Thursday, June 17, 2010

Expressing Pain in Art

The human experience, by definition, includes pain. Not a single one of us is immune to it. For this reason, I have deep respect for pain: it seems to be an inescapable part of what shapes us. Pain is part of life. And everything that is part of life, is also an inevitable part of art.

One of the most powerful lures art had over me as a child was it’s brutal honesty! It did not try to conceal or deny pain and suffering. Instead, within photographs and paintings, musical compositions and dances, film and theatre; within the many forms of art through which human being express themselves, I perceived a raw exhibition of pain. And I loved this rebellious freedom to express pain through art! It seemed terribly constructive to me; certainly much healthier than keeping all the pain inside.

There are so many different varieties of pain! What would each one look like as a work of art? For each person pain would look differently, for how each of us experiences and expresses pain is as unique as our own original, artistic creations. To me, each such creation, even when birthed out of pain, is an extremely valuable one. Such art isn’t always visually pretty, but it is real, and I deeply appreciate it’s straightforwardness.

I have had my own share of pain in my life, like every person. Interestingly, emotional pain seems to stir my creative juices unlike any thing else. I might even say that I have been the most artistically productive in my life when I’ve been hurting the most. Pain seems to act like a war cry within me, challenging me to rise to the occasion and make something beautiful out of it. Not necessarily aesthetically beautiful, but beautiful in the sense that in expressing my pain artistically, I seem to engage that pain as a vehicle that eventually transports me beyond it. Pain turned into art then becomes a transformative tool that reconnects me with my own inner peace.

When I pour my pain into my art I am instantly comforted and calmed. Ironically, art that perceivably expresses deep hurt doesn’t have the same effect on the audience experiencing that art. Quite to the contrary! The observer may become uncomfortable. Most of the art I produced as an adolescent had this unpleasant effect on others, for my artwork was an honest reflection of my pain. Nevertheless, I chose to continue to express my pain in this way, as art seemed to help me process and understand my pain.

Through releasing my hurts into artwork, I explored taboo emotions the way astronomers explore the stars, and found the journey a very valuable part of my own self development. I also found that my own artistic displays of pain also proved valuable to others, as it seemed to help them connect with pains of their own, which they had been repressing. Giving voices to our pain is not easy, even when done through a painting or a photograph. Expressing pain through art requires that one become vulnerable and open. It also engages trust and courage.

Today, I honor periods of pain in my life the same way I treated them when I was younger: I give them a voice in my art, in my photographs. Why should I silence my pain and pretend it does not exist? Instead, I echo William Faulkner’s sentiments when he writes: “Given the choice between the experience of pain and nothing, I would choose pain.” At least when we hurt we know we are alive! Or as the poet Lord Byron says: “The great art of life is sensation, to feel that we exist, even in pain.” Since pain is indeed such an unmistakably unavoidable sensation in life, why not extract value from it? As I experience it, pain holds a beautiful value when married to artistic expression. In fact, pain has been the fuel throughout history for many of the world’s greatest works of art! May we turn our pain into artwork, and have them shape us, and others, in ways we never imagined possible.

May we each communicate our own hurts in constructive, inspiring ways.


  1. I've just discovered you. I love your work. I'll follow you eagerly on the net. Thanks. My blog is:

  2. I really admire your images and so glad we have connected.
    "Expressing Pain in Art." You said, emotional pain seems to stir your creative juices. I am the total opposite. It is sooo difficult for me to create when I feel pain. Perhaps I put the brain and heart together making it a no no.. instead of trying to split the thought from the feel, and just going with my heart.
    It's not impossible to create while experiencing emotional pain - You, and many other wonderful artists are proof to that... so, I will have to practise putting my brain at peace. xx