The Beauty of Hardships
It's a simple scene, you're home alone on a rainy day in the middle of the week. Your work for the day is done, you've turned in all of your assignments and have already made the careful transition into your comfort clothes a la Mr. Rogers. You put the kettle on, and while the water heats up you ponder over which brand of black tea you'd like this evening. Once your tea is ready and you've lit some candles, you head over to the couch to sit down and slide into the blankets. The raindrops hit your windows one by one, softly like the tiny beats of a drum. You settle into this calm environment, one that you've created all your own. Just out of the corner of your eye, you swear that you can just faintly make out the sprinklings of golden dust flittering about the room...
This is the serene environment that singer-songwriter Taylor Swift has created for her fans with her new surprise album, titled folklore. It's a sort of somber album, with songs about heartbreak and a loss of trust told in the trio of connected songs entitled "cardigan", "august", and "betty". However, within folklore, Taylor has also become introspective and reflective. In songs like "seven", Swift recounts friendships from her childhood in Pennsylvania that ended so long ago she can barely recall the subject's face, but regardless she still holds the relationship close to her heart due to how it impacted her early years. Truly, folklore is Swift at her most mature, most creatively independent, and seemingly happiest. It promotes feelings of comfort, nostalgia, and magic, begging the audience to take a walk through the woods while listening to its music. The album seems to have come so naturally to Swift, who is renowned for her innate storytelling abilities, but it is especially remarkable that she has created such a career-defining piece of work like folklore during this very specific point in time.
At this point in the game, it's a bit redundant to explain the novel COVID-19 virus, and yet the ways in which to describe how it has impacted our society are endless. As a whole, the professional artistic community has almost all but shut down. Concerts are rare, film studios are silent, art galleries are vacant, etc etc. Still though, artists are known to be efficient at adapting to their surroundings, and those of us involved in the arts have certainly fulfilled this role of the adapter. Many have taken to performing online or putting more effort into selling their art on sites such as Etsy, or simply asking friends to boost their material on sites such as Twitter and Instagram. Indeed, the "gig economy" may be turning into a "hustle" type economy for those involved in the arts, and yet while many artists are working around the clock to ensure that they are compensated for their artistic accomplishments, almost all of us are turning to art for more than just money. We, now more than ever, are turning to our art for comfort and inspiration.
Throughout history, times of trouble have resulted in some of the greatest pieces of art from around the world. Vincent Van Gogh painted some of his best works during his stay in a psychiatric hospital in France. Shakespeare is said to have written King Lear while he was in quarantine. "Scream" painter Edvard Munch used painting as a way to heal after contracting and surviving the Spanish Flu, and Paul McCartney created the McCartney album while stuck in Scotland, in a state of depression after leaving The Beatles. It's unfair to say so soon after it's release whether or not Taylor Swift's folklore will go down in music's history as one of the greatest albums of at least the new decade, but it is indicative of something very important: it is a sign that during this time in isolation, uncertainty, and general ennui amongst us, artists are still creating for the sheer joy of it.
With folklore, Taylor Swift reminded all of us that great work can still be created in the modern era and during a historic pandemic no less. More importantly, though, she reminded all of us that great art created during a crisis doesn't have to stem from the negative feelings towards that crisis, but from a desire within ourselves to find comfort and peace from our own art.