Finding Art in the Dark

Finding Art in the Dark // Art Therapy

Artists are often characterized as moody, dark, misunderstood. We are a suffering sort, regardless of the form our art takes whether it be digital, acrylic, collage, words, wood, and so on. Our ability to create something phenomenal comes from the way we view and respond to the world. Sometimes this interpretation may even involve a tango or two (or more) with a mental health struggle. For some of us, it may involve a lifelong diagnosis.

A friend of mine posted a link recently to an article about highly sensitive people. I found myself nodding in response to most of the traits listed. It hit home. Highly sensitive people notice details in everything: noise, texture, scent, emotion, and are easily over-stimulated. This can lead to labels like “shy” or “snobby” or “anti-social,” when all we are doing is protecting our very sensitive souls.

This got me thinking about mothers and fathers who struggle with a mental health diagnosis after the birth of a new child. There is a heightened sense of awareness which comes with this experience. I know that I tried to overcompensate for the lack of emotion I felt (and failed miserably in the process). Fake it till you make it, right?

Art is the interpretation of the world around us, putting it to paper or whatever your chosen form, to present to the world for their interpretation, right?

Isn’t parenting the same thing? It’s your interpretation of the world around you, presented to a tiny human, in the hopes they will grow up and interpret the lessons (art) you’ve created for them over the years properly. Parenting is a museum bigger than the Smithsonian with an even more complicated floor plan replete with trapdoors, false walls, and trick couches ready to fling you under the bus at any moment.

Original Sketch

Original Sketch

It’s okay to fall through the trap door.

The key to finding your way out is to find the silver lining once you fall through that trap door and turn it into art, whatever that means to you. For some of us, that might mean cooking. Or it might mean knitting. Or painting. Or writing.

There’s a reason art therapy is a popular form of therapy. It’s a way to release emotion and express ourselves in a healthy way which re-frames the pain we may feel through the creation of something beautiful. I attribute my creativity to all the pain I have experienced throughout my life. Now not all of my creations are inspired by pain; some of them are inspired by love. But they are all inspired by intense emotion.

Finding Art in the Dark // Art Therapy

“Perhaps it’s good for one to suffer. Can an artist do anything if he’s happy? Would he ever want to do anything? What is art, after all, but a protest against the horrible inclemency of life?” -Aldous Huxley

Oddly enough, when I am in the throes of deep emotion, I find myself unable to create. It is only when I am coming out of it, much like the sunshine after a storm shining on a newly soaked field of flowers, I am able to create and it typically happens in a rush. For me, the ability to create again is a sign of wellness. My art is not a form of protest, exactly, but rather, a celebration of the richness which exists just below the surface of the world in which we live.

I remember seeing a quote once (and I am not sure where I saw it) which said that without “art” the Earth would just be “Eh.” So very true. Art fuels everything around us, even down to the labels on products we buy at the store. Yes, there are other forces at work, but when you peel all the other forces away, it is art. Without it, we would live in a very “eh” world.

My primary form of creating is words. I also love graphic art and find it very soothing. Painting is another form I will often use to let things go. Lately, I’ve been sketching with pencil on printer paper. Pretty darn basic but it’s been quite wonderful to watch things take shape, particularly as I challenge myself to do more and more difficult sketches.

What about you? Do you create art to process your emotions? What form does it take for you? Anything you have created that you’re particularly proud of? Share with us!

About Lauren Hale

Lauren Hale tells it like it is about Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders over at My Postpartum Voice. She is also the founder of #PPDChat, an online Twitter & FB Community dedicated to supporting moms on their journey by harnessing the power of the Internet. You can find her on Twitter @unxpctdblessing.

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  1. “when I’m in the throes of deep emotion, I find myself unable to create…”
    Could not agree with this more. The last two months have been very emotional for me. I’ve neglected blog posts that should have been written and I have neglected my own personal writing. I just couldn’t handle the anxiety. I feel like I’ve come through most of it because I feel my creative energies are slowing coming back.

    Thanks so much for your words and for all you do.

    • (hugs) I hear you. I stopped writing after my divorce and kind of crawled into my own little dark cubby. It wasn’t that I didn’t have things to write about – it was that I didn’t feel I could write. I would sit in front of the computer waiting for the words to come but they didn’t. I’m glad your creative energies are slowly coming back. Foster them and be gentle with them.


  2. Writing has been a fabulous outlet for me, it helps me to understand my thoughts and feelings more, and ultimately distance myself from them a little.

  3. This is beautiful, Lauren. I’m reading about trauma and healing from trauma right now, and I know that I suggested this topic in a very general sense, but here’s the amazing synchronicity: I’m reading that it is only by moving *through* the trauma that we heal. If we stay within the throws of emotion, spinning around in that tornado, we stay traumatized. So, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I do to propel myself what I feel stuck. I write. I work on friendships. I do some really basic mindfulness exercises I learned when I first started intensive therapy: do a simple task like making tea or coffee and focus on each sensory detail. If my mind is stuck, I often find that my hands, my nose, my eyes offer a way out.

  4. I too only feel creative when I begin to see the light. The darkness provides the inspiration, and the light brings it to fruition.

  5. I’m a Fine Artist, Painter and Printmaker with a degree from The Art Institute of Boston. I started doing art at a young age to help with my childhood traumas. I was also naturally good at it and it was nice to get attention for something positive. My artistic skills carried me through MANY tough years.
    I now have 2 boys, 3.8 years and 17 months, and I haven’t done MY art in so long. I’m home with the boys so there is no escaping to get to my “studio”.
    I’ve been diagnosed with major depressive disorder, anxiety, PTSD, and BPD. I take my meds, attend groups, and outpatient therapy (DBT). But I can’t get to my art. it feels miles away. Yet, deep inside I know that it is the most effective treatment for me.
    Depression robs us of so much. It has forced me to give up what I love, and what I need. I just keep reminding myself that like me my art is growing with me, it’s not being neglected. I am still am artist. It will be quite interesting to see what I bring back to my art from this journey of motherhood and mental illness. For now, Ill be here cooped up and hiding from the cold NE weather providing my future self with lots of inspiration.