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Remote learning stories: Aspiring art therapist finds solace during pandemic in creating art

  • A painting by Katie Daiek
  • Katie Daiek
  • A painting by Katie Daiek
  • A painting by Katie Daiek
  • A painting by Katie Daiek

Posted on May 19, 2020

It started as a class assignment when Grand Valley switched to remote learning: Paint something every day.

Before long, Katie Daiek, an art major, realized her paintings were more than a class project — they were a way for her to work through her fears and uncertainties as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. 

"When I originally started painting during the pandemic, I was waiting for the news to come on every day and I couldn't focus on anything else," Daiek said. "I was trying to figure out how to cope. I could paint what was in front of me and not think about the context behind it."

She ended up with an unexpected muse and a flood of creativity.

The pieces reflect the items that have been coveted — and scarce — during the pandemic as well as the zeitgeist that has developed during this period. Bottles of Clorox and Clorox wipes. Toilet paper. An empty toilet paper roll. Gloves. Masks. Gloved hands doing a fist bump. Washing hands. And a self portrait of a masked Daiek in her garage.

Daiek, who is also pursuing a psychology minor, said painting not only provided an outlet for her but gave her insight how she could help people as an art therapist, the career she is planning to pursue. She is grateful for a teacher in high school who helped her see her painting could go beyond a hobby to a career.

"I want to help people express what they can't say through art," Daiek said.

Jill Eggers, associate professor and painting area coordinator for the Department of Visual Arts and Sciences, said the compelling paintings are "very quiet, simple images."

"Katie has distilled the images to a simple language of observation, that contains a mix of a little irony, hope and sadness," Eggers said. "Some read symbolically, others are more like visual instructions or signs for taking care of things: here is the bleach; this is how to put on your mask. Each is very thoughtfully composed. For instance, the toilet paper roll in the middle of the format, shaped like a question mark, invites us to consider how this banal object is suddenly the center of our attention."

Daiek plans to take a break from the pandemic-related painting but she is thinking about documenting later in the summer the overall mood and what life is like when some restrictions are lifted.

"I’m hoping inspiration will strike, similar to the experience with the original paintings," she said.