Art helps you contain overwhelming feelings in a small, safe space.

This is the beginning of a series about how art can act as a tool in our healing process. The fact that it’s a tool means the work is up to you. But you can’t take advantage of this powerful tool until you learn more about what it is, and how to use it. (Read the first post in the series here.)

First things first, you don’t need to be an artist in order to experience the benefits of using art in your grief journey. Fine art (what people usually think of when they say, “I’m not an artist!”) is all about the product. Grief art, on the other hand, is all about the processof creating it. It might produce a result that’s less than aesthetically pleasing, but know what? Grief isn’t pretty, either.

Let’s talk about the need for confinement. When grief feels too big and scary, you might find yourself in a fight-or-flight response:

  • Fight: you combat all negative stuff with positive thinking, keep yourself from breaking down in order not to offend anyone, or take out your emotions indirectly through anger.
  • Flight: emotional numbness (either intentional or unintentional), withdrawal from concerned friends and family, or a variety of coping mechanisms to try and escape the pain of feeling.

There is a third option, but it requires a change in mindset. Grief is terribly big, but if we falsely assume we have to deal with it all at one time, or in a matter of six months, we place our emotional health on the losing side.

Grief Inside

In reality, grief can be dealt with bit by bit, and over a long period of time.

There’s this motto that I live by in my adventures with Project Grief:

“Because grief takes us beyond words, we must go beyond words (to art!) in order to heal.”

I don’t have statistics on this, but I believe that the majority of modern-day people have never really dealt with their grief. Often, the prevailing problem of our grief is that it just seems so big. When you look at a problem that big, it’s hard to know how or where to start (we’ll deal with where to start in the next section). When you’re feeling fight-y or flight-y, tackling a problem of that size is the last thing you want to do.

Grief Enveloping Me

This is where art comes in handy. Two dimensional visual art is confined to the four corners of a canvas or piece of paper... or the corners of a stray napkin.

It works within the constraints of two dimensions and the properties of a chosen medium (such as uncontrollable watercolor or the limited greys of a pencil).

It also utilizes symbolism, which compacts a big idea into small chunks of meaning (street signs, letters, and even Catholic iconography utilize symbolism this way).

Art it Out

Art makes a big thing like grief, approachable. It makes a big overwhelming conglomerate of feeling, containable. That’s because it’s so much easier to face the bigness of your grief when you know it’s exact dimensions (8.5x11” blank printer paper, a 12x20” canvas). I’m speaking metaphorically, of course.

Art is a perfect candidate to help us with our grief because it can encapsulate great meaning in a small space.

Grief Contained

A simple prompt to “draw how you feel” might be intimidating at first. But then, pick up a red or black crayon and scribble circles on a page until it’s covered. Didn’t you just express something profound with that small, simple action?

There’s another benefit to be had here as well. The meaning you contained within your canvas is carried on - it speaks for itself. The next time someone asks, “How are you doing?” try showing them a piece of art you create. You might need to explain a bit, but chances are they’ll know exactly what you mean.

Art helps you deal with overwhelming feelings in a small, safe space.

How has art helped you? Please comment below - I’d love to hear!