Gülsün Karamustafa, Prison Paintings 9 (1972). Courtesy of the Tate.
The myth of the solitary genius is being put to the test in 2020 as artists around the world are forced into isolation. Though undue pressure to create while on lockdown may be counterproductive (as the New York Times says, quit stressing!), artists of the past have noted the importance of uninterrupted concentration on productivity. “It seems to me that today if the artist wishes to be serious,” Edgar Degas once noted, “he must once more sink himself in solitude.”
We’ve heard about Shakespeare penning King Lear during the plague and Sir Isaac Newton developing calculus in quarantine. Throughout history, visual artists, too, have channeled experiences of confinement into artistic growth.