When the quarantine/lockdown situation started back in March I found myself effectively trapped in the Caribbean, in the Dominican Republic, in a little beach town called Cabarete, on the north coast of the DR. The borders and airports were abruptly closed two days before my scheduled flight back to the states. Unable to get out a flight out prior to the airports closing, I was forced to spend the duration of the lockdown in the Caribbean.
March through June was one of the most creative and prolific periods I can recall having in my entire life. I wrote and recorded dozens of songs, made about 30 videos for my Youtube Channel, formed a Caribbean quarantine side project called “Bandits Of The Apocalypse”, and dove head first into music production and video editing. I instinctively immersed myself in music and music production as a way of dealing with the surrealness of the situation I found myself in, to combat the boredom of a 5 pm daily curfew and most businesses and activities being shut down.
I’m now back in Chicago and I find myself reflecting on the last seven months or so. I look back at this year so far and I’m in awe of both the sheer strangeness of this year and my own resourcefulness for dealing with a truly unprecedented situation. My own creativity seemed to go into overdrive much of this year. It felt as if my creative output was in direct proportion to the stress and uncertainty brought on by the pandemic and the lockdown. Music and my creative pursuits provided a great distraction from the heaviness and surrealness of 2020 and writing songs felt more cathartic than ever this year.
But was my experience typical? Did most artists have a typical experience during quarantine? I decided to do a little research to determine whether or not my reaction as an artist and creative was typical of what other musicians and creatives experienced.
From an article in Psychology Today called “Creativity In Quarantine”:
“What’s unique about this quarantine is that it constrains us in so many ways, creating what philosopher Bertrand Russell called “fructifying boredom.” Our typical means of working, socializing, and even provisioning ourselves have been dramatically restricted. And while people tend to think that constraints limit creativity and innovation, research proves quite the opposite to be true.
When there are no restrictions whatsoever, people become complacent. They follow the “path of least resistance” and go with the easiest and most obvious choice. Constraints, however, act like a reverse Occam’s razor: They provide specific focus and a creative challenge that motivates people to seek out diverse perspectives and connect ideas in dynamic ways to produce novel solutions.
Of course, there is a balance to be struck. Too many constraints and our focus becomes too narrow. It becomes more difficult to stumble across those “eureka” or “aha” moments of creative insight that occur, not when we’re laser-focused on a problem, but when we let our minds wander. And as it turns out, these boredom-born moments of clarity may just be one of humanity’s greatest evolutionary adaptations.”
It's interesting that the research suggests that restrictions, to a certain point, improve creativity. We tend to think of restrictions as an obstacle to creativity. For example, the idea of writing a song that works in the context of commercial music or music licensing, can, at first glance, seem limiting and contrived. The thought of forcing our music to a fit a certain mold or make our lyrics fit the parameters of sync licensing, can be perceived as a hinderance to our pure creative expression. But yet, within these parameters and restrictions, there’s tremendous room for being creative. By limiting the number of creative choices we can make, it’s actually liberating in a sense, in that it tends to focus and guide our creativity. Too many choices on the other hand, can be overwhelming and lead to a sort of option anxiety, where we’re not sure which way to turn or where to start.
The quarantine and lockdown was restrictive in a different sense. In my case, I was forced to stay inside during specific hours, and I was restricted in terms of movement and places I could go during the day. I recall having a conversation during this period where I explained the feeling I had to my Mom that my life “had become simplified in a beautiful way”. By having the number of things I could do and places I could go dramatically reduced, it became much easier to determine how I wanted and needed to spend my time and energy during this period. Much of my time was spent on creative pursuits.
I recently created a poll for members of HTLYM Premium where I asked whether the quarantine had led to increased creativity, diminished creativity or a neutral effect on creativity. The overwhelming consensus has been that quarantine led to increased creativity. This really comes as no surprise to me, since the quarantine and lockdown were so conducive to creative pursuits, in many ways.
Of course, we don’t need to wait for a pandemic to have periods of increased creativity and we needn’t stop being creative when the pandemic ends. Many of us were spending extended periods of time focusing on our art and music long before the great plague of 2020 came along. I also wouldn’t want to live in a world where my movement and choices are restricted indefinitely. This goes against my freedom loving nature and would be a net negative in the long run.
For me, the biggest lesson I’ve learned from 2020 is that by being forced to simplify my life, my life paradoxically became much richer and more focused.
Sometimes less really is more.
What about you? Did you find your creative output and overall creativity increase during quarantine? Let me know in the comments!
The blog of musician and thinker of deep thoughts, Aaron Davison.