I wrote about my personal experiences in war long before I knew it helped me to cope with the strange and frightening things I had seen. Catharsis was not something for which most of the guys in my infantry platoon were adequately trained, and I learned quickly to suck it up and drive on. But privately, I put my thoughts down in order to make sense of the world. There’s no doubt that creative exercise helped when I came home from Iraq.
Recovery through art is something that is understood at VA facilities across the country. Every year, medical centers hold local competitions in everything from dancing to acting and pottery. The best works of art are selected by committee to be a part of the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival, which will be held October 8-15 in Boston later this year.
The competition will include 53 categories in the visual arts section, including oil painting, leatherwork, and paint-by-number kits. The performance arts section boasts 120 categories in music, drama, and dance—not to mention creative writing.
Many medical centers are showing artwork they plan to send to the national competition. The Denver Post was on hand to check out art at the Denver VA Medical Center, and described the power of art as a healing process:
“It was a way to find myself again after years of feeling lost,” said Army veteran Pamela “Jade” Scott, who also suffers from PTSD, in the application form for “Nimue,” a large lifecast decorated with seashells, coral, glass, wire and paper.
“All my art pieces represent healing in some way for me . . . and this piece is about the healing effects of water and emotions,” Scott said.
Last year, veterans in the art show ranged from ages 18 to 90. A few served in WWII, but most served in Vietnam.
Whether they win a ribbon or not, each veteran is given a few minutes on stage to speak about how their piece of art helped in their healing process.
While it may be too late to submit your own work for this year’s competition, now is a good time to get started on your own work. Check out the festival page to learn more about the process to be ready for next year’s event, and take a look at photos from previous events for an idea of what it’s like.
Luckily I learned the power of catharsis early, but it’s never too late to express the things you may have difficulty communicating to others. It was difficult for me to speak about my experiences in combat, but the words flowed when I sat in front of a keyboard. It’s not just for my benefit—my family understands what happened over there a little better because of my writing. Every little bit helps to fully come home from war.