Catharsis

by krstaten

artfrompain

There’s this persistent idea that any time you feel pain–depression, loss, fear, anything–you should immediately turn it into art. Many people seem to think that this is how you recover, and for many people, that certainly is part of it. I think the prevalent thought is that making art is (1) a thing that comes easily and naturally from pain for those who enjoy creating art, and (2) a thing which provides immediate catharsis or healing from pain, even if only temporarily.

Maybe this is true for some people. In my experience, though, it almost never is.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that art never comes from pain. But this simplified, watered down idea of what it means to make art from pain feels almost belittling to artists who are experiencing trauma or harship. It’s like the world is screaming at us that our pain should be easily set aside, that we are obligated to make it beautiful, that our pain even CAN be beautiful even while we are buried in it.

Some people can use art in the moment to help work what they’re feeling. For others, like myself, it’s not that simple. Art cannot become a product of pain until there is some removal from that pain. And even then, it’s not relief or catharsis or healing. It’s like reopening the wound. It’s like the pain was having someone cut you open and put a bag of poison inside you–if you don’t take it out, it’s going to fester, it’s going to spread, it’s going to kill you–and now, no matter how much it hurts, you have to cut yourself open all over again, you have to dig around in your insides and find the thing that’s hurting, you have to pull it out piece by painful piece, and you have to let yourself bleed the remaining poison out. Sure, in the end, it’s good for you, but it’s not a pleasant process and it usually means revisiting the pain more intimately than you ever wanted to.

And then, yes, it does help. It gets something out of you that was poisoning you. It might help you understand the thing that was poisoning you. But it’s like you have to heal all over again. You needed to make the art to heal from the wound, but now you’ve got to heal from the wound caused by making the art, too. It’s never as simple as it sounds.

And sometimes you’re too close to the pain to make it beautiful. Sometimes the idea that your pain is or should be beautiful is just offensive, because in that moment all it can be is pain. Overwhelming, blinding, debilitating pain, that makes lifting a pen or a brush or your own damn feet feel impossible.

This has been on my mind a lot lately, due to personal issues. And sure, I’ve written some of my feelings into poetry, but it didn’t heal me, and it wasn’t always beautiful or even particularly useful. As a writer, I have always found this stereotype that pain is a source of art to be overwhelming and cause nothing but pressure.I guess my point is simply that it’s not always as easy as the world makes it sound.

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