Grief and bereavement impact nearly every individual at some point in their lives; this experience can often be recurring, leaving the grief-stricken at high risk of adverse psychological consequences (Weiskittle & Gramling, 2018; Nelson et al., 2022). While traditional and vocal therapy can be effective, it is not the only treatment to address grief; not all people, especially children and teenagers, can express their sorrow through language. Employing an expressive art practice has many advantages, including how information is given and received. It is an opportunity to rely on something other than words (Haen & Boyd Webb, 2018). Creative expression can be a powerful tool in developing skills to manage the trauma and vulnerable emotions of grief and bereavement by providing a safe nonverbal place to assist in expressing emotions, building resilience to ease the duration of pain felt by grief and comprehending the experience of the occurred loss.
The implementation of art therapy through creative expression allows people suffering from the trauma of grief to communicate their emotions without verbalising their pain through traditional therapy. Children and teens are often described as disadvantaged mourners; they tend to take things literally, which means traumatic grief and the death of a loved one can interfere with normal development (Torbic, 2011). Although language develops rapidly in young children, nonverbal communication remains their primary way to communicate, such as drawing and play (Christ, 2010). Children, especially teenagers, also act out when suffering from grief because they do not always know how to communicate what they need or feel on the inside (Torbic, 2011). According to Zambelli & DeRosa (1992), art therapists asked children to draw their response to the death of their mothers after shutting down when they were asked direct questions about how they were feeling. The results of all the artworks varied; however, the common theme was that all the children could better articulate their feelings through imagery. They also understood by looking at each other’s artworks that they were not alone in their sadness. Not being able to articulate emotions is not exclusive to children as, according to dE Willoughby (2017), where many clients suffering from grief often claim that finding words to express their loss is hard except to say it hurts or that they feel overwhelmed by the constant pain. dE Willoughby (2017) also points out that the evidence of tears that never end from someone grieving is the body expressing this pain, which is challenging to communicate with words. “Art therapy is for when you cannot grasp the words to explain outwardly the feelings you have, the art speaks for you.” (HW’s AT Participant as cited in Nelson, K et al., 2020, p 7). The creative process can mentally transport the bereaved into a mindful flow where they lose track of time and grief, alleviating sorrow (Arnold, 2023). Being able to communicate through art indicates that expressing emotions and grief this way is more comfortable for the bereaved to communicate than through traditional therapies.
Using creative expression as a therapeutic tool has proven to help individuals process their grief in a healthy manner and build resilience which Firestone, S. P (2013) defines as being able to recover by creating character strengthening adaptability, flexibility, and ultimately reducing the time it takes to mourn, “If you give yourself time to grieve the healing will be accomplished sooner than if you ignore it.” (Coeren. C, 2018, p138). Goleman (1995 as cited in Anderson, 2001) makes the point that brain research shows that trauma imprints within the emotional part of the brain and that it is through repetitive art-making that traumatic images can be revisualised. Being able to “story tell” or depict the narrative of loss through art making can also restore the emotion of hope and bring back a balance to the world during mourning (Arnold, 2023). People expressing themselves through art places them into a self-care, relaxed and mindful state where they can gain control over these images and adjust them so healing can begin, alleviating sorrow and loss (Anderson, 2001). Beneficial aspects of this also include finding joy and releasing emotional tension, assisting in the shortened bereavement duration. dE Willoughby (2017) emphasises that “distraction” has an impressive ability to provide relief from grief, so utilising mindfully creative expressive therapies allows the bereaved to be less focused on their pain and more open to varied information that can help them to explore other methods to make them more empowered over their emotions and build resilience. Conducting art therapy and art discussions is also a profound way to influence feelings of aliveness and elevate spirits (Arnold, 2023), informing us that artistic expression practices successfully enhance the mood and resilience of people suffering from grief and allow the bereaved to tap into one’s inner healing resource, offering a sense of balance in the world. (Arnold, 2023).
A significant part of grieving is trying to comprehend the feelings of loss and the void that is left behind; making sense of this absence is difficult while feeling extreme levels of emotions (Arnold, 2023), particularly as relationships do not end when a person dies (dE Willoughby, 2017), understanding this loss is imperative. Arnold (2023) suggests that the utilisation of art-making provided a ritual experience that offered a restorative place of mourning and healing reflection. According to Arnold (2023), in a study exploring grieving artists, most participants who had suffered significant loss often used symbolic imagery to represent the deceased. The below artwork depicts imagery that metaphorically represents lost loved ones, a flower to symbolise the mother and a pipe and sweet potato that represents the deceased father. The art becomes a symbolic connection to the deceased, helping to create positive emotions to support healing and to depict a record of progress and hope that moves towards health and acceptance (Firestone, S. P, 2013).
Using creative therapy to express these emotions visually, develops a legacy for the deceased, and an understanding of their relationship by creating a narrative or story to make sense of a problematic situation (Weiskittle & Gramling, 2018; Nelson et al., 2022) while also accepting the reality of the death (dE Willoughby, 2017). Studies show that the art created from grief can often memorialise and create symbolic relationships as well as honouring a lost one, which helps keep the departed close (Arnold, 2023) and assisting in creating autonomy over the grieving process. The artworks often celebrate the deceased, appreciating the relationships that existed with the person, which changes how grief is experienced (Weiskittle & Gramling, 2018; Nelson et al., 2022). It helps the bereaved remember essential people and express their shared memories (Arnold, 2023) while continuing bonds with the departed, alleviating negative grief symptoms such as distress, anxiety and depression (Weiskittle & Gramling, 2018). As shown in the artwork below, a participant in a survey conducted on the experiences of personal loss due to the death of a loved one has memorialised his father in imagery and name. Having this artwork visible helps keep the departed close in a way that is not possible physically (Arnold, 2023).
It is evident through research and case studies that employing an expressive art practice either through professional art therapist or individual creativity has positive impacts on the mental health of people suffering from the symptoms of grief. The emotion of grief perpetuates a sense of vulnerability; therefore, the bereaved can be more open to discovering healing properties and beauty through mindful creativite practices such as art therapy, which reduces the symptoms of grief (dE Willoughby, 2017). This creative thinking fosters resilience, humour, imagination, insight, and meaning in our lives, which helps fill the void the deceased has left behind (Vaičekauskaitė Grubliauskienė Babarskienė, 2021, as cited by Lev, 2022). Art therapy and expression have a solid healing element that alleviates sorrow and loss and helps the bereaved navigate the grief experience. It can give a voice to those who cannot articulate their pain, provide coping mechanisms to identify their emotions post-loss, and build resilience. Creative expression provides the optimum environment to reflect and express emotions creating the space to heal and reduce the time of mourning.
Anderson, F. (2001). Commentary. In Judith A. Rubin (Ed.), Approaches to Art Therapy: Theory and Technique (2nd ed., pp. 254-255). New York: Routledge.
Arnold, R. (2023). Grieving artists: Influences of loss and bereavement on visual art making. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 82(11), 1-11. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aip.2023.102001
Christ, G. 2000. Children 3–5 Years of Age: Themes', Healing Children's Grief: Surviving a Parent's Death from Cancer.Oxford University Press (ed#?) https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195105919.003.0005
Coenen, C. (2018). Shattered by grief: Picking up the pieces to become WHOLE again. Jessica Kingsley Publishers (ed#)
dE Willoughby, M (2017). Mindful creativity and expressive therapies: A bridge to discovering the collateral beauty in bereavement. Grief Matters: The Australian Journal of Grief and Bereavement, 20(1),17-21. https://search.informit.org/doi/10.3316/informit.864296076162532
Firestone, S. P (2013). Art as a catalyst for resilience: Women artists with life-threatening illness (Doctoral dissertation, Lesley University). ProQuest Dissertations & Theses. https://www.proquest.com/dissertations-theses/art-as-catalyst-resilience-women-artists-with/docview/1428202977/se-2
Haen, C., & Boyd Webb, N. (2018). Creative arts-based group therapy with adolescents: Theory and practice (1st ed.). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203702000
Lev, M. (2022). Artmaking Resilience: Reflections on Art-Based Research of Bereavement and Grief. Creative Arts in Education and Therapy (CAET), 8(1), 126-138. https://caet.inspirees.com/caetojsjournals/index.php/caet/article/view/379
Nelson, K., Lukawiecki, J., Waitschies, K., Jackson, E., & Zivot, C. (2022). Exploring the impacts of an art and narrative therapy program on participants’ grief and bereavement experiences. OMEGA: Journal of Death and Dying, 0(0). https://doi.org/10.1177/00302228221111726
Torbic, H. Children and Grief: But what about the children? Home Healthcare Nurse: The Journal for the home care and hospice professional, 29(2), 67-77. https://doi.org/10.1097/NHH.0b013e31820861dd
Weiskittle RE, & Gramling SE. (2018). The therapeutic effectiveness of using visual art modalities with the bereaved: A systematic review. Psychology Research and Behavior Management, 11(?), 9-24. https://doi.org/10.2147/PRBM.S131993
Zambelli, G. C. & DeRosa, A. P. (1992). Bereavement support groups for school age children: Theory, intervention, and case example. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 62(4), 484-493. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0079386
Welcome to 2023, thanks for joining me again at Bec Schopen ART Studio. This year has started off brilliantly with a visit to the Sydney Festival's Frida Kahlo - The Life Of An Icon immersion. It was an explosion of colour, music and creative interactive activities. If you want to learn about Frida it is a comprehensive account of her life, if you already know all about Frida it still has lots to offer, especially beautiful photos and an incredible VR experience.
Frida Kahlo is an inspiration to so many artist because she managed to harness the love of painting for herself, not necessarily to sell or exhibit. She painted what she knew, which was Frida and that is true authenticity and bravery. I try everyday to paint what I live and know, this is where unique art comes from. It may not be for everyone but is my truth and experience.
A Love Note. I just wanted to pop in and send some love. Yep! It was Love Day yesterday and I hope everyone is feeling lot's of love, whether you celebrate the day or not.
I was also wondering if all the art lovers got to see the exhibition at the NSW Art Gallery, Matisse: Life & Spirit? I loved it so much that I went twice, it was so beautifully curated and Matisse was such an inspiration. Prior to the exhibition I didn't know a lot about Henri Matisse, but what I saw in his simple sketches and more colourful oil work was that art doesn't have to be complicated to be beautiful and he reenergised my love of the simple line, especially for female faces. It kinda' validated my simple abstract portraits I create.
So look out for some new art work coming from the studio, palms and goddesses are back on the easel.
Have a beautiful week and I would love to know if your visit to Matisse was as successful as mine or maybe you had different thoughts on the exhibition!
Six of my art works have been accepted into the Blue Mountain's ARTFEST! In response to the Covid-19 restrictions Blue Mountain's AF are unable to host an in-person event, so they are heading to an online platform. Visitors will be able to purchase quality Australian art through the website, just in time for Christmas. Artfest is the major school fundraiser for Wentworth Falls Public School, it is run by a team of volunteers and supported by an amazing local community.
Each year the quality and variety of artwork exhibited at Blue Mountains Artfest reaches new heights, and the 2021 online gallery will not disappoint, artwork will be on display and available for purchase for the entire period of the festival. By purchasing art through the BMAF you will not only be supporting the local primary school but also all of the creatives that share their talent with the world.
As well as original art keep an eye out for amazing Craft Christmas gifts, created by talented artisans and makers. There are 12 exhibitors this year including myself, who have their stores ready for Christmas gift ideas or something special for yourself. I will have a limited collection of Frida inspired Christmas Baubles available as well as my hand made decorative art tiles.
I have a lockdown confession, I have struggled to get motivated through my 3rd lockdown. The motivation was lost for a lot of the things I love, yoga (which I have practiced regularly for over 12 years), my painting, home projects, reading/writing and of-course housework. I’ve languished! I’m kinda freaking out now that the end is near and I have “wasted” my time, time I could have done so much more with. So I don't throw myself into a complete miserable funk I have to rearrange my mindset to be kinder to myself and have a look at what I did manage to do with the days and hours regardless of how big or small the achievements were. Because let's face it, we are surviving a worldwide pandemic, we have had our wings clipped and been told to stay put. So the everyday things we all managed to pull off are relatively big things during a time like this. I am choosing to be proud of the fact that I have managed to keep my family fed and sheltered, I successfully pulled off a zoom art work shop for my wonderful creative students, I have updated my website and signed up to be apart of The Blue Mountains Artfest. I also made myself paint small, so these two Goddesses have helped me feel like I have achieved something creative. This time we have just spent in lockdown has been tough for some and productive and wonderful for others, I just hope whatever it was for you that you look back at it and treat yourself kindly.
I recently put my art workshops on hold so I could have the time to tackle a creative project. I love painting and I love teaching however I think my biggest driver is curiosity. My belief is that creativity is curiosity put into action (I'm sure someone before me said this but I don't know who that clever person was) that said to do and learn something new we have to stretch beyond our creative limits. We have to take the risk that there will be failure and in that failure we learn all the things we need to know to achieve a successful outcome. If we feel that we haven't achieved success I think it is time to change our definition of what success is, because everything we attempt has a learning and that is what success is all about.
The last couple of months I have gone down a path of teaching myself how to make and cast plaster, understanding the nuances of resin (man that stuff can do some damage to your work bench) soaking and hand weaving natural raffia to create art wall tiles. This has reminded me that I love being a maker and I love to share my art.
I now have a collection of art wall tiles that have all been hand made and decorated with tassels, acrylic paint and gold leaf. I hope you love my new work and even if I do say so myself I think they will make lovely Christmas gifts (yep, it's that time of year agin!). To view the current collection visit HERE
Ps. "Doing it is forward, not doing it is backward". Unknown
We are over halfway through the year and what a year it's been! It's been hard and challenging and I must say I have lost my way a few times. The studio has been busy for the first half of this year with some wonderful visitors attending workshops. They have come to learn and create and I have been left feeling artistically inspired by every one of them. We have explored the "Alchemy" of mixed media, we drank Rosé and painted roses, we created love hearts with paint and vintage papers and we ate lots of cheese and had many laughs along the way.
I love teaching and plan on doing a lot more however I am going to take the next few months to tackle two creative projects I have been wanting do for a long time, which means classes will be postponed for a short while. The first project will be a Goddess mini canvas art collection, these new and original mini artworks will be an affordable way for my collectors to gift to others (or themselves) for Christmas, they will be wrapped and ready to gift for that crazy time of year, which is just around the corner! My second project is a collection of bespoke art wall plaques encapsulating some of my favorite Goddesses paintings, they will be unique and completely handcrafted. I am very excited about this as I created my first prototype on the weekend and it has turned out beautifully and I can't wait to show you.
To all of you who joined me in the studio, I thank you for sharing your time with me and I will see you with some more workshops soon, in the mean-time happy creating!
While you can purchase my original work through my website and the online Gallery Bluethumb. I also have some fabulous stockists where you can view and buy my work. Not only are they extremely supportive of my creative passion but their stores are treasure troves of unique and beautiful stock.
Shop 4, 5 Ross St
2773 Glenbrook, New South Wales
(02) 4739 8456
98 Macquarie Rd
2777 Springwood, New South Wales
(02) 4751 6821
My designs on all sorts of lifestyle products, that are not only great quality but also functional.
Today I'm sharing 5 tips on how I stay inspired with my creativity.
Seasons greetings, 2017 has presented some big challenges for my family and I. We have just finished renovating our house which for your information, we are not renovators! It has been stressful, fun and frustrating. I wanted to say a big "thank you" to those that supported me by buying my art in 2017 and the shops Bella Boheme, Late September and North Steyne Emporio who have been so patient with a lack of supply due to my new role as "renovator extraordinaire". I am looking forward to getting back into my back yard studio in the new year and can't wait to see you for workshops and painting classes, it feels like it has been such a long time (12months to be precise). Merry Christmas and I hope for you lots of creativity in your life. x
Sydney based mixed media artist.