Pain And Creative Expression | A Way To Heal and Create Something GreatWhen your heart is thoroughly gutted with some terrible shock or tragedy, there is a rawness that begs expression of some kind — whether through art, a brutally honest piece of poetry, or a song that spills your raging pain.

Creative expression is a healthy outlet for all sorts of emotions and can lead to some of the best art and works of literature ever written. Ask Van Gogh, Picasso, and Beethoven who pounded the piano with his head next to the wood to feel the vibrations. He created such fantastic and well-beloved music, hearing it only in his head. Ludwig somehow turned his struggle into some epic pieces that satisfy many musicians today.

As a classically trained musician (on piano and clarinet) myself, it always thrilled me to pound out some of his pieces that lent themselves to expressing frustration, anger, sadness, beauty, romance, and so many other feelings. That said, I had no idea that when I suggested this article topic, I’d land right in the middle of the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life. The kind of pain that twists your insides like a knife and makes you feel like you swallowed shattered glass. Confession: My hope is that writing this in honesty will help fuel your creative work as much as mine!

So, what is this mysterious link between pain and creativity?

It’s simple: your heart. Every human has a deep need to express themselves as they are and be heard, felt, acknowledged, and accepted. Pain is universal, and so is creativity.

There is something about seeing someone else’s pain in a painting or hearing it in a song that moves you, touches you in a place where you feel it too. It’s almost like belonging — you feel less alone whether you’re ecstatic or miserable.

creative expression

Pain takes you in one of two directions — far down, or somewhere new

My pain is taking me both ways. Down to depths I hadn’t thought I’d ever feel, and to a place in my life where I must make decisions that I’d never thought would be put in front of me. It is my choice whether I will let it kill me or let it free me and empower me to rise above what I’m facing.

Pain is uncomfortable (to say the least!) and that is the point. It says something. It says that you’re alive. You care about something. You’re human and you have a heart. It says that something must change. The pressure forces new questions, perspectives, directions, and possibilities on your mind, and sure, some of them are downright awful to consider. But, in it, you can still decide who you are and who you will be.

How to turn your pain into something constructive

I don’t have a 5-step solution, a recipe, or a life-changing method here, except to encourage you to start somewhere, no matter how small. When life hurts like hell, you need to do something to care for yourself, to remind yourself that you matter, and somehow reassure yourself of hope and that you will be okay again.

Personally, I do this by listening to music. When words float into my head on sleepless nights, I write them down until I feel a release. I create T-shirt ideas with snarky sayings on them for fun (because sarcasm is also a creative coping mechanism). Other times when I just want a mindless break, I build a puzzle.

creative expression with art

Years ago, I wrote mental health blog posts to pen down how far I’ve come and to encourage others. Writing something that felt true to my experience and my journey was helpful, and the thought of it possibly helping someone brought meaning and purpose to my pain.

How do you express pain through art?

You tell it, show it, color it, express it as it is. No holding back. No matter how brutal it is.

You should bother creating something —no matter how geeky, stupid, funny, silly, useless, profound, sad, or strange it may seem to yourself or anyone else. It’s okay to hurt and it’s okay to figure out what works to help you get through it.

Why you should bother getting creative

  • It’s where you start giving yourself space to be, breathe through the pain, and find some light and humor (where possible).
  • Get some stress relief! Creative pursuits activate different parts of your brain and give your reasoning, obsessing, anxiety-ridden left brain a chance to shut up and focus on something else. (I know I’m not the only one here!)
  • It’s a healthy way to begin the healing process and has far more benefits than self-medicating or more self-destructive behaviors.
  • Externalizing the pain helps you build objectivity and perspective. It helps you decide what meaning you attribute to it and how it fits into your life (even if it never makes any sense).
  • Eventually, you’ll be proud of what you’ve done and how you worked your way out of the situation you thought would utterly crush you forever. Better still, you’ll get to make an impact and inspire others with hope as you press on, even if you don’t immediately want to talk to people about it all.

Other fun reasons: you might develop a new business or gain new opportunities. You never know what good could come out of it. But do it for yourself first and no one else.

Five famous artists with chronic pain (physical and emotional)

Looking for some inspiration? You are not alone.

Edvard Munch is an artist best known for a piece called The Scream, and he never seemed to hold back on exploring intense psychological themes in his work. His art was all about expressing things that happened to him and how he felt. He suffered from severe depression and after getting some help, the rest of his artwork seemed to lighten up and simplify, depicting landscapes. Maybe he did find hope after all.

British artist Tracey Emin is a modern British artist who also takes a fearless approach to turning pain into art. She creates installations that grab the eye, confront the mind and spark debate as they all depict difficult events from her life such as being raped at only 13, and suffering from depression. Whatever people think of it, it’s clearly therapeutic for her.

Lee Krasner, an American Expressionist painter, made multiple abstract paintings after her unfaithful husband died in a car crash. Looking at the pictures provokes a real mess of feelings — pain, jagged and sharp; confusion, smooth and weird; heartbreak in shadows and strange shapes; even sheer frightening exhilaration.

Henri Matisse was a paper mosaic artist who worked from a wheelchair with the help of an assistant. He didn’t let his loss of mobility hold him back from creating ways to experience the beauty around him. Even the layout of his garden was his own design!

One last example — Paul Klee, a German surrealist painter, poet, and philosopher. He suffered from scleroderma, a debilitating disease that affects the skin and organs. Despite this, he was a prolific creator and used sketching and painting as a way to keep going.

Don’t get it twisted

“Great art comes from great pain.” This quote is from Christopher Zara’s book Tortured Artists, a collection of profiles on forty-eight brilliant artists of the millennium including Mozart, Disney, Winehouse, Plath, and Garland, among others. He later clarified this quote, saying, “I never claimed that art cannot be produced without suffering, only that art produced without suffering is not likely to be very good.”

The man has a point, but that doesn’t mean that pain produces genius-level work by default. It also does not mean that you can’t create something fantastic from good situations, memories, and emotions in your life. All of life lends itself to creative expression — and potentially fantastic work — provided you have the courage to be honest and vulnerable about it. It’s the only way to create something real that will help you (and potentially others later on).

creative expression through art

Your pain matters

If you’re going through hell and feel like you’re drowning, know that your pain matters and you’re not alone. You deserve to be supported, to be heard, and to make it through this. You have something special to share with others, regardless of what you feel you may have lost. So, you may as well get creative — for yourself and for others. Don’t give up. Create instead.

Author Bio

Heideli Loubser is a direct-response copywriter and a content marketing strategist helping health professionals and coaches grow their business while they focus on helping their clients get well. She is also a homeschool blogging mom of two kiddos. When she’s not wielding her powerful pen to help businesses and other parents, she enjoys gardening, painting, caffeine, and scrolling on TikTok.

By Published On: June 8, 2021Categories: Writer Development

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