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.
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
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
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).