Put Your Anger to Work for You
What do the album “Rumours” and the painting “Guernica” have in common?
You wouldn’t think there would be much correlation between a Fleetwood Mac album and a Pablo Picasso painting. But they do have at least two things in common: they are the most famous works of each artist and they were both created in the heat of anger.
Picasso painted “Guernica” after the village was destroyed by Fascists during the Spanish Civil War. A Republican supporter and later member of the Communist Party, Picasso was strongly opposed to Franco’s Nationalists. He had agreed to paint the centerpiece of the Spanish Pavilion for the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris, but was uninspired until he read a newspaper article about the devastation in Guernica. The town was bombed so heavily that fires lasted for three days.
Picasso’s artwork is almost twelve feet by twenty-five feet; the monumental size envelops and overwhelms the viewer. The jagged lines and sharp angles of Cubism work with the depiction of body parts and agonized screams to convey the brutality of the attack. There is no color in the work. Composed entirely in grey scale, it evokes the authenticity and legitimacy of a newspaper photograph. Picasso said in 1945, “ No, painting is not interior decoration. It is an instrument of war for attack and defense against the enemy.” He would not allow the painting to be staged in Spain as long as the country was under Fascist rule. As a result, “Guernica” did not return to Spain until 1981.
On a much lighter note, “Rumours” was written and recorded as the core relationships in Fleetwood Mac were disintegrating. Despite being fueled by cocaine and rage — or perhaps due to it — “Rumours” is one of the best-selling albums of all time. It produced four Top eleven songs as the bandmembers broke up with each other: Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham broke up, Christine and John McVie got divorced, and Mick Fleetwood and his wife Jenny were having marital problems that would later end in divorce. Listed third in a 2010 Times Magazine poll of the Top Ten Angry Breakup Songs, “Go Your Own Way,” written by Lindsey Buckingham about Stevie Nicks, was the first hit off “Rumours.”
Why are these works so successful? Because they channel and express extreme emotions. Anger works on both the viewer and the artist, in a chicken-and-egg sort of way. Is the viewer responding to the anger or the artist’s improved creativity?
Susan Krauss Whitbourne, PhD wrote in Psychology Today that “Guernica” exemplifies aggression:
…The basic theme of this abstract depiction of an armed conflict is that of aggression and group psychology. Although Picasso painted it from a political vantage point, the painting evokes strong emotions and causes us to think about whether we are innately aggressive or whether we could ever overcome these strong urges to hurt our fellow humans.
In a 2012 study published in Frontiers, researchers determined that humans are biologically programmed to be moved by works of art, albeit for differing personal reasons. As Whitbourne said, viewers are moved by the aggression evoked in “Guernica.” Anger is an energy that brings the painting to life and draws the viewer in.
“People respond to energy and passion,” Improv Asylum co-founder and CEO Norm Laviolette said in a recent interview. “That’s what the human mind is conditioned to respond to, energy and passion…. If you’re looking to draw people to you in any form, be it one on one or in business or anything else, just know that they respond to energy and passion. It shouldn’t be fake, and it doesn’t need to be [excessive].”
The way the human face flushes when angry causes us to unconsciously link the color red with anger. The human mind sees red, the embodiment of anger, as a sign of danger. It has proven to be energizing: “When humans see red, their reactions become both faster and more forceful,” a University of Rochester study explained.
But anger not only draws the eye of the beholder, it can improve the quality of the artist’s work.
Studies show that anger “fuels…creative brainstorming and problem solving by focusing mind and mood in highly refined ways.” Anger promotes “unstructured thinking” and higher levels of creativity, according to a Dutch study. Not only does anger fuel a creative state, it improves the novelty of the emerging ideas.
“ Some scientists …theorize that music and language evolved from a common “musiclanguage” ancestor, with music evolving to tackle emotional meaning and language evolving to handle referential meaning. Perhaps this would explain why poetry is significantly less popular than music — we’re more comfortable with feeling things when words are set to music.”
New York University experimental psychologist Gary Markus believes that music serves our emotional needs better than language does. In a 2014 interview he said, “Music is a much more emotional thing than language is. Language is much more specific in terms of ways of describing meaning. Of course, a lot of music combines the two. We have songs with lyrics. That’s some of the most potent stimulus known to man.”
Art therapy is often used as a treatment for anger. But it turns out that not only does it defuse the artist’s anger, it improves their creativity and the ultimate interaction between the patron and the artwork.
So the next time you are furious with a co-worker or peeved with a family member, sit down at your easel or start up your computer. And remember, every time Fleetwood Mac reunites, Stevie Nicks has to sing backup on Lindsey Buckingham’s screed to her. Now that’s revenge.