Hurt and Humor in Art Making

Back when I was a teenager my younger sister and I used to get in the usual fights about what belonged to whom and the need to stay out of each other’s space. The arguments weren’t all that frequent or particularly bad in any way and having had similar interactions with older siblings it all seemed pretty much par for the course. One day however, probably after refusing to let her borrow a favorite sweater (which I believe she secretly did without my permission from time to time anyway), I happened to come across a caricature that she had created of me. I remember it taking a minute to register if it was actually me but inside the word bubble was something I’d said only maybe an hour before – it was definitely me. Now, you might think that I would have been offended and probably for the slightest moment I was. But it quickly came to me how brilliant this was. Not only could I see how my actions affected her – which in all likelihood created more empathy from me towards her in the long run – I could also see how she was able to process our argument and get some relief from a potentially no-win situation. I simply had to admire her for it. Plus I gained a new appreciation for her drawing skills despite the fact that she made me look less than pretty.

It would be several more years before I was introduced to the actual field of art therapy and while my studies have taken me in various directions, the powerful use of humor in my sister’s drawing never left me. After all, isn’t it true that some of the greatest comedy comes from the greatest despair? Think Ellen DeGeneres, Dave Chappelle and David Sedaris. I think that sometimes, maybe not always, but sometimes my sister’s caricature approach can still be really useful to explore, especially when you want to know more about what it is you’re struggling with in a relationship – or maybe any situation for that matter. Just be aware that there’s a fine line between using humor to access healthy relief and using it to take on a mean-spirited flavor all its own. Whatever comes up is natural of course, but you may want to be careful about who you show your pictures to (hint: an art therapist can help you process whatever comes up). While the comedians who rise to fame seem able to connect with others on their points of pain and relief, I’m pretty sure the mean-spirited ones don’t last quite as long. But the most important part is the ability to connect with how you’re feeling and find opportunities to create growth and change – which is pretty much what art therapy is always about. And while creating artwork on your own is not art therapy per se, you might still find some therapeutic value in it, even if you’re just doodling in the margins of your journal. And if caricatures aren’t your thing – you can always turn them into monsters! Check out this great tutorial from Lynda Barry – an inspiring art professor from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. All it takes is a shape and a squiggle and a little uncensored imagination. OR…you can turn everyone into South Park avatars (see above for how my daughter depicted me as an angry mom – it’s ok, I asked her to – she calls it Momster!)  And if you do happen to offend someone accidentally, give me a call, I can help you there too 😉

Copyright 2017 ©  Rachel Braun, All rights reserved.

Rachel Braun, ATR-BC  Art Therapist Philadelphia, PA

Specializing in art therapy groups for women who experience depression, anxiety and eating disorders.