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A Recent Paper About the Transcendent Power of Human Creativity for Child Survivors

A very recent paper by my colleague Amit Shrira and his colleagues from Bar Ilan university, published in the September issue of the prestigious journal “Trauma Psychology: Theory, Research, Practice, Policy” describes the results of interviews with 30 older visual artists, ranging in age between 72-94, who are all child survivors of the Holocaust.


The interviews aimed to understand the experiences that the artists shared about the meaning of their engagement with their art and its relationship to trauma. Two very important major themes emerged. The first was described by the authors as “turning outward from a world of threat to a world at which to wonder”. This theme captured accounts that described how art allowed a mode of stepping back from being caught in raw traumatic material to entering a mode where these are used as materials from which to create; how, beyond enduring the world of their traumatic experiences and losses, art enhances an experience of observing with wonderment at the beauty of the world beyond oneself. The second theme related to connecting with the world and others. Through the creative process, that which was not possible to express in words becomes possible to share through the product of the artistic process, allowing not only a different perspective on one’s own trauma but also a sense of connection with others, a way to communicate important messages and meanings to the world.

Some of the conclusions from this study about the benefits of engagement with art are most relevant to our unique circumstances during COVID-19 and the social distancing required in order to stay safe and contain the virus, and in the face of the profound social and racial divisions and hostilities we are witnessing. As the authors of the study put it, even if physically alone while creating their art, such engagement may open up an inner realm of universal human experience and establish contact with the best of humanity: goodness, trust, kindness, and compassion. The creation of such an inner sense of benevolence through their art has possibly allowed the wounded Holocaust survivor artists to cope with the pain and void left by trauma and traumatic loss.  I believe that the experience of engaging with art, even as a spectator, also offers some of these qualities that help transcend, even if temporarily, the worries and the threats that the pandemic and the socio-political circumstances have brought upon us.

                 Irit Felsen


P.S.   For those interested in (virtual) tours in Hebrew of contemporary art in Chelsea galleries, you can check out Enjoy!

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