This last week I lost a person that I spent three years with. We did break up and were not the best of friends after, but I always said that over time, we would be able to talk again. He died on April 20th at 9am. I have done a lot of grieving and gone through the being upset and crying and then angry again. I did do the normal talking and journaling and I feel a bit better, but as an artist, I always express myself and work through emotions visually.
Art helps analyze your feelings and helps create a space where you can think about how you would portray the person and how you feel about them passing. Art making is good for any type of therapy, from depression to anxiety, to dealing with a loss of someone you love. Not only does the art process help heal, but the end art piece is something that honors your feelings and further deepens other’s understanding of you.
An important thing to remember, art feels and it breathes. Obviously you will need to make sure you are up to creating art out of a situation or if maybe you need more time before you are ready. However, I find that the most cathartic and beneficial art works I have done I created while I was feeling deeply, even if it was a bit raw.
Oftentimes, we just need to know how to get started. Here are some tips to help you create an art piece that emotionally serves you and represents your situation: (Please make sure to take time between each step depending on how you are feeling)
STEP ONE: Don’t think about the end product yet.
Take your journal and write down all the words you are feeling. They don’t have to be spelled right, full sentences, or even really make sense. Write down everything.
STEP TWO: Brainstorm
Take a break. I usually will come back the next day or at least a few hours later. Read your notes. Write down all the colors, textures, smells, tastes, and sounds you associate with these words. What does your anger look like? What does it smell like? What about your sorrow?
STEP THREE: Pick your medium.
Put them together. What medium do you want to work in (Painting, photography, drawing, performance?) You don’t have to commit to one forever, but pick one to start with. I have started out with photography as my default and then transitioned to a performance piece because it just made more sense. Just pick one for now and experiment. You can decide to try three different mediums and start working. Note: Make sure to think about performance art as well. My performance work has helped me work through many rough patches and has helped me release. Check out my blog post about what performance art is.
STEP FOUR: Experiment & Be Present.
This step can be as long or as short as you need. I sometimes will experiment only with one or two things, and other projects will have me creating multiple times and trying tons of things. Don’t get stuck wanting to finish it. Create and let the process of creating heal you. The end is not the only goal.
Fully feel and immerse yourself in what you are doing.
Did you combine your frustration with the color red? How can you fully embody that? Try dressing yourself in all red, cover yourself in paint, or even splatter paint across a canvas. What other objects are red? Remember the way you do something makes all the difference. Even if the end project does not feature how you painted something, create the art in the way you feel.
For example, Jackson Pollock often creates his paintings by covering his studio floor with canvases. He throws paint and any object he can onto the canvas, and wherever the objects land, that is where they stay. The result is not only a painting with interesting paint splatters and the occasional broken glass or cigarette butt, but an intense and cathartic experience for the artist. Knowing this about this work also put his paintings into a different light, but even if his audience didn’t know, they can look at the painting and get something from it.
STEP FIVE: Stop when it feels finished.
Sometimes you will work on a project for years and some others you will work on only for a couple hours. Neither is better or worse. Create until you are done. Put your whole self in the work and stop when you feel spent. When I say “when it feels finished” I am referring to the experience in making the art piece. You may not be completely over the traumatic experience you went through, but the piece has done it’s part.
Leave it be and let it breathe.
STEP SIX: Come back and reflect.
Put your art away but always make sure to come back. Look at your piece and don’t critique it based on whether you made that brush stroke the absolutely best way you could have. What does the piece say to you? Would you like to share it or keep it to yourself. No answer is right or wrong, because this art is for you. This doesn’t have to be the final piece. You can create more and develop a series, especially for more complex experiences that you are working through.
Sometimes I find that sharing my work can help in the healing process, a sort of sharing without having to explain every detail. Art is a medium that can communicate how we are feeling without having to find the words. While sometimes I may not want to share all the anger and hurt I am feeling, creating can help communicate them. The best feeling is when I present a super personal work and someone with a similar experience sees it, and feels like they have someone else that is going through the same thing.
They don’t feel alone.
We are all united in our ability to feel and capacity to communicate.
Creating can do so much for us. It can help us heal and it can help others as well. However you decide to express yourself, remember that there is no right or wrong way. You don’t have to show the art you make or you can decide to display it on the street or in your next class. Revel in the process as that is where you will grow.
Have you created art in response to something bad that has happened to you in your life? Please feel free to share links or photos in the comments!