Exhibits › Lamentations and Beyond: Healing Through Art

Lamentations are expressions of deep grief — a nearly inconsolable amalgam of loss, suffering, pain, and sorrow.

By historical standards, most Americans experience unparalleled material wealth. This includes access to ample food, safe tap water, indoor sanitary plumbing, heating and air conditioning, a modicum of modern medical and dental care, opportunities for entertainment and travel, a personal car, a personal computer, antibiotics, antihistamines, asprin, and other readily available over-the-counter anodynes.

Yet Americans spend over $11 billion on doctor-prescribed antidepressants and an additional $4 billion or more on anti-anxiety drugs. If one adds in annual alcohol sales of $90 billion and another $60 billion dollars in illegal drug purchases, this totals at least $165 billion spent on trying to feel a little better about life and one’s situation.

Unfortunately, booze acts as a depressant on the brain and nervous system, and most “happy pills” mitigate all deep feelings — like love and sexual desire.

The real inconvenient truth is that there is an inherent and unavoidable sadness to the human condition. Everyone we love and everything we cherish perishes in a relatively short period of time. Including ourselves.

Consumer culture has tried with great vigor and ingenuity to distract us from this stark reality with various transient pleasures, potions, and plethora of psychotherapies — all claiming to have “the answer” to what ails you.

When Jerusalem was destroyed in 586 B.C., the Jews were dragged off to slavery in Babylon. The most profound communal response to this tragedy was the creation of the Book of Lamentations. It is a text that is still held as sacred by both religious Jews and Christians. Even as a modern, secular Jew, these ancient words still resonate with me.

Other related texts in the Old Testament like the Psalms and the books of Job and Ecclesiastes can also console our spirits in these increasingly precarious and bewildering times. One does not need to believe in an all-powerful deity to be moved by religiously inspired poetry and symbolism.

Like virtually all people who have managed live into their 60s, I have known my share of grief. My response to these difficult moments has always been art. The words of the philosopher John Armstrong seem especially apt:

“Art reminds us of the legitimate place of sorrow in a good life, so that we recognize our difficulties as elements of any noble existence…. To say that art is therapeutic is not to suggest that it shares therapy’s methods but rather its underlying ambition: to help us to cope better with existence.”

I hope that the following images, poems, and quotes pique your interest and reflect our shared humanity.

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Lamentations and Beyond:
Healing Through Art

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Lamentations and Beyond:
Healing Through Art

A Print Series by Bob Barancik

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