During lockdown I gained great solace from two activities both connected with the arts. The first developed naturally during Skype catch ups I was having with a colleague, Ed. We both lived alone, so while working at home we checked in with each other a few times a week to make sure we were managing the isolation okay. After a while it seemed a good idea to give some structure to our catch ups, and Ed suggested that we should look at paintings from the National Gallery together. I was very unconfident of my ability to appreciate art, so we used the Gallery Companium volume as a starting point for our ‘Art chats’.
The guide was written by Erica Langmuir (1931 – 2015), a former Head of Education at the National Gallery, who brought these paintings to life with her knowledge, insights, and a wonderful way with words. During these sessions we would select a painting to look at and discuss, and then read aloud the commentary by Erika – by then by we felt as if we were on first name terms with her. These silent moments followed by shared enjoyment and discussion were a great comfort in those bewildering days of the early lockdown.
My second solace was a musical one. Antonio Pappano, the director of the Royal Opera house, began broadcasting on Saturday mornings ‘From my House to your House’ – on Facebook. In these live sessions, he would play and chat informally over his grand piano and analyse a scene or an aria from an opera. This opportunity to have a series of masterclass on the intricacies of beautiful music became a compelling weekly appointment. In these live sessions, we were interacting not only with the maestro and the music, but also with opera fans around the world.
It seems to me that one of the unexpected positive outcomes of the pandemic confinement has been the gift of time to explore. There was something very comforting about listening to music or admiring paintings which have survived over the centuries and continued to be loved by new generations. It gave some perspective on the events around us and reminded us of the lasting nature of creativity.