Sometimes, art will evoke feelings of happiness, tranquility, and unity. Of course, that is not always the case. Art is a reflection of life, which is why it can cause discomfort at times.
Can art be both beautiful and tragic at the same time? 5 creators answer the question.
1. Rupi Kaur
Rupi Kaur, the author of Milk and Honey, writes about violence, abuse, love, and loss. In an interview, she has said, “In moments of tragedy, in moments of pain, we’re always asking, ‘Why, why, why?’ and art is the core.”
Art helps us deal with pain. Instead of pushing uncomfortable emotions away, art can help us understand what has happened to us so we can start our journey toward healing from the trauma.
2. Mark Rothko
Mark believes the most important pieces of art are the ones dealing with uncomfortable emotions, because those are universal emotions. Everyone can relate. No one is excluded.
Mark has said, “I’m interested only in expressing basic human emotions — tragedy, ecstasy, doom, and so on — and the fact that lots of people break down and cry when confronted with my pictures shows that I communicate those basic human emotions… The people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience I had when I painted them. And if you, as you say, are moved only by their color relationships, then you miss the point!”
3. Bonnie Portelance
Bonnie, a cancer survivor, makes artwork from x-rays. She helps patients with malignant tumors deal with their trauma by turning their x-rays into beautiful works of art. Even though it might sound crude, she is passionate about what she does for a living because she is able to take something tragic and turn it into something beautiful.
When speaking about her series of x-rays, Bonnie has said her art “explores the fine and often wavering line between the beautiful and the grotesque. Twenty years and a thousand X-rays later, I remain captivated by these ghostlike images of our inner selves and of the paradox they portray – the paradox of the unstoppable exposure of frailty against raw and enduring strength. They propose obstacles to overcome and emotions not yet realized. This is where this series begins its journey.”
4. Eric Fischl
Eric has said, “I vowed that I would never let the unspeakable also be unshowable. I would paint what could not be said.”
Eric uses his artwork as a form of expression in order to express the feelings he is unable to put into words. His most recent show, ‘Late America’, documents the decline of the country. He turns the tragic aftermath of an election into beautiful pieces of artwork in an attempt to help heal the nation.
5. Rachel Lyon
Self-Portrait With Boy, a novel written by Rachel Lyon, is about a woman who accidentally takes a photograph capturing a boy’s last moments. The character is unsure whether to publicize the photograph or to keep it private for the sake of the grieving family.
In an interview, Rachel Lyon has said, “There is the question of whether anything of one’s own is too personal to make art from? That is only a reasonable question if we consider of how much perspective you can give something. There are personal things I can’t write about because I don’t understand them yet. They’re too deep inside of me. I have no way of putting them in words, nor giving them the kind of wisdom and perspective I want to give anything I write about. You can’t objectively understand things that are too personal to you. There is a photo I saw while researching this book. It was a picture of a corpse. A naked corpse with a tag on his toe and you can see his penis. It’s really intense. I was thinking about the photographer when I was writing Lu’s story. I think all of those questions about crossing boundaries and using the story of a stranger and even a friend are really interesting. I don’t know if there is a right answer.”
Art is complex. Different writers, photographers, and artists have different ideas about whether tragedy and beauty can align. There is no right answer. There are a million different ones.