The Triumph of Technology

If you’re tired of everything quarantine, please feel free to skip this post. I get it!  We are around six weeks in and have 5 more to go for sure, and maybe more… we just don’t know.

The world has been at home now fighting the spread of covid-19 on a global scale for the first time in history.  Because of snapping my ankle, I have been mostly at home since November – that’s going to be 6 months of mostly at home time once the calendar says it’s May 3, 2020! You would think this would make me more likely to write, all this time at home.  Surprisingly, because I am not able to go talk to friends and get out as much, I find that I am quieter.  I have been writing less, talking less, and painting more.  Dreams are more vivid and paintings are more experimental.  In fact, I have run out of larger canvases and panels, thus I finally emerged from the studio to order more panels and stretcher bars and realized I have been exceedingly quiet and would like to write a few posts about recent experiences and paintings while I wait for the shipments to arrive.  This post is about the beginning of the seed of a painting.  The formulation of the idea before it can even become a design.  My mind has been actively sorting our current state of events both to figure it out and to figure out how to process this in a painting format.

Daily I think about the following questions on some level.  But the answers can only come with time:

  1. Will my daughter have her graduation ceremony or will quarantine be lengthened again?
  2. Will this be a one-time sheltering event, or is this a “new normal” that will reoccur? If so, how often?  Are we going to go into quiet mode every century, every decade?  Every few years?
  3. How effective will these measures be long term? Are we going to emerge only to flare up and have to go back indoors?
  4. Will the vaccine come out rapidly enough to allow for at-risk people to shelter successfully until it is released?

It’s a bit depressing, so I try not to think about it too much.  Mostly I paint, but it’s undeniable that I will end up tackling this topic because it is new territory for the world in the realm of humans and technology. 

All the past epidemics took humanity by surprise.  They traveled at the speed of horses, then boats, then trains, and finally planes, wiping out huge percentages of the population back in the days before modern medicine, peaking with Spanish Flu.  Technology was mostly transportation and warfare pre-1900.  It served death either directly or indirectly for a long time.  There have been so many more of these epidemics than I had ever imagined!  There have been over 20 of them in recorded history to sweep through and kill over a million people, and if you lower the requirements down to 100,000 deaths, they are almost countless.  It’s been quite recent, only 100 years or so, since medicine improved enough that technology finally started to be more of a help to us than it was to the viruses! 

“The Triumph of Death” Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1562 One of many horrifying plague-inspired artworks that makes me grateful that I live now and not then. Image from Wikipedia

Now we have streaming video in our arsenal.  This is the first epidemic where the world has been able to shelter to “flatten the curve” (limit the number of people who are sick at one time in order to more effectively share hospital resources and medical attention).  Never before have we been in a position where streaming technology and society-wide fluency with video conferencing software, plus the infrastructure of wires and access to computers and smart phones for every household has allowed us to fight disease by staying home (except for essential personnel – thank you all for the risks you take to keep us all alive!).  We are utilizing the Internet on an unprecedented scale. People who never learned to use conferencing software before are trying out video calls for the first time.  

Humans are immeasurably better-equipped to deal with illnesses than we used to be.  It is not the days of plagues that sweep through and kill the majority of the population.  We know to wash our hands and sterilize infected surfaces.  We can hold classes and chat with friends on the computer screen.  We have hours of wonderful entertainment at the touch of a button to help us pass some of the time indoors. We have amazing technologies that allow us to continue to invent better outcomes in the future. I find that very fascinating and full of hope.  I have been actively working on a design for a painting to visually explore this new evolution of our electronic hive mind. Truly technology is externalization of human evolution!