Monday 27 October 2014

Coping with grief

In his book, The principles of art, R.G. Collingwood (1938) proposed that art, properly so-called, is an exploration of an emotion that is not understood. The therapeutic implication is that people who are suffering from a grief that has thrown them into turmoil and confusion would come to understand it better by engaging with a piece of art that explored it.

Emy Koopman (2014) has investigated this theme empirically by approaching train-travellers, people who used a public library, and people in reading groups, to ask them about how they coped with a severe life event. The number of respondents was 198. They filled out a questionnaire about the most significant loss they had experienced through death, divorce, or separation, and whether they had used literature, or music, or both, to help them work through their grief. 

Koopman found that 32% of her respondents used neither music or literature during their period of grief, 33% used only music, 10% used only literature, and 25% used both. People whose style of coping was emotion-focused rather than problem-focused were more likely to use artistic media. Using music was more closely associated with recognition, whereas using literature was more closely associated with distraction. For those who used both media, the coping process tended to alternate between distraction and recognition. Those who reported the greatest impact of their loss were more likely to use artistic media. Among the 13 participants who used literature and who had suffered a loss during the last year, there were strong correlations between impact of their reading and insight (r = 0.53, p = 0.06), and between this impact and recognition (r = 0.56, p < 0.05).

Collingwood, R. G. (1938). The principles of art. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Koopman, E. (2014). Reading in times of loss: An exploration of the functions of literature during grief. Scientific Study of Literature, 4, 68-88.
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