When we experience loss, we seldom know how to cope. We go through denial and absolutely refuse to see the signs of our loss. We bargain in an attempt to make our loss go away. We get angry that we even have to go through loss in our lives. We finally reach despair, which is when we are so overwhelmed by it that we lose our sense of self. Then we can begin to accept it.
As we move through these stages, we all take them differently. But, I’ve seen a need for art enter here. Some people express themselves through song. They write lyrics about what they are thinking. They write music about how they feel. And they share those emotions with others so that we can all relate. Tears fill our eyes while hope fills our hearts.
Artistic expression on canvas works the same way. Actually, it doesn’t always have to be on canvas, that’s why I normally like to call it a surface. When I’m writing, I have a habit of calling it a canvas. But, kids will draw on any piece of paper they can find. That is their surface. And they do find ways of expressing themselves through art when they draw.
When placed in therapy, a child will learn to cope by getting involved in other activities. Playing with toys, they begin to act out what they might have experienced. Therapists have picked up on this phenomenon in order to analyze the child and get to the root of the child’s issues. But, they also know that drawings have a way of expressing what is going on in a child’s mind.
A child might draw a picture of a scene they witnessed. They might keep drawing a picture of the person they have lost. Even at an age when a child doesn’t understand the concept of death, they still experience loss and it comes through in their drawings. A child reaches a certain age when they can actually understand that a person is gone and will never come back. Before that, the child merely understands “out of sight, out of mind.” Their drawings help us understand what is going on in their mind. And great dialogs have begun simply by asking a child, “What are you drawing?”
Even through to adulthood, we use art to cope. But, our thoughts are more complex. To deal with loss, we might make some kind of tribute. We reflect on our loss and discover inside ourselves how to best bring our emotions to the surface. Our left and right brain are in conflict again. We can only say so much. But, our artwork can express our pain more clearly. People look at what we achieve and they immediately understand. Without words. Without logic. Understanding is there.
And as adults, we experience loss in many ways. It’s not just someone we know, someone we love. We experience loss that way too. But, we also experience a loss of our innocence. We see the world for what it is and we wish that we could look back on it the way we thought it was. We understand our world on greater terms now. We’ve realized that it’s not all roses. Our paintings express our thoughts. We still reach out for the beautiful and we try to capture it any time we can. But, there is always something powerful pulling us to resolve these issues we face in a world we don’t quite understand. Art is our outlet. Art is our release.
There is no doubt that art helps us all to cope. We each might find our own way to cope with loss. But, the most constructive is through expression. Art is expression. Its symbols, icons, meanings and language is all its own. Our hearts and minds tap into it while our language can’t even touch it. That’s art at its best. The benefits of art are in all ways. And in all ways, art finds us.