not right because it implies a religiosity, an inherent value or specialness which I don’t ascribe to any art. But in terms of art as an catalyst for contemplation, or revealing something about the world, and worthy of time spent, it’s the closest term to what I mean.

In the experience of art during a pandemic, much has been both lost and gained. When it comes to online engagement I’ve got over the loss of immediacy of the experience, which I think has also involved anyway. More venues and artists have moved beyond reproduction of the physical, instead thinking about what else the digital space can facilitate. I started the pandemic really missing the object, which I do much less now (though I can’t wait to have it back).

But environment and place matter to how we consume and feel about art. Not to say at all that the gallery is the only place art belongs – far from it – but my computer – currently the main locus of access – is a place for work. For concentrated activity, not contemplation. And so experiences end up feeling like labour. I trawl through my emails to find links, inevitably being reminded of tasks which await the next day. While I’ve got one tab open, should I just have a quick look at that other thing I didn’t have time for on Wednesday? And so on. Rather than being an escape to feed my mind, art can too easily become just another task in a life which already feels more filled with tasks than it has done in a long time.

I’ve been tired. I’m tired of the notifications, which don’t so much pique my curiosity as stress me out and fill me with guilt and FOMO. I’m tired of feeling like I’m missing out on artists – that I should know these artists already – that in general, I’m always behind. It’s not that I don’t want to see things – I definitely do! But in recent weeks, as more and more notifications about things I should see roll in, I’ve felt paralysed. I don’t know where to start, and so I haven’t.

And then feeling like I can’t even access the art of the world I know anymore just brings up all my feelings about the Art World in general, none of which are new but all of which reach new strength at these times. I get in a mood about institutions being shit. About the state of the art market and that odd relationship between value and success, and art as investment rather than pleasure. About NFT’s – fucking NFT’s – the absolute worst expression of art as tradable commodity and capitalist lack of environmental consideration. Most aren’t even good, which is possibly the worst thing about it all. I even get in a mood about how the reason I feel out of the loop is because I don’t listen to Talk Art because I can’t stand Russell Tovey, and I seem to be the only person I know who feels this way, and so what am I missing and do I really belong anywhere near art communication if I don’t get it??

It was only last weekend that I realised how much overwhelm this was all leaving me feeling. Realising things is good really though, I always think, because then you can start to address it. Spaces will be back soon but in the meantime, what else can I do to make my time with online art more “sacred” (or similar?). I’ve been setting boundaries around time spent online in recent months anyway, but that gives me less time to both explore and write, so how can I instead use time more consciously? Redrawing a plan so that rather than being a series of confused notes in my head and on scattered pages, there’s a concision to what’s where and when – also helps.

It’s not art, it’s me. Recent feelings have been kicked off by the latest change in circumstances in a whole year of changing circumstances, and having to make so many adjustments takes its toll. I want to get back to art. I miss it. I miss discovering new things, and what those new things make me feel. But to miss something, you need to not have it for a while and realise why you value it so much in the first place.

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