At this moment in time, we are existing in an anomaly. We’re all isolated, removed from the conventions of our regular lives, starting this year a bit drearier than the last. Instead of walking with our friends through jam-packed parks, we’re walking alone on desolate streets, or walking around our own homes just to feel a sense of movement in our bodies.
In our separation from the norm, we feel inclined to press pause on everything from the past, dwell on it, and mourn the canceled prospects of the future. And by aching for the past, we might neglect what we love to do—all our hobbies, passions, and activities. For many, it’s a sport or being part of a team, or simply going out on a Friday night for a drink. And for many people—myself included—it’s art.
I’ve been creating for most of my life. I started learning photography when I was 11 years old, and since then I’ve dabbled in portrait drawing, writing, and filmmaking. Although I’ve abandoned drawing for the most part, I continue to make art partly out of a strange obligation I feel to create something. So when the world went into lockdown, my creativity did as well. The overwhelming hankering for creation I’d experienced during the last seven years of my life began withering away, and I spent most days of the spring in class or in bed, wondering when this would all end. Then, one day, while reorganizing my books, I saw and remembered a title deeply important to me: Create Dangerously.
About two years ago, while visiting a bookstore near my high school, I came across a speech by the French philosopher Albert Camus. Written in 1957, Create Dangerously urged artists to take risks in their work during a time of political unrest, challenging them to engage with the changing world head-on rather than turning away from it. In other words, there is a call for artists to create, especially when the world is not in order. Very quickly, Create Dangerously became my own artistic mantra. The title alone would always lurk in my head, haunting me for years.
My first experience with the idea of creating dangerously was in a dream I had last February. In that dream, I saw a room covered from floor to ceiling in paintings, photography, and sculpture by my artistic friends who I knew were creating because of a feeling of duty. I reached out to my friends and team at Anger Can Be Power, a creative advocacy organization for whom I’d begun interning around the time I read Create Dangerously for the first time.
Anger Can Be Power embodied the idea of Create Dangerously to me. When I met Julia, both the frontwoman of New York band Sunflower Bean and the founder of Anger Can Be Power, for the first time, I knew instantly that this kind of organization emerged out of the same obligation to create that I had felt. Created two years after Trump’s election, it stood for stepping up and creating in a time of unrest. So a year into my internship, the idea became clear to me: I had to curate an exhibition about creating dangerously.
I mapped out the kind of space I had seen in my dream and who I might reach out to, and everyone was on board. I remember telling my friends at school what I was planning, and how excited and inspired I was by the prospect of following through on this dream of mine. Of course, the dream didn’t entirely come true, as COVID lockdown arrived when we were in the initial planning stages. I started writing about it a week or two into lockdown, but when I went back to my initial thoughts recently, I realized so much more could be said about creating all this time later. Although I’m still writing this in lockdown, I know the exhibition will happen, because that very urge Camus spoke of still moves me at this very moment.
When I think about the present, I can’t help but feel I’ve taken my own doctrine for granted, the same way I feel that I’ve taken the subway, my neighborhood, and the Trader Joe’s five minutes away from my apartment for granted. I could be creating a lot more than I am, which, here and now, amounts to about nothing. And yet, with all that is happening, I feel one of the greatest urges I have ever experienced to reply with art. I’ve gotten back into carrying my camera with me more places than not, writing and working to publish my work, and trying out filmmaking. Even in one of the darkest periods, I’ve sought out inspiration and felt it all around me. Perhaps it was a change in location for school or a shift in my attitude, but somehow, life has begun to seem more uplifting at moments. On such dark days, we might assume we lack inspiration, but there is such a colossal collection of feelings we are all experiencing now.
I feel unquestionably certain that we should continue creating dangerously in the wake of 2020. Even while lying in bed with nowhere to go, there is freedom at our fingertips—freedom to express what we are all experiencing and feeling. After all, “freedom alone can save humankind from isolation,” Camus wrote in Create Dangerously. Harnessing that disturbance can bring out a voice that needs to sing, because even if we all feel anger, sadness, and loneliness, who else will belt out your very experience?
So I say there’s some optimism to feel in the wake of 2020. I’m experiencing a kind of bliss in knowing what is possible—not just artistically, but universally. Right now, the world needs artists and creative spirits. Anyone can create dangerously because the idea is for everyone. Creating dangerously is valor, inside and out. And if more creators in every realm of thinking consider this idea, hope will most definitely emerge and sustain itself. As Camus said so perfectly in Create Dangerously, “Hope is awakened, given life, sustained, by the millions of individuals whose deeds and actions, every day, break down borders and refute the worst moments in history, to allow the truth––which is always in danger––to shine brightly.” As I write this and gaze out my window at the pink and purple skies, I, too, see some hope.
By Colette Bernheim
Illustration by Gabriella Shery