What do Goya, Picasso, and I have in common? We've learned how to use art as an outlet for anger (or any other strong emotion). You, too, can experience the benefits of art therapy (and you don't have to be 'artistic' or hire a therapist. #arttherapy #art #emotions #anger

What do Goya, Picasso, and I have in common? We’ve learned how to use art as an outlet for anger (or any other strong emotion). You, too, can experience the benefits of art therapy (and you don’t have to be ‘artistic’ or hire a therapist.

What do Goya, Picasso, and I have in common? We've learned how to use art as an outlet for anger (or any other strong emotion). You, too, can experience the benefits of art therapy (and you don't have to be 'artistic' or hire a therapist. #arttherapy #art #emotions #anger

Memory Lane

I stood in El Prado, Spain’s premier art museum, and gazed at giant canvasses with buoyant, bright colors depicting bucolic scenes. The vibrant paintings seemed to dance and leap on their own accord. I had found my favorite artist.

Other paintings by the famous Francisco de Goya, official court painter for King Charles IV of Spain, depict members of the royal family and other nobles. His use of color and light made me instantly fall in love with his paintings.

And then I stepped into the next Goya room in the museum. And immediately stepped back out again and checked both the wall plaque and my map of the museum.  Surely, these horrific paintings didn’t belong to Goya! Dark colors, witches, and monsters, filled the walls. How could one painter produce such light and dark, I wondered.

“He must have been depressed when he painted these,” I told my friends, and we all chuckled and wandered off in search of Pablo Picasso’s Guernica. According to my friends, one must never leave Spain without viewing Guernica. I hurried on with little thought to the disparity between Goya’s beautiful works of art and the room full of sinister, moody paintings.

At 18, lists of must-sees guided my walks through famous museums. Guernica disappointed me as well. “I could probably paint something like that,” I boasted to my friends. After all, the canvass looked like a mess of black, white, and blue with truncated figures that looked almost cartoonish.

I gave little thought to the person behind the art and what may have guided the brushstrokes on the giant canvass.

More than three decades have passed, and what I saw that day in the Prado finally makes sense.

Showing Up With Curiosity and Kindness

What do Goya, Picasso, and I have in common? We've learned how to use art as an outlet for anger (or any other strong emotion). You, can experience the benefits of art therapy if you show up with curiosity and kindness. #arttherapy #art #emotions #anger

Art expresses our emotions about life and our reaction to both life and those emotions. Some people have the gift of interpreting emotions into recognizable shapes and forms. Others form pictures with music or words. We all have an artist inside us, waiting to help us make sense of what we see and feel.

Layers of emotions fill our lives—both bright and dark—just like paintings have layers of paint, texture, and meaning.

According to Dr. Susan David, in her book Emotional Agility, if we bottle (suppress) or brood (ruminate), we will end up magnifying our emotions to the point that they can hook us into unwanted behavior patterns. Therefore, we would do well to learn how to use art as an outlet for anger (and other emotions).

Emotions exist. We don’t need to label them as ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ How we go about dealing with our emotions makes all the difference in our lives. We need to learn how to express emotions in ways that won’t hurt us, or other people. According to Dr. David, we have to show up for them.

“’Showing up’ means facing into your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors willingly, with curiosity and kindness.”

Dr. Susan David

All too often in my life I have taken one look at my thoughts and emotions and hurried out of the room with a flip remark.

If I Could Go Back the El Prado

Thinking back on my experience in the Prado, I realize I missed an opportunity for learning when I dismissed Goya’s dark paintings as arising from possible depression. I have more curiosity and kindness now, and I spent several hours reading up on Goya and his life.

Goya didn’t leave journals explaining the meaning and inspiration for everything he painted. Historians speculate that perhaps the dark periods coincide with his health problems. Others think that the dark, angry strokes display his joy at achieving artistic freedom. Painting on demand for a monarch can really cramp an artist’s style.

Whatever the reason, the darker works display strong, authentic emotions. Which brings me back to Picasso’s masterpiece, Guernica.

I recently finished Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939 by Adam Hochschild. Guernica now makes sense to me. When I saw the painting, I had no idea it depicted Hitler’s workshop for devastation and denial.

When I look at photos of Guernica now, I see it as a prophecy of the Holocaust.

I also know now that artists have discovered a unique way to give an outlet to their emotions—something that each of us can do without laying claim to the title of artist.

We can all use art to help us process our emotions–even if we don't think we're artistic. #art #arttherapy #anger Click To Tweet

How to use Art as an Outlet for Anger (or any Emotion)

For over 40 years, I have used word pictures in notebooks to work through my angst. Reading back through my words now usually makes me want to pat my younger self on the back and offer a few words of comfort.

All of my problems, turmoil, relationship dramas, sadness, and anger gets resolved. Not always the way I want at the time, but often writing about a situation helped me find the right response to it.

Art can work the same way. According to Kendra Cherry,

“Art therapy is a therapeutic technique rooted in the idea that creative expression can foster healing and mental well-being. Art, either the process of creating it or viewing others artworks, is used to help people explore their emotions, develop self-awareness, cope with stress, boost self-esteem, and work on social skills.”

A Very Well Mind

You can find a trained art therapist, or visit Shelley Klammer’s website and find a roundup of 100 art therapy ideas. You don’t need to paint well or draw more than stick figures to benefit from Klammer’s roundup of ideas. All you have to do is show up with curiosity and kindness

Curiosity asks questions and doesn’t rely on snap-judgements to analyze art (or emotions). Kindness demonstrates acceptance through words, expressions, and body language.

Life has taught me the importance of treating both myself and others with these two commodities. If I ever make it back to Spain, I want a do-over at the Prado. Until then, I’ll remember to offer curiosity and kindness to myself and others (even those who annoy me).

Inspire Me Monday

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  1. My bachelors is in Fine Art, Anita, but I’ve never considered that art could be a way to express my emotions, let alone my anger! I know, kind of late in the game to make that realization! Lol! I just have always leaned toward writing and have used that instead for my anger outlet. But I love this idea, especially for those who are artistically inclined. Thanks and it’s good to be back to the old blogging circuit!

  2. Great post Anita! Art journaling is what I name it, journaling in a creative format = Art Therapy. 😀 I found Art therapy especially beneficial with my Adolescent male clients who found writing their emotions down impossible & with those patients who had suffered a brain injury. But I enjoy creative journaling myself & being artistic in any medium for me is very therapeutic.
    Bless you,
    Tea With Jennifer recently posted…The Nature of things…My Profile

  3. Anita,
    Fascinating! I know that I handle emotions better if I can give “voice” to them. I know that crying can truly be cathartic…it’s a release of powerful emotions. I have to believe that drawing out our feelings, especially anger, would be helpful because it gets released on paper rather than on another person. I’ve also learned to express feelings through music and dance. The arts, in general, are an avenue for releasing pent up feelings and emotions. Thanks for sharing!
    Bev xx
    Bev @ Walking Well With God recently posted…Join Me at (In)courage – Plus Giveaway!My Profile

  4. I’d need some of those 100 ideas since I’m more of a stick figure girl too. 🙂 Offering curiosity and kindness to ourselves, and not just others, is so important to our self-care. Thanks, Anita. I need reminders to take time for art, poetry, etc. I can rush by those too quickly.

  5. I am not familiar with Goya but I recently read and wrote about Van Gogh. I see art helping people all the time. Buy yourself a Christian coloring book, it is a great way to relax and benefit from the word at the same time. I once heard a minister say that if ugly is all you saw that is what you would become, and true enough, environment and the traumas of live invite the ugliness of anger, fear and depression and even violence. I vote for art.

  6. Curiosity and kindness! I like the idea that those two things will help us when dealing with emotions. I also am reminded of how important it is to recognize and name my emotions. I journal so my emotions come out through my words, but I can see how art can also be an outlet for our emotions.
    Mary Geisen recently posted…Tender AffectionMy Profile

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Anita Ojeda

Anita Ojeda juggles writing with teaching high school English and history. When she's not lurking in odd places looking for rare birds, you can find her camping with her kids, adventuring with her husband or mountain biking with her students.

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