Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Can You See Pain in Works of Art?

Art Muses, a great blog I've recently discovered, has an interesting item about a Forbes magazine article by a pathologist who "believes illness due to various causes can be seen in the art work of such great artist as Michelangelo, Raphael and Vincent Van Gogh."

I left this comment:
Whether one can actually see pain in works of art or not, I do think that the experience of pain often causes people to turn to art and that it may actually enhance the work of artists.

This is true not only of visual artists. I think of how C.S. Lewis, John Lennon, and Paul McCartney, for example, all had to deal with the deaths of their mothers when they were either children or pre-teens. My feeling is that pain such as this makes artistic expression attractive: It gives the artist some sense of control, some dominion of their own creation, in a world that is very much out of our control. They can imagine a different world. Or, in bitterness, they can portray the world they see around them in vivid, imaginative ways.
Does that seem true to you?


Pilgrim said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alexa Brett said...

Hi Mark,

I found your comment very interesting.
I do think that there is a certain need for self-expression that opens up when you have felt intense pain. It makes you more sensitive to the world around you. Somehow, you become more aware and intuned. This may a defense mechanisms for our survival. In any case, it does work wonders for artists to tap into, create and go beyond the ordinary. You are right, it might have a lot to do with controlling at least something in their lives.


Christopher Trottier said...

I think every experience, whether pleasurous or painful, enhances art.

EKENYERENGOZI Michael Chima said...

My genius is a product of such trials.

My genius saved me from suicide.

I turned my pains to my passions.
Like the Passion Flower.

We bleed to succeed.

Charlie said...

I'm not sure about physical illness, but in my own experience grief and emotional pain creates a search for answers and a need to find a way to balance unbalanced equations. You know in Romans 8:26 where Paul talks about "groanings too deep for words..." It seems to me that it is possible to express such things in art (visually), in poetry (through metaphor), in music (through emotion), when they can't be adequately expressed in words written or spoken.

Kay Redfield Jamison has written in Touched With Fire that artistic people are much more prone to psychological disorders than the normal population. If true, are such troubled people driven to art as a way of dealing with their troubles, or (as Jamison believes) does artistic talent sometimes spring from a misfunctioning in the mind?

Sorry if this is off topic, but your question reminded me of it.

Mark Daniels said...

Thank you to everybody for your comments.

This has been an interesting discussion.


P_J said...


Good thoughts. Yes, I agree. A wonderfully gifted and wise seminary professor said that all art is the expression of either the beauty of creation, the corruption of the fall, or the longing for redemption.

Art can certainly come out of joy, but I think there is something especially powerful about art that comes from the pain of brokenness.

Along the same lines, I've always appreciated Henri Nouwen's The Wounded Healer. Pain can be an opportunity to serve others and in so doing, to find healing ourselves. I think in this way art and ministry are related fields.

Mark Daniels said...

Outstanding observations.

I'm reading a Nouwen book right now, in fact.

I love it when you leave your insightful comments here. Thanks very much!