The Relationship between Art and Pain

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ryohei hase
Painting by Ryohei Hase

“You desire to know the art of living, my friend? It is contained in one phrase: make use of suffering.” ~ Henri-Frederic Amiel

Art is an effective means of communicating the experience of pain than words ever could. The painful experience goes beyond the actual occurrence of physical pain and surrounds the entirety of one’s life. The best of the art comes out of pain, in one form or another. Pain is universal, which is the reason why art breaks down barriers and brings people together.

No one would ever want to suffer from chronic pain, but the experience of pain can have a profound impact on one’s life in positive ways too. As they say: “Anything that does not kill you makes you stronger“. It’s not really unusual for people suffering from chronic pain to develop greater inner strength, and to become more introspective which leads to better self-understanding. Chronic pain may change the course of one’s life and result in a more satisfying achievement. Sometimes, it happens that people who are suffering from pain begin the pursuit of a spiritual path which leads to the enhancement of life in better ways.

Let’s take an appropriate example of the relationship between art and pain, through the story of Rosemary Poole-Carter and her daughter:

When my younger daughter started taking drawing classes at college this fall, the instructor, who is also a brilliant painter, told the students that he believes artists should be discouraged at all costs. Despite his views, he began refining her raw talent after noticing her passion for art, before discouragement came in an almost fatal form.”

Few weeks ago, my daughter was riding on the back of a friend’s motorcycle through a countryside highway. Suddenly, a car struck them both. The powerful collision sent them in different directions. Both survived, each with a broken leg. My daughter, a right-handed artist, came out with a broken right-arm and dislocated shoulder. Months of physical and psychological therapy lie ahead. Breaking a sweat while swirling with a brush at the easel is a distant goal…

During the last few weeks that I’ve spent with my daughter in the hospital, my motherly self wished to draw her pain away into my own body, to spare her all the suffering. But my writer/artist self watched in awe as she moved beyond the agony of her injuries into the early stages of recovery. I know that the terror of the accident will outlast the cuts and bruises and the broken bones, and I can’t spare her the awful memories and nightmares. However, I can assure her that her feelings belong to her — they are her material, as real as pencil, paper, paintbrush and canvass. Through the nights she and I have talked of that terror, I’ve glimpsed what she may do with it, make from it. Despite the aching and discouragement, she is still compelled by art.

Some people say things happen for a reason. Maybe things happen, and we find a reason, create a pattern from chaos. We all know about John Milton, one of the greatest poets of his age. In spite of being blind, he composed some marvellous poems, which became classics of English poetry. He did not let his pain come into the path of his poetic art, devotion and spirituality. Poets and songwriters usually create their work as a result of experiencing pain. They relish their pain. So for us to ask for more work, poems and songs, we are asking the poets and songwriters to experience more pain. While most of us would not actually want someone to experience pain, we eagerly anticipate more art, because it speaks to the pain in our own lives.

Art that is created out of pain resonates, not only because we relate to pain, but because we have an insatiable desire to be relieved from that very pain. In order to experience healing, deliverance, restoration, and mending, we must first acknowledge and confront our pain. Great art speaks not just to the pain experienced, but also looks toward the day where we are able to move forward.

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