Back in 2018, London’s Royal Academy curated ‘From Life’ – an exhibition documenting the past, present and future of rendering the human form. As part of it, the first mass-participation life drawing class took place; filmed in the RA’s historic Life Room, just a few tens of thousands took part that night, many of whom had never drawn before, but all eager to quietly observe and translate the body onto a blank sheet of paper.

Fast-forward to May 2020. Two months into the UK Lockdown and the BBC hosted ‘Life Drawing Live’: probably one of the largest mass participation art events ever seen (and enjoyed by a few of the Space Doctors team!).

On one level, the concept felt like a very natural extension of what’s proliferated these last weeks. Organisations, institutions and content-owners flipping their assets into shared virtual experiences powered by a livestreaming platform for the attention and enjoyment of many. If it works for theatre or music, why not artistic pursuits? Without doubt, this format of shared experience will be around for some time as the notion of being there in-the-moment and participating morphs into something more intimate, stripped back, even more meaningful… however different it feels versus the time before.

But what of the ‘art’? Perhaps one of the greatest things about the event was that it didn’t matter how it looked, but how it felt! The mass inclusivity of the platform combined with the physical separation of the participants removed all sense of pomp or social pressure to create something beautiful, usually associated with group drawing sessions. The ‘art’ therefore exists purely as an act of mindful consideration and the simple pleasure of drawing, rather than a symbol of status, talent or accomplishment, not only reframing the traditional format but our relationship to art itself.

For many, lockdown’s sheer harsh novelty has quickly opened-up a very real need for experiences that will calm, provide safe haven as well as stimulate. BBC4’s hugely engaging draw-along was just that: an opportunity to spend two hours considering the pleasure of a 2B pencil and the size of the model’s head in relation to their feet. Bliss.

So whether its cook-a-long tutorials with the brilliant Pasta Grannies, live poetry with authors like Rupi Kaur or daily craft challenges from makers’ gurus Gathered; we’re seeing new parameters start to emerge and grow roots; fresh fun ways for people to get a fix of social connection via a new unleashing of innate creativity that also lets busy, stressed minds wander.

What does this mean longer-term? Yes: people will seek-out ever more mind-wandering opportunities, craving stimulation from new activities to provide diversion and escape. Let’s not under-estimate the power of a truly simple experience. Yes – make it shared, make it collective but above all make free of complexity and complication.

Now, did someone say Pasta Grannies?


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Image credit: BBC, Life Drawing Live!