When you’ve had a significant loss, grieving can be overwhelming. Sometimes expressing your pain may help, and art can be one way to do that.
Grief is a personal experience that’s often unique and intimate. What brings comfort to you in a time of grieving 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 circumstances, you may need more or less support to process your loss. You might find relief in creating art on your own, or you might consider working with a therapist who specializes in art therapy.
You could also consider connecting with other people’s art if that 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 do a painting of a loved one who has died.
If you’d like to explore art as a therapeutic tool to cope with grief, you may consider doing something that you’ve enjoyed in the past first. For example, if you find that music soothes you, you could try dancing or singing for emotional release.
Although these artistic activities may provide some relief, they aren’t a substitute for professional support. If you’re having a difficult time and feel grief is impacting one or more aspects of your life, consider reaching out for help.
In general, these creative activities may help you cope with some aspects of bereavement:
Creating something visual can serve as a cathartic method of expression or work as a tribute or memorial to your loved one.
If you’re up for it, you could do both — something that allows you to express freely, like a stain or finger painting on a canvas, and also something that you’ll keep as a tribute, like a quilt.
Here are some ideas to consider:
- putting together a photo collage or scrapbook with your favorite photos of your loved one
- creating a wall of memories with framed photos of your favorite moments
- painting on a blank canvas, sheet, or wall
- improvising intuitive art using brushes, crayons, or paint and just moving freely through a canvas or paper
- creating or coloring mandalas from a book or printout
- decorating a meaningful object
- creating the art and getting a tattoo of it
- carving and decorating a wooden box to keep meaningful souvenirs close to you
- creating a memorial garden with colorful planters, wind spinners, and personalized stones or objects
- making a quilt out of your loved one’s clothing
Music and dance
Music can be both a way to express yourself and a way to connect to your departed loved one.
Consider these ideas:
- creating a recording or video playlist with your loved one’s favorite tunes
- dancing to the beat of the songs you once shared and connecting to those memories
- playing upbeat music that allows you to freestyle dance
- writing a song in your loved one’s honor
- creating a video with images of your loved one and a meaningful song in the background
- listening to relaxing music
Writing can help you cope with grieving emotions in different ways. You can pour unfiltered thoughts and emotions into the paper for a releasing effect, or you can pay homage to your loved one by writing about their life, stories, or favorite quotes.
Here are some ideas you may want to try:
- writing about how you feel, without worrying about grammar or spelling
- recording your favorite memories with your loved one
- writing a letter to your loved one
- writing your loved one’s memoirs
- using journal prompts to process how you feel or what you think
Although studies about grief art are relatively scarce, literature from 2020 indicates that art therapy may be especially effective for bereaved children who’ve experienced a traumatic loss.
Art therapy is a type of psychotherapy that incorporates creative activities, such as painting, dancing, or clay molding, as a means for a person to express freely.
Visual arts included the creation of:
- photo collages
- photo essays
When it came to relieving the pain of the loss, researchers didn’t find any significant benefits from visual art creation. However, they did find that a great percentage of study participants reported an improvement in their sense of well-being.
Art therapy has also been found effective for the management of anxiety, a symptom that may sometimes accompany grief.
In general, creative interventions have been found helpful for traumatic grieving, according to 2010 research, particularly for children and adolescents. These include writing, storytelling, drawing, commemorating, and ritualizing.
Creating art on your own
Even without a therapist, creating art may be a healing experience when you’re grieving.
For one, artistic expression can be a mindful activity, where you focus your attention on the creative process. Research from 2016 indicates that mindfulness helps regulate emotions, which could help you manage sadness or anger when grieving, for example.
Writing about your loss and your feelings may also help you cope with intrusive thoughts, negative emotions, and emotional overwhelm, as research from 2010, 2012, 2019, 2021, and 2022 indicates. In fact, journaling has repeatedly been linked to emotional release and processing.
Musical creativity, particularly co-creative songwriting, may also serve as a support tool for younger adults who are grieving, research from 2022 suggests.
Memorial tattoos may also help you process your emotions, serve as a visual representation of your loved one, and integrate your loss into your life and identity.
Art creation and art therapy may be therapeutic tools for some people who are grieving.
Grief art can be about freestyling or it could also be a guided activity with an art therapist. Art therapy is a psychotherapy approach that uses art as the main tool to communicate how you feel.
If you’re having a difficult time or feel you’ve been grieving for a long time, consider reaching out to a mental health professional for ongoing support.