This paintbrush is able to absorb large amounts of paint as well as memories. Performing “Do It Yourself” activities can act as stress relief as well as letting us explore our creative side. If not done alone, these activities can also produce sentimental value that goes beyond being satisfied with our own work. Sharing these moments with others create memories that we will cherish in our hearts and minds.
It was the beginning of April in 2020 when my dad decided to paint our whole house. It hadn’t even been two weeks since I painted my studio in Maastricht by myself. My university deadlines were approaching and my stress levels were rising, so timing could not have been worse. However, given all the house chores I avoided the past four years whilst living abroad, I felt the urge to help out. This is where my paintbrush comes in.
The paintbrush used for this collection is made of boar hair. A unique characteristic of this type of bristle is the ability to absorb a large amount of colour, which makes it perfect for painting large surfaces (such as walls) (“Pennelli”, n.d.). Despite the physical characteristics of the object, it also has a special meaning to me.
The last time I saw this paintbrush was when we last painted the house ourselves, in the summer holidays of 2007. Back then, my brother used to tease me with this paintbrush and I always wanted to steal it from him. I remember how, despite our rivalry over a paintbrush, I had a fun time, laughed a lot and it was a happy moment. With my parents working full-time and my brother being home from boarding school only for the weekends, it was one of the few activities we were able to do together.
When my mum handed me the paintbrush, I immediately associated it with all those memories from 2007 and our family unity. Painting again with this paintbrush created new memories, as this task allowed me to spend some quality time together with my parents and to overcome exam stress.
The Paintbrush Aura
The feelings, experiences and events that I link to this object, contribute in forming its aura. This concept was defined by Benjamin (1936) in terms of art as “uniqueness and authentic existence in a particular place”(p. 103). Given this definition, only authentic objects can have aura, which is destroyed in reproductive technologies (p. 103-104). An interesting readaptation of his concept was presented by MacIntyre, Bolter, & Gandy (2004). The scholars discuss how media technology can enhance and influence aura rather than destroy it (p. 39). They define aura to be “the combination of its cultural and personal significance”(p. 37) for an individual or a group. Hence, while others do not have the same personal relationship I have with this paintbrush, they might relate to its social and cultural relevance (p. 39). Associating the paintbrush to contexts and events that most people may have experienced themselves during this pandemic, can thus evoke (some of) its aura when looking at its 3D model.
DIY and Mental Health
With coronavirus measures reducing the possibility of displacement to maintain social distancing, this resulted in people being unable to practice sports and physical activities. For example, in Italy, physical activity outside of the home environment was prohibited at the beginning of lockdown (“ORDINANZA”, 2020). Hence, depending on the home context (e.g. an apartment), people were reduced to little to no ability to do exercise. Physical activity has shown to have many benefits, contributing to a healthy body and mind (Macovei, Tufan & Vulpe, 2014, p. 88). On the other hand, when there is an increase in sedentary life, there is an increment in negative effects for health, such as the display of depression symptoms (Teychenne, Ball, & Salmon, 2010, p. 251).
In these adverse situations, Do-It-Yourself (DIY) activities can help us in occupying our body and minds, preventing switching to a more sedentary life. In addition, as the lockdown increased boredom, loneliness and unhappiness (Brodeur, Clark, Fleche & Powdthavee, 2020, p. 6), engaging in DIY tasks helped in occupying time.
Research has shown how engaging in these activities improved the mental health and wellbeing of individuals (Bu, Steptoe, Mak, & Fancourt, 2020, p. 7-8). I have had a first-hand experience of this. During the pandemic I painted both my studio in Maastricht and my house back in Italy, which helped in improving my mood. It helped me by taking away boredom and stress, while in the moment, it was of great help in activating my body that was constantly sitting in front of a computer screen.
“…I start dipping the paintbrush in the white paint bucket. I am thinking about all those words I have to write for the final paper. I take out the paintbrush from the bucket. “Ach!” I think. A drop of cold paint just touched my bare foot. I start painting.“Whish, Whish” is the sound that the bristles make. I forget about my exams. My hand goes up and down. I am so focused on my task.”Gallo (2021) – DIY during lockdown
Using painting or other DIY activities to employ the time, is a pattern already seen when people are forced to spend time at home. During the Great Recession in the U.S. for instance, people losing jobs increased their free time. Back then most of the time was used for leisure activities, such as going out and socialising, as there were not as many restrictions compared to our current situation. However, the rest of their spare home time was used for home production activities, including DIY (Aguiar, Hurst & Karabarbounis, 2013, p. 1692-1693).
Reuniting and separating families
Not only did a lot of free time result from the pandemic, but it also brought families closer together. As people were forced to stay inside the household, routines changed, needing to adapt to this new context (McNeilly & Reece, 2020, p. 19-20). This included reuniting families both physically and metaphorically.
Stories like Edwards (2020) enhance how during the pandemic people were able to have some family time in complete relaxation, which before was lost due to family members’ busy schedules. It also meant to physically bring together family members, which were apart for various reasons. Stories like Alhas (2020) or mine, show how the health emergency brought people living away from home, back to under their parents’ roof. However, being reunited and living in the same household also had other implications, such the ones presented in the video.
Placing individuals in the same confined space for a long period of time intensified intimacy. This meant usual personal boundaries needed to (re)adapt to the one of others. This implied a rising number of conflicts and the need of changes in the home dynamic. This meant, for instance, parents working at times when children were sleeping (Evans et al., 2020, p. 7-8; McNeilly & Reece, 2020, p. 19-20). In my case, it meant to adapt my studying schedule based on our painting activity. While living alone, all I had to think about was my own schedule, now I had to also take my parents’ agendas into account and help them out.
“…Mum gives me the paintbrush. I grab it by its bristles. They are so soft. My brother used to tease me with them. I wish he was here too.”Gallo (2021) – DIY during lockdown
While on one hand, some were reunited with their family and had to adapt to its implications, others experienced the opposite. As an example, individuals working in healthcare were forced to isolate themselves in order to protect the health of the rest of their family. Others could not return home due to restrictions such as travel bans (Evans et al., 2020, p. 6-7). My family had to experience this too, with my brother forced to stay alone in his apartment, unable to return home due to the Italian restrictions of movement within the country.
Performing a DIY activity, such as house painting, can help improve mental health in adverse conditions such as the coronavirus pandemic. In a family context, these activities can create memories that stick in our minds. This also creates a connection to the object(s) used during those particular moments. When I see this paintbrush, its aura is characterised by all those memories and contexts I connect to it. For this reason, despite being a common object, it is so special to me.
Aguiar, M., Hurst, E., & Karabarbounis, L. (2013). Time use during the great recession. American Economic Review, 103(5), 1664-96.
Alhas, A. M. (2020, April 21). More ‘family time’ amid coronavirus isolation at home. Anadolu Ajansı. https://www.aa.com.tr/en/latest-on-coronavirus-outbreak/more-family-time-amid-coronavirus-isolation-at-home/1812529.
Benjamin, W. (1939). The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction. Visual Culture: Experiences in Visual Culture, 114-137.
Brodeur, A., Clark, A. E., Fleche, S., & Powdthavee, N. (2020). Assessing the impact of the coronavirus lockdown on unhappiness, loneliness, and boredom using Google Trends. arXiv preprint arXiv:2004.12129.
Bu, F., Steptoe, A., Mak, H. W., & Fancourt, D. (2020). Time-use and mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic: a panel analysis of 55,204 adults followed across 11 weeks of lockdown in the UK. https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.08.18.20177345v1.full.pdf.
Edwards, C. (2020, May 26). How Quarantine Has Brought My Family Closer Together. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/26/parenting/coronavirus-family-quarantine.html.
Evans, S., Mikocka-Walus, A., Klas, A., Olive, L., Sciberras, E., Karantzas, G., & Westrupp, E. M. (2020). From ‘It has stopped our lives’ to ‘Spending more time together has strengthened bonds’: The varied experiences of Australian families during COVID-19. Frontiers in psychology, 11, 2906.
Gallo, L. (2021, March 19). DIY During Lockdown: An Anecdote. Life in a Digital World. https://blogs.fasos.maastrichtuniversity.nl/digitalcultures-MA/students/lgallo20/2021/03/18/diy-during-lockdown-an-anecdote/.
MacIntyre, B., Bolter, J. D., & Gandy, M. (2004). Presence and the aura of meaningful places. Presence: Teleoperators and Virtual Environments, 6(2), 197-206.
Macovei, S., Tufan, A. A., & Vulpe, B. I. (2014). Theoretical approaches to building a healthy lifestyle through the practice of physical activities. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 117, 86-91.
McNeilly, H., & Reece, K. M. (2020). ‘Everybody’s Always Here with Me!’: Pandemic Proximity and the Lockdown Family. Anthropology in Action, 27(3), 18-21.
ORDINANZA 20 marzo 2020 . (2020, March 20). Gazzetta Ufficiale. https://www.gazzettaufficiale.it/eli/id/2020/03/20/20A01797/sg.
Teychenne, M., Ball, K., & Salmon, J. (2010). Sedentary behavior and depression among adults: a review. International journal of behavioral medicine, 17(4), 246-254.
YouTube. (2020). Why the pandemic is forcing millennials to move back home with their parents. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wr4229biTvU.