Art Helps Us Deal with Suffering

I was having coffee with a friend the other day, and we were talking about the struggles of the creative life. The topic of art and suffering came up.

Photo of The Scream by Van Gogh
Photo credit: Christopher Macsurak (Creative Commons)

My friend is a photographer, struggling with his own need to make a living, while being true to his calling to create good art. Through the conversation, we both learned that it's tough to be an artist. Tough, but necessary.

A call for generosity

Being an artist means to be generous. It means God has given you a gift you need to share with the world. And the world is a messed-up place. It's hurting and confused.

The world is suffering.

Art helps us make sense of the suffering. Not by spouting off cliches or offering trite platitudes, but by speaking to that inner voice inside each of us that says,

Yes, this sucks, but there is still beauty. There is still hope for redemption.

Sometimes, life doesn't make sense. Sometimes, there is just pain. Without explanation or reason. And that is when art serves us best — when words fail and we are numbed by what we see. When all we can do is cry.

It helps us not escape our pain but transcend it. It doesn't give us a reason for our suffering, but it gives meaning to our lives.

The artist's burden

The curse of the artist is that she must bear the burden of the world's pain.

To paint a picture or write a song that soothes someone's suffering means you have to experience their agony — to have compassion, to suffer with. How else can you speak to what they're feeling?

To be an artist is to suffer. But not without meaning. Not without purpose. To be an artist is also to create something beautiful that can alleviate pain.

This is what great art can do:

  • Sit silently with a friend who is mourning.
  • Speak comfort and consolation without saying a word.
  • Sing a note that shakes a shattered soul.

Great art is transcendent; it goes beyond the moment, not by ignoring but by empathizing. It cannot undo, but it can redeem. It acknowledges the night, while reminding us that joy still comes in the morning.

How does art help you deal with suffering? Share in the comments.