Art in time of stress

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by Whiteymorange, Nov 6, 2006.

  1. Whiteymorange

    Whiteymorange Subscriber

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    This is a rather more emotional thread than I usually contribute, but I'm not in the best place right now and I wonder if my reactions to emotional stress are common. I teach middle school and high school art in a small (400+) independent school. This weekend, one of our students took his own life. Well liked, very bright, very accomplished, he fell into a depression and, despite all the good work of all who loved him, found a way to end his life. Needless to say perhaps, but the school community is reeling.

    I want to make art of this. I want to somehow translate the grief, the anger and the emptiness into some thing, some product - perhaps to encapsulate it, perhaps to exorcise the demons that will eat me up if I don't do something, perhaps just to trigger a response in others that will begin the healing.

    I don't know where to begin. I can take pictures, I can paint, I can throw pots, I can sculpt, I can do so many things, but I can't yet make art of hurt.

    Have any of you "made" your way out of pain?
     
  2. reellis67

    reellis67 Subscriber

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    When I lost a dearly loved one a few years ago, I put together a book of all of the photographs I had taken over the years. It helped me greatly, and it is something that I keep close always. It may not be exactly what you are looking for, but perhaps it will give you something to ponder...

    - Randy
     
  3. Aggie

    Aggie Member

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    Start with a scatter gun documentary in photogtraphs of what is going on at the school now. Show the grief the students have. Show the empty locker after it is cleaned out, show exactly everything you can find. Then show the things the person did while at school. Once you have the photos you can edit it down. It may be just one photo in the end that sums it all up. Maybe a student looking at the kids locker being emptied. Don't think, just do. After you can put sense to it.
     
  4. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

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    I did create a work in response to an emotional trauma once - it was a difficult, but ultimately cathartic process. I had someone in my life who decided they had other places to be and I was not in those places with them, so they left. I did a little photo book of our home, showing the with and without aspects of my life. It was quite helpful in dealing with the loss, as I could externalize it and see the without as being external to me.

    I certainly can understand using art to resolve pain- when I'm feeling really down, I put on Mozart's Requiem, and play it LOUD. There is a tremendous genius in that piece of music. It just washes over me, recognizes that pain, then takes it away. It's a gesture of grand drama, which isn't for everyone, but it always helps.

    I don't know if you're looking for suggestions, but perhaps something to celebrate the life of the student would be good - gather up any photos of him taken for the yearbook or the newspaper, and make something out of it - a collage, an album, whatever. Perhaps an album would be good- one photo per page, with blank space between the photos for students to write down memories of the boy. Then you could give it to the family when it is done.

    If I'm talking out my left ear here, feel free to let me know.
     
  5. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    One could maybe argue that the best art comes from times of emotional stress and turmoil.

    I would encourage anyone to use whatever artistic outlet that they have available to them to express themselves.

    I think art is about creating something that didn't exist before, and in this case it could be a tribute to the person that has "left".


    Michael
     
  6. mark

    mark Member

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    Being a school teacher and being in roughly the same situation a few years ago-Murder, not suicide-there is nothing anyone can suggest to allow you to express it. It is a personal thing. I have yet to be able to generate something from the feelings I had and still have. I would say don't force it. Let it come. Time will take care of it. Spend some time grieving, write, doodle aimlessly just be for a while.
     
  7. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Clearly he preferred it that way. Maybe he was right. Why do you have to make sense of it?

    A few of my friends have attempted suicide. Some succeeded. For a while I had scars on my wrists. Either you know why people try to kill themselves, or you don't.

    Cheers,

    R.
     
  8. thebanana

    thebanana Subscriber

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    A few years ago I was part of a team that did a lot of Critical Incident Stress Debriefing sessions with people who had been through a variety of events like suicide, murder, accidental death from fires and vehicle accidents etc. Everyone has their own way of dealing with the feelings that surface after these events.
    Marilyn Manson was once asked what he would say to the kids who survived the Columbine shootings, and his response what that he wouldn't say anything to them...he'd listen to what they had to say. Wise words. Listen to your students. They might come up with some terrific ideas that could be used to help deal with the stress reactions you are all experiencing. It's just as important to look after yourself, and turning your own grief into art sounds like a very healthy thing to do. It might take weeks or months to sort out how to do it, but it sounds to me like you'll find a way. Good Luck!
     
  9. Whiteymorange

    Whiteymorange Subscriber

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    Many thanks and many good words. Thanks folks.

    And Roger, I'm not trying to make sense of it. I'm trying to survive it and learn.
     
  10. Salmonoid

    Salmonoid Member

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    Whiteymorange,
    My heart goes out to you during this time of grief. Teen suicide is very difficult to cope with. Often everyone involved feels a sense of guilt, along with the grief. Art can be a terrific way to ease the pain, but I would recommend that you participate in the funeral/memorial services provided, and if you feel comfortable contribute in some way.

    Suicide is an act of hopelessness. You as an educator are a hope provider, use your gift to encourage and give hope to those you teach. Of course you can do this through your art.
     
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  11. RAP

    RAP Member

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    Everbody looses family, parents, friends, associates to death, by natural causes mostly, others by accident. But I would think those who loose someone close by suicide are by far in the minority.

    How to approach this I could not offer a suggestion. My understanding is that suicide is the the most extreme form of mental illness there is. Maybe by not offering a suggestion, might lead you to find one yourself.

    My deepest condolences.
     
  12. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Sorry. I should have been more sensitive. But I have been at least part way on the other side of the fence, and have seen friends cross the fence. Should I say that they have crossed it successfully? 'Success' is not the word that would come to most people in this context.

    I'm disputing what anyone can learn without going at least part way there, and (without wishing to be unduly cruel) I'm also suggesting that if attempted suicides can survive and prosper, for a given value of prosper, then for bystanders to survive is perhaps something that will happen anyway.

    Unless you already know why he did it, my fear and belief is that you cannot know why he did it, and that by analyzing it too much you may make things worse for you, not better. You may even find out why... People talk of low self-esteem. There's also the mind-set which says, "If I do not want to live, and my opinion of others is lower than my opinion of myself, then why bother?"

    Cheers,

    R.
     
  13. Mark_S

    Mark_S Member

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    I know how difficult it is to lose someone to suicide, I have been there, and never want to return - hugs to you - time will help.

    On to your question....

    I suffered a heart attack 5 years ago (at age 44). It came as a huge wakeup call to me, as well as my family. My wife is an artist, and she did make a piece of art out of it. She used a combination of found objects, photography, and ceramics to make a piece that captured a lot of the uncertainty that we were facing. She did not make the piece in the immediate aftermath, but several months later - after she had time to incorporate the changes that this meant for us into herself.

    Perhaps the best thing to do now is to just remember your student, and prepare your artistic tribute to him when you are able to separate him from the grief that you are feeling now - in my mind, the tribute should celebrate his life, not dwell on the grief that all are marinating in now.
     
  14. SuzanneR

    SuzanneR Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Whitey... my condolences.

    This is difficult, I'm sure, and following your instinct to make art, and perhaps find a way to make art with some of your students may prove powerfully creative and cathartic.

    When we first met, there was a student painting a self-portrait in the studio, and he was looking at the painting, and his own reflection, and I recall you urging him to get some paint on the brush, put some paint on the canvas and go with it, don't think too much. So my only humble bit of advice is your advice to that student.

    My thoughts and prayers to you and all the students and faculty there.
     
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  15. Salmonoid

    Salmonoid Member

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    I should also say that you need to be on the look out for any other students expressing suicidal ideations and get them proper pastoral or medical help. In school environments often there will be those who see the attention given to victum of suicide and want to copy cat.
     
  16. terri

    terri Subscriber

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    How very sad to hear. I agree with not trying to force anything while it's still so close, unless something comes, unbidden, to you. Then go with it.

    I do hope some kind of art will come from it, not only as a respectful way to honor this young man's life, but to give all of you who cared something positive to hold onto. Please accept my condolences.
     
  17. copake_ham

    copake_ham Inactive

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    You have assigned yourself a very tough task. But you also sound as if you're up to it.

    I cannot add much more to what Aggie suggested. For now, just start shooting - the events are still unfolding.

    At a point it time that you will recognize - it will come time to gather everything together and begin to make some "sense" of it.
     
  18. bjorke

    bjorke Member

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    Well said. And you should do so.

    If you haven't seen it, I was recently reminded of Pedro Meyer's 'I Photograph to Remember' which you can find on ZoneZero.Com. A great piece and in it he says that sometimes he photographs without even knowing what to feel, the photographs give him time to reflect, later on.

    I often find myself in a similar boat -- making the photograph can trap, contain the difficult moments as well as the happy ones.
     
  19. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    Whitey:

    My condolences to you, and in particular to those (who may very well include you) who are closest to the student.

    In a strange way, suicide is a way of trying to communicate.

    My suggestion - respond with communication of your own.

    That may include creating art - if your instincts say so - follow them.

    If your instincts say to communicate your pain to other students, in the hope of dissuading them from following in the deceased student's path, follow them.

    If your instincts say comfort the survivors, follow your instincts there.

    If your instincts say all three - see if you can follow all three.

    If your instincts are supportive and healing, trust them.

    And remember, if you feel singled out, that teenage suicide is one of the most prevalent causes of teenage death in North America, and everything you can do to prevent even one other young person from choosing that route is a great contribution.

    One further suggestion - ask if any other students are feeling depressed by the death of their fellow student, and show them how they can use photography (or pottery, or poetry, or a thousand other means of expression) to celebrate the life of their fellow student, and express regret at his/her passing.

    Thank you for caring.

    Matt
     
  20. athanasius80

    athanasius80 Member

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    Whitey:
    I'm going through a bit of drama with my dear father in Critical Care right now, so I can sorta understand the pain, sadness, frustration, and impotence of a situation like yours.

    I've seriously contemplated suicide and did a halfhearted attempt when I was 14. Frankly, the situation sucks no matter what we try to make of it. I would say definately listen to your students, they might suggest things you'd never even think of. Do what your instinct and your heart tells you. But do something, definately. You care, and thats what matters.
     
  21. George Papantoniou

    George Papantoniou Member

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    I'm the type of guy that believes that understanding something makes us feel better about it. So, I would organise a group of students that would undertake the task of creating a video documentary about the life of the departed student (with interviews of his fellow students and his teachers) and another that would make a research about depression (reading books and consulting experts on the field). Those works would remain in the school library, in memory of the student that took his life. Maybe this would help other students with similar problems understand depression and avoid getting in the same situation.

    You could also organise a group that would create a sculpture or painting in memory of the student, to place in a specific spot in or about the school.
     
  22. firecracker

    firecracker Member

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    Mural painting would be an idea if there's a feeling of a need from the entire community. Let the kids figure out what to draw and paint on the wall. Through the process, by discussing the topic, you could teach them a lot of things, and the finished art would be a good tribute.

    I think the point is to have as many people involved in the making of art.