September 28, 2018

Understanding sadness with art


An article in the Washington Examiner argues there are better ways to prepare for bad events in one’s personal life and in the world.

Photo via Rey Seven/Unsplash

The author suggests that people can emotionally educate themselves with literature and art and use our collected knowledge in those areas as a reference or guide on how to handle our feelings. The weird, comedic example he provides is Oedipus’ impulsive idea to gouge out his eyes after he hears the news of his mother’s death. Well, that’s an extreme example. The idea is that if we remember this narrative during a similarly tragic moment in our life, a reader could potentially think: “Woah. I have got to stay calm if things get bad like that for me.”

Interesting way to think about the arts. Let’s see what others have to say on the topic.

In The Guardian article, “Does melancholy literature deepen depression?,” Nicholas Lezard considers this question and declares: “Reading is an empathetic and sympathetic process.” This idea seems to be in line with Mehan’s, however Lezard responds to the sadness in literature differently. The example he provides is a memoir about a crystal meth addict, which he had to stop reading because it made him feel like a crystal meth addict. This seems a bit odd and this outlook doesn’t account for the reader taking in a story and merely gaining empathy.

An additional contributor to this conversation is professor David Palumbo-Liu in his blog post on Arcade, the Stanford University literature and humanities blog. In summary, Palumbo-Liu encourages people to create art with their emotions rather than only passively absorbing other’s feelings:

“The arts, humanities, give us the space and freedom and consolation to share our sadness, as well as joy, puzzlement, imaginings of different worlds.” – David Palumbo-Liu

Along with actively contributing to art and literature, Palumbo-Liu urges people to continue conversations about what they are creating and consuming. After all, this process yields a major insight: being human means experiencing a full range emotions, both light and dark.

Christina Cerio is the Direct Sales Associate and Publishers Assistant at Melville House.