Saturday, April 26, 2008
Art and Trauma
Early trauma produces a distinct vocabulary in artists who choose, or are driven, to revisit old wounds. We all have an inner voice that counsels us day and night. When trauma occurs, especially at an early age, that voice goes silent. No words exist that can adequately describe the horror of the event. In place of this inner voice there is now a living, palpable void, which can forever shape the tenor of a person's life. Dr. Leonard Shengold called this type of early trauma "Soul Murder" in his book by the same name.
If the survivor turns to art for expression, this void can show itself in various ways. Holes might be punched through a painting or a drawing. A negative space is sometimes incorporated into a piece of sculpture. In powerful self-portraits created by an artist who was traumatized as a child, dark circles in thick oil paint are explained as "stomach aches". These circles unconsciously represent the void created by the silence of the inner voice. One can also find dramatic pauses in music or cadence changes in poetry composed by trauma survivors.. (Credit to Drs. Dori Laub and Gilbert Rose)
When such a person turns to art, there is a chance that the emotions surrounding the trauma will be revisited, possibly for the first time since the trauma itself. These emotions might not be readily apparent to the artist, but their emergence in the art will allow for an opportunity for these feelings to be witnessed and acknowledged. Healing can begin on levels that might still be subliminal, but the process can begin. Art therapy does not necessarily require a classroom.