Art as Coping Mechanism

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Cast of Cat Ballou

Terry Gross, one of my favorite interviewers, on her NPR radio show, Fresh Air, spoke with Bryan Cranston about, among many other subjects, his early personal life. At one point in the interview, Terry asked “What are your favorite TV shows or movies; the ones that had the most influence on you in your formative years?” “Cat Ballou with Jane Fonda and Lee Marvin” he answered, but knowing that the film sounded like an odd choice, he added “and that’s because it’s very personal”.  He then told a story of a time in his life, when he was about twelve years old, during which his parents were not getting along, right before their break-up. At the time his father was running a bar/coffee shop on Ventura Blvd in Tarzana, CA which was failing. Right next door was the Corbin Movie Theater where they were playing Cat Ballou. So, to escape the tension between his parents, Bryan and his brother spent a lot of time at the theater. They saw the movie so many times in fact, they were able to memorize the entire script. When they’d returned home, their parents would still be fighting, so the boys would retreat to their room and play out the entire movie line by line, scene by scene. Obviously, it  was a stressful period for both Bryan and his brother, but they coped with the psychic pain by immersing themselves in this movie. “We were escaping an emotional crisis by reinventing…art” Cranston revealed.

This is just one example of how the consumption of art can be used as an escape mechanism; almost like a drug. I have always found comfort in certain music during difficult periods of my life as have many, I imagine. If this is accurate it should follow that museums are full of despondent characters searching for a path away from their inner strife to find that happy place. Creating art is in itself a therapeutic process which can absorb one entirely and buffer all the woe rushing in from the external world. I suspect that either way, whether you consume or create the art, there is that point where one can become dangerously insular. Children (or adults for that matter) may become obsessed with video games to the detriment of their social life. Artists may isolate themselves, getting lost in some intricate design process (whether it be writing, sculpting, painting, architecture, etc…). But for the most part that does not occur all too frequently; the benefits of consuming or creating art far outweigh any destructive effects.

Seven Generations
Seven Generations: scrap metal sculpture by Frederick Franck

Near our home in Warwick, New York there is a magnificent outdoor sculpture garden and museum called, Pacem in Terris. It exists on and around the grounds of sculptor Frederick Franck’s residence. Franck’s sculpture, drawings, and writings, are placed in a peaceful, natural setting along the Wawayanda River and Falls. The site should be viewed as a single work of art. It incorporates the native flora, minerals, geography, and even makes use of the sun through shadow, so the experience changes with the passing of time. There is a flow to the work that is calming, and the experience can alter one’s mood for the better. It is as they say on the website “an oasis of solitude…” I recommend a visit if you are passing through or live in the area. As Bryan Cranston intimated to Terry Gross: Art is like a drug, it helps you to cope with the pitfalls of everyday life. I’m sure he finds much gratitude in the fact that he and his brother found Cat Ballou instead of Heisenberg Blue Sky out on Ventura Boulevard that day.

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Art as Coping Mechanism

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