On June 14, The Sunday Times revealed the results of a survey ranking artists as the top “non-essential” workers in current times. The survey was carried out by Milieu Insight, a Singapore-based consumer research firm. The results drew mixed responses from those in the arts industry. It shows how the contribution of artists has gone unrecognised in a world still grappling with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a critical time like this, artists are the reason why we are still able to communicate quickly and stay connected with one another. Here’s why artists are essential:
Artists make communication effective
A picture tells a thousand words. Scroll your Instagram and Facebook feed and you’ll probably see eye-catching infographics being shared every time new measures are announced in Singapore. Measures are constantly changed to counter the ever-changing coronavirus situation. The sheer amount of information can be overwhelming!
Announcements are always made online first. This means it’s almost impossible to always keep up with all the new measures being implemented, especially for the less tech-savvy older generation.
Artists bridge this gap by turning information into easily digestible infographics, helping many stay sane in a time of COVID-19 information overload. These pictorial graphics capture safety measures so concisely that it can be understood quickly, even by people who can’t read.
The Ministry of Health, for example, has a page providing 17 infographics in all four languages. They can be downloaded and used to disseminate safety and health guidelines. These guidelines include a list of places where exercising is allowed and encouraging elderly people to stay home.
Art ensures that even young children can quickly understand how they can protect themselves from COVID-19.
The Early Childhood Development Agency published colourful infographics showing safety and hygiene rules in the form of the alphabet, making them easy to memorise and repeat in preschools. They also turned the alphabet safety rules into a jingle, animated and condensed into a video so that children can sing along and remember the rules better. These are just some examples of how artists have brought about essential social change in times of crisis.
Art connects people in times of isolation
The coronavirus may have separated people physically, but art has brought our hearts closer than ever. During the circuit breaker period, many people turned to the arts as a way to stay connected with their friends. Although we can use video calls to keep in touch, it cannot be the sole form of interaction as people usually bond over mutual activities like eating or watching movies together.
Games like Animal Crossing (which has sold over 13 million copies as of May!) have replaced those face-to-face activities. These games let friends meet virtually, providing social interaction during a time when meeting physically opens you up to possible infection. Such games provide comfort and social connection in a time when people spend long periods of time isolated at home. People also hang out online with each other by watching Netflix shows together virtually. Even with social distancing, art is the reason why people are able to satisfy their need for social interaction.
Artistic work is an intangible contribution to society – artists provide the informational and communicative content that are everywhere in our lives, even if we don’t realise it. To call the work of artists “non-essential” in keeping Singapore going thus denies them of the recognition they deserve.