Art in time of stress
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?
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...
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.
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.
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".
I couldn't think of anything witty to say so I left this blank.
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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.
Technological society has succeeded in multiplying the opportunities for pleasure, but it has great difficulty in generating joy. Pope Paul VI
So, I think the "greats" were true to their visions, once their visions no longer sucked. Ralph Barker 12/2004
Clearly he preferred it that way. Maybe he was right. Why do you have to make sense of it?
Originally Posted by Whiteymorange
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.
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!
"While you're out there smashing the state, don't forget to keep a smile on your lips and a song in your heart!"
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.
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.
Last edited by Salmonoid; 11-06-2006 at 01:31 PM. Click to view previous post history.
Reason: spelling and grammar