Thus far, 2020 has been notorious for derailing the hope and optimism many people held onto at the turn of the decade. 2020 has seen a rise in political partisanship across the United States leading up to one of the most contentious elections of all time. George Floyd and Breonna Taylor were both killed in violent encounters with the police. Wildfires overtook the west coast from California to Washington. Prominent figures, including Kobe Bryant, Chadwick Boseman and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, passed away. First spotted in Washington, murder hornets also surged across the United States.
These events all occurred in addition to the raging COVID-19 global pandemic and other unfortunate instances outside of the US.
Despite the overwhelming burden of carrying what feels like oppressive negativity with us wherever we go, 2020, believe it or not, hasn’t been all bad. Although the media broadcasts what seems to be more negative news each day, there are some positives to come out of this year.
One thing in particular has flourished like never before: Art.
During what feels like a broken year, music has proven its ability to heal and unify people like never before. From people serenading one another from their balconies in Italy to artists releasing some of their best content yet, the power of music has showcased a myriad of ways to act as a positive light during these dark times.
Even though live concerts around the world have been cancelled and music sales may have fallen, the music industry has seen a heightened quality of production during the past year. Record-breaking artists including Ariana Grande and Taylor Swift released unexpected but deeply moving albums, showcasing how both their vocals and lyric-writing have thrived during a year when it is the intention of everyone to simply survive.
The release of new music like that of Grande and Swift, however, makes the intention to survive just a little bit easier.
Grande’s album features more surface-level topics in the first half of the tracklist, but the latter half reveals deeper thinking and emotions with tracks like “Off the Table,” “Obvious” and “POV.” Songs like these give insight into increased time and energy artists have put into the self-reflection and introspection that plays a role in their lyrical development.
Swift’s 2020 album, Folklore, blends the lines of fact and fiction, as she leaves her lyrics ambiguous and up to her audience to interpret what is her personal experience and what she has created as mere, well, folklore. The album was a surprise release, something uncharacteristic of Swift’s previous albums, reflecting the fact that while 2020 has offered many negative surprises, there are positive surprises to be found in the midst of it all.
Swift’s part-fiction, part-reality album of storytelling and poetry segues into the next category of art that has thrived this past year: Books.
While books offer us an escape from reality, the content of many books is simultaneously based off of the very reality from which we seek an escape. Given the tumultuous nature of the events in 2020, fiction writers have had a plentiful amount of content to work with.
In a year where racial tensions have been high, Brit Bennett’s “The Vanishing Half” explores the ideas of identity, race and trauma. The novel follows the stories of a set of twins and spans throughout multiple generations, pinpointing some of the most important decades of American history with regard to racial discrimination and segregation.
A critique of American capitalism, Hilary Leichter’s “Temporary,” is well-suited for today’s political climate. The novel follows an unnamed protagonist through a series of odd, abstract jobs as she seeks to gain a permanent position in some form of employment. The novel serves as a reminder not to let career goals become one’s ultimate life goal, and that there is more to life than work. Especially during a time when so many have lost jobs due to the pandemic, the themes of the novel seem especially relevant.
The beginning of the pandemic saw a delay in the publication of many books that were supposed to be released in the spring, pushing publication back to fall. Sept. 3 alone saw the publication of 600 books, and even more are expected to continue rolling out throughout the season.
Technology has played a role in both music and books. During a time when people don’t leave the house as often for various reasons, whether it be pandemic-related quarantine or fear of exposure, technology has allowed the music and book industries to continue through accessibility on streaming platforms and e-books, respectively.
Nothing creates a viable foundation for visual art, including paintings, drawings and photographs, more than emotionally driven events and happenings. Given that 2020 has been filled to the brim with such occurrences, it’s no wonder that artists have taken to their palettes to give the emotion of 2020 a concrete image.
One of the biggest trends in visual art this year includes a collaboration between art and science. As scientists research a multitude of pressing and complicated issues, from climate change to COVID-19, artists convey these concepts through their work. Although on the surface art and science may seem to be on opposing sides in their intentions, both seek to understand and explain the world around us, making their collaboration both feasible and powerful.
Art that utilizes the concept of surrealism is also on the rise this year. Surrealist work tends to encompass for figurative, rather than literal, representations of its subject. Each piece that falls into the category taps into and explores the human subconscious in abstract ways. Given that 2020 has been a year for heightened introspection, reflection and awareness of the world, it’s no surprise that a deeper look at the human mind is a rising trend in art.