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The Alchemy of Art

“The process of creating strengthens and restores my spirit.”
Painter Roxanne Chinook.

Creative expression can transform painful reactions and situations, providing strength and understanding to change or at least deal with how the creative person feels and interacts with the world.

Some think art needs to have that kind of deep impact to be worthwhile.

Franz Kafka commented, “I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us… that affect us like a disaster… A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.”

Clinical and forensic psychologist Dr. Stephen Diamond thinks creativity “is one of humankind’s healthiest inclinations, one of our greatest attributes.”

He explains in his book “Anger, Madness, and the Daimonic: The Psychological Genesis of Violence, Evil, and Creativity” that our impulse to be creative “can be understood to some degree as the subjective struggle to give form, structure and constructive expression to inner and outer chaos and conflict… for meeting and redeeming one’s devils and demons.”

A number of actors have talked about this kind of constructive expression.

Meryl Streep has said acting “has to do with working out private passions that are almost inscrutable to me.. I just get to work out all my murderous thoughts and my weaknesses and my failures and things I don’t want to do as a parent or work out on the family.

“I need [acting] as an outlet. I love it. It feeds my imagination. It connects me to understanding.”

Charlize Theron as a teen saw her mother shoot her father in self defense, and says her career has helped deal with that: “I think acting has healed me. I get to let it out. I get to say it and feel it in my work and I think that’s why I don’t go through my life walking with this thing, and suffering.”

Like a number of other powerful actors, Charles Dutton has prison experience, in jail at 17 for murder. He developed an interest in theater, and after his release was accepted at the Yale School of Drama.

Speaking of prison, in her book Gifted Grownups, Marylou Kelly Streznewski says that gifted people “form a disproportionately larger portion of the prison population, perhaps as much as 20%… in contrast to the 3 to 5% of the general public.”

She asks, “Is the conflict created by being ‘different’ connected to antisocial attitudes and behaviors? Do they get into trouble because it is fun? Or interesting? Or a clever game? Does crime have its roots in deep hurts?”

Those “deep hurts” can also fuel creative projects.

Director Allison Anders made her film “Things Behind the Sun” as a way to deal with her rape.

Native American painter Roxanne Chinook says “My art emulates a personal and cultural experience, from the spirit of the trickster to healing from the traumas of my past. The process of creating strengthens and restores my spirit.”

[From the site Ebuynativeart : Native American artwork from the Pacific Northwest.]

Rosanne Cash has dealt with the deaths of both her mother and father, Johnny, in her album “Black Cadillac,” and noted in a Los Angeles Times interview: “My dad made music about his own death coming. He was an artist, and he could use his own life in an unsentimental way to make art. He was unafraid. For the rest of us that could be hard. But I understand it. And I learned from it.”

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[This article is excerpted from my longer one: The Alchemy of Art.]

The Alchemy of Art

Douglas Eby

Douglas EbyDouglas Eby, MA/Psychology, is a writer and researcher on psychology and personal development related to creativity; creator of the , and author of books including [link to book site with excerpts.]
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APA Reference
Eby, D. (2010). The Alchemy of Art. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 29, 2020, from


Last updated: 24 Nov 2010
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