The visual arts can be an effective tool to assist the transformation of grief. I invite you to explore four art examples with me to feel through the process. Expressing one’s emotions while enveloping oneself into an artwork can allow the feelings to be felt and then released while making room for more uplifting emotions.
The loss of a child has defined and colored my life. With the initial approach of this devastating possibility, I felt as if I’d stepped into several of Picasso’s Blue Period paintings. My mind wandered from the grief and loneliness of one unspoken canvas to another. Join me if you will.
While we are in quarantine, I’ve provided a virtual tour of these artworks with hyperlinks. The first of the four works is located in the Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois. The Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Canada houses the second. The third example is hung in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, NY, while the last is displayed at the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, Nebraska.
This process will take you through expressing and releasing grief and eventually transitioning to welcoming and revealing joy.
Let’s take a look at one of Pablo Picasso’s Blue Period paintings, Old Guitarist. (See https://www.pablopicasso.org/old-guitarist.jsp) The Spanish artist completed this painting in 1903. First of all let your eyes slowly circulate throughout the painting, noting what draws your eye. Once you feel an acquaintance with the work, mimic the seated posture of the man (or imagine yourself doing so.) Cross you legs, let your head drop. Visualize playing a mournful tune on your guitar. Maybe your singing voice is catching from your grief. The sad, cool blue tones are swirling all around you. Allow the tears to flow. Unbind the sorrow. Ah, upon a second study of the painting, notice the contrast of the warm hued guitar, as if it is your only hope. Ponder the promise of the arts and music to rescue your mood. Breathe slowly and deeply. Inhale and expand hope. Expel despair allowing it to dissipate. Thank Pablo for his message.
Our second artwork is another Blue Period Picasso painting, The Soup. (See https://www.pablopicasso.org/the-soup.jsp ) This work was painted in 1902-1903. Please familiarize yourself with this work as well. Feel into the implied poverty depicted in the work. Perhaps your grief has left you impoverished. Feel the weight of your sorrow. As your heavy tears drop, you see them splat into the hot soup. It is okay. Let your grief go. Rest your eyes on the warm tones of skin on the two figures. Find yourself positively identifying with the spark of youth. As the adult are you giving or receiving the soup? Or, perhaps you play the part of the child. As you smile, wipe your eyes and nourish yourself with the imagery. Again acknowledge Pablo for his help.
French artist, Pierre Bonnard’s Dining Room Overlooking the Garden is our third piece. (See https://www.moma.org/audio/playlist/1/105 ) He painted this in 1930-1931. Investigate this interior scene as you enter into the artwork. This particular painting offers more of a balance of warm and cool colors with the ability to balance your emotions. Welcome and breathe into the peaceful feeling of being invited to a table prepared just for you! Notice plenty of elegantly served food from which to choose. Feel the delight of sampling new delicacies with a friend or two. Sigh into the deep conversation, the familiar chuckles, the warm embrace of an enchanting atmosphere. Occasional glances out the window are as a breath of fresh air. Breathe deeply and thank Pierre for the welcome repose he offers.
Our fourth and final selection is Dale Chihuly’s glass sculpture, Inside and Out. (See https://www.joslyn.org/Post/sections/375/Files/Chihuly%20Teaching%20Poster.pdf ) You may need to scroll down a bit to see it. American artist, Chihuly, installed this sculpture in 2000. This is one of the most uplifting works I’ve been privileged to view. It is an undulating party of color and form!
One year was especially astounding when we brought our fifth graders to the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha. This Chihuly piece is visible inside and outside the museum! As soon as my art students viewed the sculpture from the school bus windows, my ears were greeted by a chorus of ooo’s and ahh’s as if they’d witnessed the most spectacular of fireworks!
Entering the museum, as you climb the stairs to the second level of the atrium, take in the immensity of this roughly thirty foot high piece of over 2,000 individually blown bubbles of glass. Imagine yourself standing inside the building directly in front of this inspirational piece and being given the ability to fly! Swoop and dive with joy through the rainbow of hues enticing your vision. As your eyes dance from one gorgeous color to another, laugh and clap. Let your sight bounce from one sparkling glass texture to another. Notice the different perspectives achieved when viewing the outdoor sculpture garden via looking through a piece of Chihuly’s glass. Contemplate all the energy and hot fire that was needed to create the blown glass in this phenomenally heavy structure. Visualize Inside and Out as alternately firing up, then cooling your emotions, much as the journey of each precious piece of glass. Think of the strength it takes to twist and blow and turn each individual piece to perfection. Imagine this very strength infusing your body and emotions. While reaching, stretching, mimicking the flow of the sculpture, revel in the sense of elation this piece achieves. Give your gratitude to Dale and his factory of helpers for completing your journey beyond grief!
Truly any artworks which speak to you can take you to a place of solitude to express and heal your emotions. I wish the best to you on your journey!