Loss is one of the few things in life shared by all of humanity. It’s inevitable, unavoidable, and can’t be pushed under a rug as much as we want to do so. After the loss of his 35-year-old brother, artist Preston Zeller went on a year-long journey into confronting loss and death. Zeller chronicled it all in his documentary The Art of Grieving.
As much as the film is about the artist’s reflections on grief, its primary message speaks to the effectiveness of art therapy as a way to work through one’s trauma. The artist dealt with his brother’s death by painting his feelings and creating one painting every day for 365 days. At the end of the year, Zeller intends to install his work as a 10′ by 20′ mosaic in his home. Each painting is oil on a 6″ by 8″ canvas, with most of his art being an abstract emotion explosion (Clearly, I’m not an art critic and don’t know what I’m talking about).
There is an educational component to The Art of Grieving. Zeller, along with a few experts, explores grief from many viewpoints. Most significant to me was the anxiety that comes with not knowing what to express to the bereaved when there’s nothing you can say at that moment to take away the pain and sadness and make everyone feel better. Zeller discusses the process and struggles he faced using art to process grief and how art can be helpful for any traumatic experience. When Zeller describes how different cultures view the afterlife and process sorrow and pain, the question arises why Western culture isn’t better equipped to address grief.
“…dealt with his brother’s death by painting his feelings and creating one painting every day for 365 days.”
As an indie documentary, I was fascinated by the way The Art of Grieving was constructed. Much of Zeller’s story about his brother is told in voice-over using (my guess) stock video footage to enhance his narration visually. The video style is also used for much of the expert discussion and history of grief. A lot of work went into giving the best visual presentation, and it shows. The filmmaker also successfully conveys how vast and intense an undertaking this project was.
Interestingly, there are times when it seemed like the project became more of an obsession for Zeller rather than serving its initial purpose. But, quite frankly, avoidance is one of my favorite ways to confront anything. His wife mentioned that these paintings were not a 10-minute one and done, but each piece had to be thoughtfully composed and committed to canvas — now repeat for 365 days.
We all process grief and trauma in different ways, which means there is not one single way to “get over it.” The Art of Grieving makes the case for art therapy, in all its forms, as an effective and visually stunning way of finding meaning in tragedy.
For more information, visit The Art of Grieving official website.
"…an effective and visually stunning way of finding meaning in tragedy."