Even amid war and Holocaust, humans have a drive to create that is so strong that prisoners in concentration camps would risk death to create their art – art that now provides a glimpse of what life was like in the ghettos and camps.
Some scholars argue that art was a “strategy for survival” during the Holocaust, and the current understanding of art therapy suggests this may just be true. Art combined with mindfulness can reduce stress in cancer patients, and is even used to help Iraq and Afghanistan veterans recover from PTSD. Although “expressing suffering” by venting negative emotions through art is actually not as effective at improving the artist’s mood as creating more positive art, art that focuses on the trauma of war and suffering may help the artist reappraise a traumatic event, in the same way that memorials can create emotional distance through third-person storytelling that helps peole process their experiences.
Many are still making art to memorialize and process the events of the Second World War. My favorite – no doubt in part because of my love of photography – is the Ghosts of War series, which overlays photographs of soldiers from the war with recent photgraphs of the same location. It is not unlike what we have tried to do over this entire trip, helping the past (and psychology) seem more real.