When you have suffered a significant loss, the grief can be overwhelming. Sometimes expressing your pain can help, and art can be a way to do that.
Grief is often a unique and intimate personal experience. What brings you comfort in a time of grief may differ from what helps someone else. Creating or connecting with art can be a healing experience for some people.
Depending on your coping skills and the circumstances, you may need more or less support to deal with your loss. You might find relief by creating art on your own, or you might consider working with a therapist who specializes in art therapy.
You may also consider connecting with other people’s art if it brings you comfort or relief. For example, you could listen to classical music or go to a concert, visit a museum, or ask a professional artist to paint a deceased loved one.
If you want to explore art as a therapeutic tool for coping with grief, you might first consider doing something you have enjoyed in the past. For example, if you find music soothing you, you can try dancing or singing to release your emotions.
Although these artistic activities can provide some relief, they are not a substitute for professional support. If you are going through a difficult time and you feel that grief is impacting one or more areas of your life, consider seeking help.
In general, these creative activities can help you deal with some aspects of grief:
Creating something visual can serve as a cathartic method of expression or serve as a tribute or memorial to your loved one.
If you’re up for it, you can do both – something that lets you express yourself freely, like a smudge or finger paint on a canvas, and also something that you’ll keep as an homage, like a quilt.
Here are some ideas to consider:
- create a photo collage or scrapbook with your favorite photos of your loved one
- create a wall of memories with framed photos of your favorite moments
- paint on canvas, sheet or blank wall
- improvise intuitive art using brushes, pencils or paint and simply move freely on canvas or paper
- create or color mandalas from a book or print
- decorate an object that has meaning
- create art and get tattooed
- carve and decorate a wooden box to keep meaningful keepsakes close to you
- create a memorial garden with colorful planters, wind turbines and personalized stones or objects
- make a quilt with your loved one’s clothes
Music and dance
Music can be both a way to express yourself and a way to connect with your deceased loved one.
Consider these ideas:
- create a video recording or playlist with your loved one’s favorite tunes
- dance to the songs you’ve shared and connect to those memories
- play upbeat music that lets you dance freestyle
- write a song in honor of the loved one
- create a video with images of your loved one and a meaningful song in the background
- listen to relaxing music
Writing can help you deal with the feelings of grief in different ways. You can pour unfiltered thoughts and emotions into the paper for liberating effect, or you can honor your loved one by writing about their life, stories, or favorite quotes.
Here are some ideas you might want to try:
- write about how you feel, without worrying about grammar or spelling
- record your favorite memories with your loved one
- write a letter to your loved one
- write memoirs of your loved one
- use journal prompts to process how you feel or think
Although studies on the art of grief are relatively rare, the 2020 literature indicates that art therapy can be particularly effective for bereaved children who have experienced a traumatic loss.
Art therapy is a type of psychotherapy that incorporates creative activities, such as painting, dancing, or clay molding, as a way for a person to express themselves freely.
The visual arts included the creation of:
- photo collage
- photographic essays
When it came to relieving the pain of loss, researchers found no significant benefit to creating visual arts. However, they found that a large percentage of study participants reported an improvement in their sense of well-being.
Art therapy has also been shown to be effective in managing anxiety, a symptom that can sometimes accompany grief.
In general, creative interventions have been shown to be helpful for traumatic grief, according to a 2010 study, especially for children and adolescents. These include writing, storytelling, drawing, commemoration and ritualization.
Create art by yourself
Even without a therapist, creating art can be a healing experience when you are grieving.
On the one hand, artistic expression can be a conscious activity, where you focus your attention on the creative process. Research from 2016 indicates that mindfulness helps regulate emotions, which could help you deal with sadness or anger when grieving, for example.
Writing about your loss and feelings can also help you cope with intrusive thoughts, negative emotions, and emotional overflow, as research from 2010, 2012, 2019, 2021, and 2022 indicates. In fact, journaling has been repeatedly linked to emotional release and processing.
Musical creativity, especially co-creative songwriting, can also serve as a support tool for grieving young adults, according to a 2022 study.
Memorial tattoos can also help you process your emotions, serve as a visual representation of your loved one, and integrate your loss into your life and identity.
Artistic creation and art therapy can be therapeutic tools for some grieving people.
The art of grief can be about freestyle or it can also be a guided activity with an art therapist. Art therapy is an approach to psychotherapy that uses art as the main tool to communicate how you feel.
If you’re going through a difficult time or feel like you’ve been grieving for a long time, consider reaching out to a mental health professional for ongoing support.