When Creativity Holds Darkness

Anyone in the habit of communicating their creativity has had moments where their work is tinged with shadow. Some artist thrive in that dark place. Are you one of them? I walk the line on how dark the words I write are, and don’t believe in denying the sad, angry, or even ugly emotions and experiences we all carry. I choose to hold them, look at them, learn from them, then try to let them go.


But what to do when that darkness overshadows all other emotions when you create?


First, decide if it’s something you want to happen. Is the ugliness necessary to YOU? Is it something the world needs to see?


These are extremely personal questions. I will tell no one the way you express your creativity is wrong, or invalid, unless you are hurting other people. I will probably choose to not view your work if it’s overly dark for my own mental health. But that doesn’t invalidate it. Your art can still teach the world if you choose to share, and people decide it’s something they like. Make sure you tread that line carefully.


What if you answer no? No, you don’t want this darkness. Then you should ask is where is it coming from.
During the year I lived in The Netherlands, my boyfriend, now husband, took me to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. It was a great visit, but it also haunts me.

The Corpses of the De Witt Brothers is a c.1672-75 oil on canvas painting by the Dutch Golden Age painter Jan de Baen. 69.5 cm × 56 cm (27.4 in × 22 in)
Jan de Baen’s painting is the piece I will never forget. I almost walked right by it, the last small painting on the wall. It still stopped me dead in my tracks. I didn’t linger long, because it disturbed me. But I had to look closer to understand what it was. Then came the questions.


“What is that painting about?”
“What is the story behind it?”
“How could people do that to each other?”


The history behind the painting is pretty complicated, I will let you decide whether you want to look it up. The short answer is the two brothers depicted in the painting, were killed for political reasons.


As I remember viewing the painting for the first time, I ask myself, what was the artist thinking? Though the painting is attributed to Jan de Baen, it might be the work of an unknown artist. The exact reasons for its creation are not known for sure. Regardless, it’s a gruesome reminder of historical events. Which brings us back to what must the artist have been thinking?


Perhaps he had been asked to record what happened for the sake of history. Perhaps it was done for more political reasons. Was it a seen he has viewed himself? If so, was he releasing trauma? Witnessing violence like that would leave any human mind scared. We can’t know the answers to these questions, because we can’t ask the artist.


No matter what the motives and emotions behind the piece where, it’s important. Do I hate it? Yes. But I would argue it’s necessary. A necessary ugliness, a necessary reminder of human crimes. There are many works of art like this all around the world. Their darkness will not let us forget the mistakes of the past.
So what do you do when your own work haunts you? Do you have a story that needs to be told? Is its ugliness necessary? I would urge bravery and prayer.


It may be a darkness that you need to express and then release. Or it may be a darkness the word needs to acknowledge. But be kind to yourself. Be careful with your spirit, and if you need help with your journey of creativity mixed with shadow, reach out to a fellow creative who can support you. Or a mental health expert who can guide you.


Some people will disagree with me. They will recite things like Philippians 4:8 NIV. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. In reply, I would say, these works of art hold truth. Though the truth is ugly, it’s not something we should turn away from.


As a Christian, I often wear a cross. The tinny silver emblem of my faith is a work of art that holds darkness. It is a reminder of injustice, torture, and death. But is also my hope, the hope of this world. Should I turn away from the darkness of Christ’s death on the cross? Never.


Some artwork is created only for the enjoyment of morbidity. Again, I will say as long as you are not breaking any laws, or hurting other human beings, I don’t believe in forbidding you that kind of creativity. If this is you, I would like to ask you a question. Do you know your why? Is there something deep inside you might be neglected, that is the reason you enjoy dark art? Is it something you need to deal with?


For those of us who do not purposely seek dark works of art, may we be brave to telling the stories that beg to be told. May we be strong and not be trapped in darkness, but be able to let it go.

©Mary Grace van der Kroef 2020

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When Creativity Hurts

Does being creative ever hurt you? Does the stroke of a paintbrush, the writing of words, or the blink of a camera shutter bring on tears?


Honestly, sometimes for me creativity hurts. But I don’t think creativity itself causes my pain. I believe when I dig deep and stirs things I have bottled inside, that stirring up reminds me I am in pain. Because let’s be honest, when we live with wounds sometimes we get used to the pain. We forget they haven’t healed yet.


I also ask myself, is it worth this hurt? I always came back to the answer, yes. Creativity is worth every tear. Why? Because it can help me heal, if I let it.


Will I let it? Will you let it? Will we all let creativity work its cauterizing powers on our emotional and spiritual wounds? Is your head spinning yet? Mine is and I’m the writer, but hold on with me here.


Why does it have to hurt? It’s TRUE not all healing creativity is painful. Most often it soothes, releases and even washes away anxiety, depression, fear, and loneliness. But sometimes it makes you stare at the things hurting you, and that pinches. It makes you relive trauma. That’s worse. It makes you examine, probe, and even reopen wounds. That is excruciating. Have you ever been there?


On 2015, November 11th, I started writing a poem that would go further and deeper than anything I had ever written before. It took me four years and two-ish weeks to write over a thousand words. No, I will not post it. Why bring it up? For the example of my creativity hurting me. There is no way I could count the tears spilt while writing it.


I often asked God why he gave it to me, but he never answered that question. He said write it. There were times I walked away from the project for months on end, but he always brought my attention back.


“Mary, write.”
“But I don’t want to.”
“Mary, write the poem.”
“But I DON’T WANT TO!”


Then he would be silent as I sat my butt down to write a few lines, or fixed a word. Or just read it over and over again, and cried.
See, I believe God made every human being creative, whether we use that creativity or choose not to. When he gave it to us, he gave us one of our most powerful attributes. He gave us part of his very self. That is why the act of creativity, in its many forms, can heal.


I am learning to lean in to my creativity when it hurts. The act is difficult, and I test the waters with my toes before committing to the journey of those experiences. I find my brain is far more receptive to learning while it’s hurting, if the hurt involves being creative.


Also important, remember that if you start a journey of healing with creativity, you don’t have to share it with anyone. It’s yours. The pain, the healing, the experience is YOURS. The art you make is yours for you. If you want to share it, that’s beautiful. If you want to burn it after creating it, do it. If you need to store it away in a dark closet under 100 blankets, that is just fine too. It’s the doing that is important. When you reach a place where the doing doesn’t hurt, and feels more like living, you still don’t have to share it.


I pray God blesses you through your doing this week.

©Mary Grace van der Kroef 2020

Creativity and its Glitter Power

Have you ever used glitter to make a thank you, or holiday card? If you have, you know those tiny flakes of plastic get everywhere. Not only do they get everywhere, but stay there for a long time, spreading from person to person. I believe the power of creativity is the same.

When you give in to the need to throw glitter around, it touches people. Its healing, freeing, grounding affects linger like that spot of glitter that clings to your cheek.

“Oh, look!” A friend will chuckle as they reach out to flick the spot away. Except instead of disappearing, that fleck sticks to them and goes for a hike.

The power of that flake can travel from fingertip, to arm, to another unknowing face. That glint, that sparkle, flashing at every move of their head. Then the next person asks, “have you been playing with glitter?” That question is often accompanied by a smirk, laugh, or smile.

I have tried washing glitter from my hands with a generous amount of soap and water, only to find that still somehow some of it remains.

The difference between glitter and creativity is even though they both stick, creativity is never something we need to wash away. Even if we have to wash the residue of glitter, or paint, or even flour dust from our hands, it doesn’t wash that creativity from our hearts or souls. The more you use it, the father it spreads.

As we enter the month of December, my prayer is that we all light up our homes with the joy of creativity.

My Christmas tree is naked this year. The ornaments we had planned to bring along in our move from Northern Ontario to Southern Ontario, didn’t make the trip. So, we will get glitter out and sprinkling it on paper, clay and anything else we can find. In doing so, I hope to make memories we won’t forget, grow family love, and remember the person where all creativity originated.


God, you are good. Thank you.

©Mary Grace van der Kroef 2020

Photo by Mink Mingle on Unsplash

I Chose To Keep Creativity Alive

My kids were watching Brain Child the other day. The show was talking about creativity. I caught the part about how as you age you can lose it. “Now don’t you feel bad for your Mom and Dad?” I asked. They answered with a resounding, “YES!”

It’s true that “adulting” is not always conducive to living a creative life. It can drain us of our energy. Bills to pay, responsibilities to take care of, expectations to live up to.

Later, I was still thinking about it. I asked myself, “so what are you going to do about it?” It’s my creativity, it’s my job to make sure I don’t let it die.

See, I know what it is like to go for years, unable to create. Do you? Those were painful years. My head was in a terrible place. I stayed there way too long. I hadn’t written or drawn anything for years. Then a friend invited me to a paint night at a local artist’s gallery. I can never thank that friend enough. The joy I experienced that night while pushing paint around on a canvas was painful. I was like a dead thing coming back to life.

I loved it so much I asked all my sisters and closest friends to go with me again for my birthday. The night we went I was exhausted, cranky, and had a migraine. When I left I felt alive. My headache gone. Now the weeks and months I don’t get to paint regularly, I feel the activities absence. It becomes an ache inside of me.

Every human being is capable of creativity. Not only capable, but it is part of what makes us human. I believe creativity lives inside of YOU. Do you?

After finding my love of painting, suddenly the words inside of me came back to life. I have been writing like a mad woman ever since. Creativity lights the human spirit. It gives us wings. When we feed it, it grows and multiplies.

In the middle of a global pandemic, the entire world is tired, lonely, and stressed. I want to encourage you to be creative. If you don’t think your creative, your wrong. Get out the paper and crayons. Or maybe going for a walk outside and collecting leaves to make a collage is more your style. Go to the beach and make pictures in the sand. Do you live somewhere, where winter is blowing in like I do? Get or make a zen garden to play with. Make a snowman or crochet a scarf. There are so many ways to let your creativity shine.

Do you know what my favourite part of being creative is? It’s the part where it’s okay to be terrible at what you’re doing. Being good at it really doesn’t matter. It’s the doing that’s important.

So today or tomorrow make something. Then come back and tell me about it. I want to know what you did. Let’s stay creative together, and in doing so, let’s shine on this lonely earth.

When we are creative, I believe we are walking in God’s footsteps. I believe whether or not you share my faith, you where created in the image of God, the very essence of creativity. I can feel his presence when I create. Can you?

©Mary Grace van der Kroef 2020

Photo by Dragos Gontariu on Unsplash