WE’RE living in a lost year – 2020 is the year of no culture, no art, no sport. Trade, politics, diplomacy, the courts, are all at a standstill. There’s no more parties. No more gigs. No new books on shelves. No new films made. No holidays. No house moving. No jokes in the pub. No dinner dates. No gym. No shopping trips. No religious services. No theatre. No weddings, no christenings … just funerals. Nothing will be built except for hospitals, and morgues.

When we leave our homes, increasingly we see shoppers wearing masks and gloves – and there’s six foot of empty space separating us from the rest of the world; or we exercise alone, padding around parks that were once full of children, dogs and their owners, young couples kissing, old couples holding hands. When we speak to loved ones, who live perhaps no further away than the next town, we’re separated by a screen. Friendship means FaceTime. Distance is now built into love. Most of us are working from home – the quiet still of the house, replacing the bustling clatter of the office.

The abiding image of 2020, how history will remember this year - will be a lone face at a window staring out onto an empty street. Think of an Edward Hopper painting, an isolated figure in an empty world.

Coronavirus has turned this into a year of loss – and not just the terrible physical loss that’s death, or the sense of loss that accompanies loneliness. We’re losing much of what it means to be alive, to be part of the world; we’re seeing the loss of much that keeps us sane; the loss of almost everything that adds colour and variety, nuance and texture – and most importantly, meaning – to our lives.

The hand of Coronavirus has come down like a barrier between humanity and what it means to be human. We’re horrifically, obsessively, aware of the cold, brutal reality of mass death and the consequences for humanity. We know of the terrible toll the destruction of the economy will leave in its wake. We fear the psychological cost of being separated from those we love.

But we’ve not thought deeply enough yet of the price we’ll pay for the loss – the diminution – of culture. The economy means jobs and money, and without jobs and money we don’t eat, our bodies perish. Without culture, though, and without sport too – without these necessary layers of life – our souls will starve, just as surely as a human’s soul will starve if they cannot kiss their children, touch their lover, hug their parents.

Culture, art, theatre, literature, cinema, music, keeps an interior light burning inside every human for when times are dark. So does sport – it lifts the human spirit, unites us.

I started to feel this great ‘taking away’ – this reduction of my cultural life – last week well before lockdown began. And it came in a seemingly unimportant way. The experience was like hearing a distant rumble of thunder and realising a raging storm was approaching.

On Monday nights, I get my weekly fix of American political satire when I tune into Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, and then Bill Maher’s Real Time show. These programmes are the beating heart of liberal America. Both play before live audiences – but not last week. The hosts told their jokes to empty, silent studios. Vibrant, energy-packed stand-up felt hollow, deadened, humourless. And then both shows announced they were going off air.

Little spots of light in our culture keep going dark. British TV dramas stopped filming. Release dates for movies were delayed, even the latest James Bond, titled – with awful serendipity – No Time To Die. Bond may seem inconsequential – and, indeed, in the great scheme of things a spy film is utterly meaningless – but the mothballing of one of the biggest global entertainment franchises shows just how much Coronavirus has silenced culture.

Some will rightly say: there’s plenty of existing culture to keep us occupied – lots of books and films and music. That’s true, but it’s not the point. That’s not what culture is for. Culture isn’t there just to keep you distracted. Culture is also meant to reflect the world we’re living in, to express the human spirit right here and right now. When culture stops, that can’t happen. And eventually, even Netflix will run out of stockpiled programmes. Culture – in the shape of books, films and songs – is finite. It needs replenished.

It many ways it’ll be much easier to deal with the temporary withdrawal of politics from daily life – as parliaments start shutting down for the duration – than the loss of a vibrant cultural life. For a long time, I’ve found more truth in culture – more honesty in a book or a documentary or a play – than I have in any political party.

Writers, musicians and film-makers speak more sincerely to me about the world than any politician. Now those artists are silent, or at least, their latest work is, for the time being, unavailable to help me, and you, navigate our lives.

So we aren’t just living at a time when culturally our pleasures, our distractions, have been put on hold, we’re living at a time when culture is most needed yet most absent. This is the year that culturally we stopped, when art, in all its forms, went into suspended animation. No war has ever caused culture to completely cancel. People kept dancing during the Blitz. This cultural silence is new to planet Earth. It’s coronavirus’ hateful gift.

Of course, we’ll spring back. There’s one facet of human life that hasn’t come to a standstill: science, and it’s racing forward to save us all.

Nor should we forget, that while catastrophes may chloroform culture for a while, culture can never be entirely smothered. And once catastrophes end, culture blooms like a parched garden after rain. The aftermath of the First World War and the Spanish Flu saw modernism flourish, jazz take over the world, the triumph of cinema. After 1945, there was Rock and Roll, and Angry Young Men. The Renaissance was born from the Black Death.

In this time of cultural silence, we need to remember the one thing culture has always said loudly: the human spirit is indomitable. The show must go on.

Neil Mackay is Scotland’s Columnist of the Year