When Pain Begs For An Outlet.

Via Katarina Silva
on Dec 4, 2011
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'Lost' by Katarina Silva

It will rip me to pieces every time if I don’t find an outlet for it. It screams to be heard.

It keeps me up at night, like a high fever, and injects me with expressive urges. It’s emotional pain and it demands to be experienced! There is no alternative. There is no secretly ditching it, or hanging up on it. It is here, inside of me, and it wants out. So I grab my camera and turn my pain into art.

The human experience, by definition, includes pain. Not a single one of us is immune to it. For this reason, I have deep respect for pain: it seems to be  an inescapable part of what shapes us. Pain is part of life. And everything that is part of life, is also an inevitable part of art. For us artists, the process of purging pain from our beings nearly always involves creative expression. These artistic expressions are deeply personal, at times scary, and definitely inevitable!

One of the most powerful lures art had over me as a child was its brutal honesty. It did not try to conceal or deny pain and suffering. Instead, within photographs and paintings, musical compositions and dances, film and theatre: within the many forms of art through which human being express themselves, I perceived a raw exhibition of pain. And I loved this rebellious freedom to express pain through art! It seemed terribly constructive to me; certainly much healthier than keeping all the pain inside.

'Hopelessness' by Katarina Silva

There are so many different varieties of pain! What would each one look like as a work of art? For each person pain would look differently, for how each of us experiences and expresses pain is as unique as our own original, artistic creations. To me, each such creation, even when birthed out of pain, is an extremely valuable one.

Art that expresses pain isn’t always visually pretty, but it is real, and I deeply appreciate it’s straightforwardness.

It’s a language that not many people in our polite society speak outside of an artistic context. Perhaps, this is why I have been the most artistically productive in my life when I’ve been hurting the most. Because art is always receptive to pain.  There is never a breakdown of communication in art. Art has the power to communicate all kinds of deep pains that may otherwise burden or overwhelm people.

Pain seems to act like a war cry within me, challenging me to rise to the occasion and make something beautiful out of it. Not necessarily aesthetically beautiful, but beautiful in the sense that when expressing my pain artistically, I seem to engage that pain as a vehicle that eventually transports me beyond it.

Pain turned into art then becomes a transformative tool that reconnects me with my own inner peace. It is a process, but, eventually, my pain is no longer in me. It is in my art. And the process of expunging it from me, heals me every time.

'Hurt' by Katarina Silva

When I pour my pain into my art I am instantly comforted and calmed. Ironically, art that perceivably expresses deep hurt doesn’t have the same effect on the audience experiencing that art. Quite to the contrary! The observer may become uncomfortable. Most of the art I produced as an adolescent had this unpleasant effect on others, for my artwork was an honest reflection of my pain. Sometimes it was terrifyingly violent, sometimes it was dark, sometimes it was ugly, sometimes it was chaotic.

Some viewers, however, were drawn in by it, while others are repulsed. Nevertheless, I chose to continue to express my pain in this way, as art seemed to help me process and understand my pain. Splashed all over a canvass, or captured in a photographic self-portrait I could see my pain and dissect it, visually break it apart and directly address it.

Through releasing my hurts into artwork, I explored taboo emotions the way astronomers explore the stars, and found the journey a very valuable part of my own self development. The world of my art allowed me to act out painful fantasies I would never duplicate in real life. It helped me know myself better. And become conscious of the fleeting quality of pain. Carl Jung once wrote that “there is no coming to consciousness without pain.” In surrendering my pain to my art, it was almost as if I was letting it wake me up, and simultaneously laying it to rest.

'Overwhelmed' by Katarina Silva

Expressing pain through art requires that one become vulnerable and open.

It also engages trust and courage. Giving voices to our pain is never easy, even when done through a painting or a photograph. One feels exposed. One feels naked. But it is also liberating: that brutally honest exposure of our own humanity. And, I’ve found that it often inspires others to do the same, for there is less room for judgement in art. It is art, so people accept it. They interact with it. They may even enter into a healing dialogue with their own repressed pain through seeing mine.

Today, I honor periods of pain in my life the same way I treated them when I was younger: I give them a voice in my art, in my photographs. Why should I silence my pain and pretend it does not exist? Instead, I echo William Faulkner’s sentiments when he writes: “Given the choice between the experience of pain and nothing, I would choose pain.” At least when we hurt we know we are alive. It is definitely much healthier than numbness or denial.

The poet Lord Byron appreciated all feelings in the wide range of human emotion: “The great art of life is sensation, to feel that we exist, even in pain.”

Since pain is indeed such an unmistakably unavoidable sensation in life, why not extract value from it?

Throughout history, pain has already proven itself valuable as fuel for many of the world’s greatest works of art. As I experience it, pain holds a beautiful value when married to artistic expression. So I continue to turn my pain into artwork, and have the process shape me, and hopefully others, in ways we never imagined possible.

‘Love is Stronger Than Death’ by Katarina Silva

“Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.
And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life,
your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy;
And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even
as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields.
And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.

Much of your pain is self chosen.
It is the bitter potion by which the physician within you heals your sick self.
Therefore trust the physician, and drink his remedy in silence and tranquility:
For his hand, though heavy and hard, is guided by the tender hand of the Unseen,
And the cup he brings, though it burn your lips,
has been fashioned of the clay which the Potter has moistened with His own sacred tears.”

~Kahlil Gibran~


About Katarina Silva

Katarina Silva is an artistic self-expressionist who thrives on the spontaneous thrill of creating photographic images in ten seconds, and inevitably employs witchcraft to do so. Her autobiographical art reflects her emotions and dreams, and is characterized by the mysterious absence of her complete face. She lives unafraid of darkness, wrapped in nature, in an obscure corner of the planet with her magical kitty. You may view her work at The Art of Katarina Silva. Or connect with her on Facebook or Twitter


17 Responses to “When Pain Begs For An Outlet.”

  1. Posted to Elephant Main Facebook Page, my Facebook page, Twitter, StumbleUpon, LinkedIn.

    Bob W. Editor, Elephant Journal
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  2. Pain as a muse! I can totally relate! Loved the way you put that. Thank you Nancy. And I would love to read your poetry sometime. I view poetry as another form of artistic expression.

  3. Andrew says:

    Love this. I made a video in which i tried to capture in my face then pain and horror of dark depression. It is on my FB profile page. I too use pain as art in poetry and video.

  4. stephaniefrancesca says:

    Powerful photos, thanks for sharing. We drew similar inspiration from the same Gibran text: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2010/11/the-sweetn

  5. Andréa Balt says:

    This is wonderful. Your photographs remind me a bit of Francesca Woodman's art. She also tried to exclude the face and was troubled (soooo troubled). Pain also keeps me up at night and my best writing & other forms of artistic expression were/are also born out of pain. As I like to say, Pain is a pointer, not a killer – and art is a great way to point (at the moon).

  6. Thank you Stephanie. I left a comment under your AMAZING article!

  7. I would love to see your video Andrew. Yes, film is a wonderful medium. I would like to learn how to engage it as well! Thank you for sharing.

  8. "Pain is a pointer, not a killer". Beautiful way of putting it, Andrea! Thank you. And, yes, pain can be such fuel for artistic expression. I have also been most creative when I am hurting. Oh! And I will look up Woodman's art. THank you so much for sharing. And I wish you peaceful sleeps. Or much creative productivity! Hopefully both. 😉

  9. Damiana says:

    Pain and suffering always pushes me to change, to start new things, to be better… It's hard to acknowldge that, because I can feel that we can BE more than suffering. Great article and art. Thank you.

  10. MarySol says:

    "When I pour my pain into my art I am instantly comforted and calmed" Great insight, so true Katarina. Sometimes it feels like entering our creative space in dark hours brings us into another place, where we honor the pain through observing and reflecting. Almost like we're on a bridge, witnessing it's course through the still night, then crossing into a new day.

  11. Magnolia says:

    Thank you for serving yourself and the world through your expression…it is lovely in all ways…even when its uncomfortable.

  12. What a poetic interpretation! Yes, being a witness to pain and walking over it's bridge. Beautiful! Thank you for sharing MarySol. 🙂

  13. You're welcome! Thank you so much for the encouragement!

  14. Yes, we can BE more than our suffering, but pain seems to facilitate that, oddly enough! Like you said, it pushes us to "be better". Yes, I like that! Thank you for sharing Damiana. 🙂

  15. Lorin says:

    Posted to the Elephant Journal main page on Facebook.

    Lorin Arnold
    Blogger at
    The VeganAsana
    Associate Editor for Elephant Food
    Editor for Elephant Family