Extracting Beauty from Pain Through Art
The Scream

For many artists, the desire to paint is inevitably born out of an urge to represent the beautiful, to celebrate an event, or emotion in a positive light.

Yet for many others, as diverse as Salvador Dali, Francisco Goya and more recently the Chapman Brothers, the inspiration for art emerges from a far darker place, pain.

The medium of painting provides the ideal conduit upon which artists can express their emotions, both negative and positive, though often, it is the negative that remains imprinted upon our memories, the potent, the aggressive and at times, the painful.
Mental Illness and the Benefits of Art

In the 21st century, art has finally been given official recognition as a successful form of therapy  for treating mental conditions, such as depression and addiction. It is unsurprising that the process of creating art and of using painting to express emotion should provide such therapeutic benefits. The ability to express emotional pain through non-verbal means is an intensely cathartic process and those who progress through a program of art therapy often report feelings of ‘unburdening’ and of satisfaction at having produced something of positivity and permanence from their negative emotions.

Historically, many celebrated artists have also used their art as a way to free themselves of the torture of their mental state. A notable example is of course, Van Gogh, whose distinctive, heavy-handed brush-strokes and wild curling tendrils of paint has been much analyzed over the years; a painter who continued to produce art throughout his life, even during his stay at the hospital in Arles as a mental patient.

Likewise, Edward Munch represented his mental state in a particularly pronounced way on canvas, as can be seen in his work, The Scream. The artist himself comments “I was walking along the road with two friends. The sun was setting. I felt a breath of melancholy -Suddenly the sky turned blood-red. I stopped, and leaned against the railing, deathly tired -looking out across the flaming clouds that hung like blood and a sword over the blue-black fjord and town. My friends walked on – I stood there, trembling with fear. And I sensed a great, infinite scream pass through nature.”

Physical Pain Represented in Art 

Pain represented in art is not limited to the realm of the emotional. Many artists have used their work to convey a sense of their physical condition, and to demonstrate the torture of their pain in a far more effective way than language alone. Gustav Courbet, increasingly aware of his own impending death (a result of liver damage caused by heavy drinking) repeatedly uses the motif of a trout in his work; depicted ‘hooked and bleeding from the gills’ to represent his own physical state.
Likewise, Eduard Manet’s later paintings take on a far darker edge when he became aware of his own incurable condition (in this case, the much feared STD of the time; syphilis) as can be seen in the slightly eerie ‘Bar at the Folies-Bergere’, where a sardonic barmaid, at an infamous haunt of prostitutes stands boldly addressing the customer, and an acrobat’s disconnected legs hang precariously in the upper corner.
Perhaps more obvious was the work of Frida Kahlo, whose pain is evident in much of her work . Badly injured in her youth in a bus crash, physical torment was a daily burden for Kahlo, and she frequently represented this in her art, such as ‘The Broken Column’, where she depicts herself as quite literally gored by a broken column, impaled by numerous nails and quite literally held together by an awkward series of brace supports.
Using Pain as a Motivation for Your Art
As history has quite succinctly shown, mental and physical pain, far from being a hindrance in the artistic process, can be an excellent way of finding inspiration. Of course, in an ideal world, the artist would be free from burden, anguish and pain in his or her life, but in reality, it is likely that, at some point as an artist, you will experience negative emotions.
Instead of ignoring them, view it as an ideal chance to seize the paint brush and create something powerful and emotion-led. After all, it is one of the most wonderful aspects of Art and other forms of creativity, that negativity can be used to create something of great beauty and power.
Guest author: Claire Mills
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Thanks for visiting FineArtTips.com. You can see my art on my website,  LoriMcNee.com, and let’s meet on Facebook  Fine Art Tips Facebook Fan Page, on Twitter, Google Plus and on PinterestBe sure and check out and my fine art prints and notecards on Fine Art America.! ~Lori

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