Take It Upon Yourself

Self Portrait After the Spanish Flu, Edvard Munch

At the end of each year, I take it upon myself to reflect on my art and all of the ways in which it compares to the last. This is when I’m hoping I have achieved my New Years' resolution of getting better at expressing myself, connecting and touching people in just the way I intend to. I found that the goals I’d set for myself became much more challenging once the pandemic hit earlier this year. As a result of it, I quickly grew uninspired from having been completely taken away from all of the day-to-day activities that I relied on for inspiration. Instead, I sat at home staring at a blank canvas for hours on end, desperately searching my brain for an idea.

This was until a couple of months ago when I began stumbling upon some of the most amazing paintings by famous artists in the past that underwent very similar situations to COVID-19. Of these paintings was Edvard Munch’s Self Portrait After the Spanish Flu. In it, Munch portrays his very own experience having contracted and later survived the Spanish Flu of 1918. This was an Illness that managed to spread amongst 500 million people--one-third of the Earth’s population--and killed an estimated 50 million. In his painting, you can see Munch completely torn down from attempting to fight this unbearable flu, his face falling in exhaustion. Depicting that same illness is Egon Shiele’s, The Family, an image he began of himself, his wife and who was supposed to be their future child. Unfortunately, his wife died six months into pregnancy due to the flu and just three days later, Shiele also lost his life to the virus. It strikes me that both of these artists chose to paint and leave a testimony to commemorate the tragedy that this disease brought into their lives despite being actively suffering through it at the time.

Not long after I had deeply submerged myself into these older paintings, I found that artists today are already incorporating the present-day COVID-19 pandemic