Pain cannot be seen on a body scan, it cannot be described or quantified, instead, it is felt. Some emotions are so powerful that people can use its energy to propel themselves into a creative bliss. But what is it about pain that allows us to produce such poignant, thought-provoking art, in every form?
The artistic expression of pain
Trying to describe pain can be incredibly difficult, so in order for people to understand the emotions that are being felt, as well as any physical pain that one might be enduring, it can be easier to express such feelings in a way which doesn’t involve using words.
According to The New York Times, Mark Collen, a 47-year-old insurance salesman, suffers with chronic back pain. So when his regular GP retired, he found it difficult to communicate to the new doctor, exactly how much he was suffering. Instead, he took the decision to produce a piece of artwork, perfectly reflecting how much pain he was in. Since then, he established the Pain Exhibit, along with another chronic pain sufferer. It became a platform for others to both express their pain and subsequently display their artwork to the world.
As much as the expression of pain through various art forms is important for communication, it can also prove to be therapeutic, acting as a release for those suffering with both physical and mental pain.
Is pain the only condition for creativity?
There are many arguments for pain being the only catalyst for creativity, despite highly content artists injecting light, joy and happiness into the world through their work. However, feelings of pain shouldn’t be overlooked, instead, they should be used and expressed through creative means.
Psychotherapist, Mihaela Ican Holtz, believes that there are many artists who continue to live with unhealed trauma, but that some people choose to express it in different ways to others; “some…use their own healing journey to encourage other creatives to take the leap and seek help…there are those who feel their creativity is their healing power. Through the art they create, they can see their painful experiences from a safe place so they can make sense of them and transform them into healing stories.”
Talented actor, Anthony Hopkins, believes that hurtful emotions should be something that we experiment with, because if we don’t, then we’re allowing ourselves to be repressed by negative feelings that we refuse to acknowledge; “the healthy way to live is to make friends with the beast inside oneself, the dark side of one’s nature and have fun with it. What happens if you don’t address the darkness in you? You become repressed, depressed and suicidal.”
Nevertheless, just as we need an outlet for our hurtful emotions, we also need one for our positive emotions. This is something that renowned Irish actor, Colin Farrell, believes, stating in an interview that he is more creative when happy and sober, despite once believing the opposite; “I ascribed to the notion that to express yourself as an artist, you have to live in perpetual pain. And that’s nonsense.”
Joel Kinnaman, a Swedish-American actor who has starred in several blockbusters, including ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ and ‘The Darkest Hour’, believes that the assumption that, “…you have to be in pain to portray pain” is in fact inaccurate. To the contrary, Kinnaman owes his acting success to his own contentment. He has always “set out to be as positive and happy as possible.”
Famous Police singer, Sting, controversially remarked in the documentary ‘All We Are Saying’, that “people who are getting into this archetype of the tortured poet end up really torturing themselves to death.”
Examples of exceptional art in its many forms
There are many artists who have gone through trauma in their lives, however, these people have still managed to become hugely successful.
Frida Kahlo, a talented artist during the early-mid 1900s, painted a series of self-portraits, including the famous piece, ‘The Broken Column’ (1944). This was a depiction of the years of treatment she had to endure as a result of a devastating spinal cord injury she had suffered at the age of 19.
Notably, Vincent van Gogh’s work is thought to be a product of his mental distress, obscurity and the emotions he felt after his infamous ear mutilation. His lack of success during his lifetime has long been considered a contributing factor in his premature death, becoming famous only after his suicide. Today, Van Gogh’s paintings are among the most celebrated in the world, his legacy honoured by the Van Gogh museum, located in Amsterdam. It houses the world’s largest collection of his works.
Celebrities such as Cher and Emmanuel Jal have all experienced trauma in their lives, either due to unforeseen, tragic events or as a result of the environment they grew up in.
Although some may not consider these personalities to be ‘artists’, they are just that. Despite the pain they previously felt, Jal expressed his negative emotions through the music he created, and Cher fought hard to break into the music industry of the 1970s, despite her turbulent past.
Their ‘art’ is reflected through their talents; Jal and Cher have channelled their pain through the art of music, providing us with highly inspirational, thought-provoking songs. Both of these celebrities inject feelings of contentment and acceptance into the world with their talents, determined to overcome adversity.
Art can allow us to articulate many feelings, and not just that of pain. Without some positive emotions being at the heart of some of the most beautiful art forms, we wouldn’t be able to appreciate the beauty that is reflected back at us. In just the same way as pain can be felt through art, so can feelings of positivity.
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