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The art of finding purpose

Amanda is a graphic designer for Deloitte US, as well as a visual artist and painter. She shares how she used her art to help and inspire others during the pandemic.

Some of my earliest memories as a child are of my father’s extensive collection of National Geographic magazines. We must have had hundreds of issues, and they took up a large portion of our bookshelf. I looked through the images even before I was old enough to read the articles. Those photographs sparked in me a curiosity to see more parts of the world, a respect for nature and landscape, and a love for wild animals.

My interest in art also started very early. From a toddler with a set of markers, to an adult with a master’s degree in Fine Art, I grew up with art as a central driver in my life.

When the Australian wildfires happened, I was gutted. The footage of the koalas was especially heartbreaking. What could I do? Over the years I had participated in large, annual fundraiser and charity events by donating pieces, so why not try the same on my own social media? I think that was the first time I thought of using my paintings directly to raise money and thinking that maybe sharing my idea online would encourage others to do the same.

Then COVID-19 happened, and everything stalled. I had a completely paralysing feeling of helplessness. An existential “what’s the point?” thought when it came to my paintings. The news everyday was crushing, with the death count rising and jobs declining. It was overwhelming. Any attempts to continue painting felt futile.

Then, I started to see artists in my community using their skills on social media to help out. An artist friend of mine did an online challenge, where he made small paintings for auction and would donate the profit to a charity helping medical frontline workers in New York City. He invited other artists to join him. That was the spark. It cleared the fog and reminded me that I could use these skills in service to others—just like I was inspired to do when the wildfires happened. It got me back on track in some ways. So I did a painting, posted it online, and when it sold, I joined in donating the proceeds from that sale to the charity.

I wanted to keep going and I started to think about the next painting and where I would donate. I was drawn to the need to educate people about the problems with “owning” wildlife - I started researching organisations that were fighting laws in states that allow the purchase of wild animals. When I learned that the Animal Welfare Institute had a specific fund just for this, my next painting sale went to them.

In my own town of Pittsburgh, families waited in miles-long queues to get food at the food bank. There was a shortage of supplies and they needed money, so I did a painting for them. 

All of these paintings were small and sold for US$200 or less. My art is barely making a dent monetarily. But doing something with my skills to help others gave me a new sense of purpose. The people who have bought those pieces helped, too. And they have a visual reminder of it.

The pandemic changed our lives in many ways, and it has been hard not to feel overwhelmed and powerless. Using your time and skills to address one of the many enduring challenges the pandemic created—isolation, grief, hardship—can be a way to 'fight back', and inspire others to do the same.

Maybe it’s not a dent, maybe it’s a small ripple, that I hope will keep going.