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The Art of Coping

An exploration of how grief and pain binds humanity across time in complex and ever-evolving ties.

art by Kai Samuels-Davis

Coping with loss is something we all must do at one point in our lives. Throughout history, artists have had special ways of coping with grief that is unique to each and every one of them. I myself have been through some difficult times in my life, not the typical forms of loss, but the loss of a person I thought I knew. This transformed me and because of that I became more interested in history and art. As I experienced grief, I studied how those who came before us dealt with their grief and I was shocked to find myself and my emotions mirrored in these works. This is sort of a tribute to those pieces that shook me to my core. Keep in mind there are some triggers to be aware of in this piece: mentions of death, World War II, miscarriages, and blood. If any of those things bother you, I would recommend stopping here.

First off, I would like to touch on my favorite piece of art, Still Life with Skull, Leeks and Pitcher by Pablo Picasso. Unfortunately, this is not one of his better known works, but I think it is an incredible portrayal of grief during war. When this work was created, March 14, 1945, Picasso was living in nazi occupied Paris and his life was consistently threatened. He witnessed death all around him. This piece symbolizes that in a way that touches the viewer, even without much context. Leaks and a pitcher are shown together, as if to make a meal. Next to these ingredients is a skull. The skull does not stand out seeing as it uses the same color pallet and harsh lines as the leaks and the pitcher. To me this represented how death became an everyday phenomenon. Death faded into the daily monotony of Picasso's life in the same way the skull faded into his painting. Grief itself became a constant and that emotion overtook this painting. By painting this, Picasso was able to channel his grief and that of the city in which he resided into a medium that would allow us to understand his pain almost 80 years later.

Famously, Frida Kahlo used her skills to express and rid herself of loss that followed her through life. She was known for her hard won victories that were only made possible by her art. For a woman who was in a maiming bus accident and then who suffered an almost fatal miscarriage, she needed an outlet. Art was that outlet for her, as it is for many of us. She broke societal norms when painting Henry Ford Hospital in 1932. Miscarriages, like most pains that women experience, was a taboo topic at the time. And still Frida shared her pain by painting her experience. She held no punches when describing her loss through brush strokes and allowed anyone who looked upon her work to witness an incredibly intimate hospital scene. Later, in 1946, Frida would paint how she saw herself. It was not a typical self portrait by any means. This was a painting of how she saw herself after dealing with a lifetime of pain. The Wounded Deer depicts Frida as a deer running through the woods. She has been shot by nine arrows and is bleeding but she is still upright and she is still in motion. This piece represents the struggles Frida faced throughout her life and the fact that she managed to continue to stay strong despite everything the universe threw her way.

As an author who has dealt with a great deal of pain, works of art that serve as tools for healing have always touched me. These pieces were always something I wanted to share, but not in an overly formal matter that you might expect in an essay. They touched me beyond words, in a way that could only be explained in a casual conversation, as if everyone who reads this is a friend. These pieces evoke that vulnerability towards strangers that can only be admired. Anyone who shares deeply painful things should be proud of themselves. I hope that everyone who got this far is able to appreciate these pieces in their own way. Push yourself to create things that not only inspire you, but heal you and perhaps those things will go on to heal others as well.


Corey DeCristofaro is a 16 year old history buff and writer. They have studied history ranging from ancient Rome to the Russian Empire while also indulging a passion for reading. They also manage an instagram writing account that (occasionally) features their plant. If you ever want to have a random conversation about the origins of a word or phrase, they are the one to go to.


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