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Editorial SCAD

How do pain and trauma affect art?

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Written by Jade Strack, Photos by Patrick Cox

Strong emotions are part of every art piece, but pain and trauma are among the most common. The ‘tortured artist’ is a stereotype that’s often used to describe artists, especially painters. Kwasi Butler, a first-year painting major, uses his art as a way to show others how he feels and sees the world. Like many other artists, Butler wants to depict powerful emotions [in his paintings] that cannot be defined through words.

Experiencing pain is not essential to becoming an artist, but for those who have, art can be a useful outlet. “Emotion is the number one driving force in my art,” Butler said. However, everyone experiences pain and trauma differently; what one person may see as a small inconvenience could be life altering for another. Most people find it hard to talk about their tribulations in a way that accurately explains how they were affected by them. That can result in either giving up or using art as a voice and outlet of expression to help marginalize those emotions.

For Butler, emotion is the number one driving force for his artwork. In his piece “The House is Burning” [hanging above him] Butler uses red as a unifying motif. “When you see red I want to be the first person you think of artistically,” Butler said. “Red is a very strong emotion that you can’t tie into one word, but as soon as you see it, it’s supposed to spark an immediate emotional reaction.” Butler uses his art as a way to show others his past and the strife he went through to get to where he is now.

Forgetting rather than confronting these emotions from the past can cause struggle in the present. Although for some, forgetting isn’t an option, so instead, they do their best to survive. Many use art as a way to tackle their emotions head-on, or to better understand them. Other artists use their work as a way to release emotions so they can declutter their mind, free up space in their heart and let go. 

Pain and trauma are not necessary evils for every artist to have, but more often than not art becomes the outlet for those who struggle with those very same evils. While art is a great outlet, it’s important to seek help if needed. SCAD provides free counseling and can be contacted by phone at 912-525-6971 or email at counseling@scad.edu.

To continue the discussion on mental health, check out District’s recently published long form.

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