The value of melancholy

Rodin’s Thinker does not pretend to be jolly.

It’s true that negative thinkers drag us all down. For this reason it is to be welcomed that social media such as Facebook and Instagram tend to focus on happy ‘stories’ and feel-good pictures. We gain a positive energy from such things. That said, it seems a step too far that the ’emoticons’ provided guide us to express almost entirely upbeat emotions. There are lots of representations of smiles, grins, laughs and giggles, and very few expressions of nuanced and thoughtful emotions, or faces tinged with melancholy.

We have all been through an emotionally draining experience these past twelve months. My main reason for neglecting this blog recently is that, in the intervening time, I have lost my father to covid and have had covid myself. It is perhaps a cliche, but also true, to say that it is okay to be melancholy sometimes – in fact it is essential to feel, accept and express grief in order to process it.

Not only so, but sadness can have huge creative force. The artists Vincent Van Gogh and Francisco de Goya produced extraordinary, emotionally charged works powered by their feelings of sadness, fear or distress. Mozart wrote his Requiem as his own life was ebbing towards its close. To deny sadness, melancholy and the dark things in life is to deny an inalienable aspect of the human condition.

I obviously tend to avoid melancholy sentiments in my greetings card designs, although the symbol of the cross in the Christian designs tells a very sad story indeed (despite the upbeat Christian epilogue of resurrection). The best art is powered by authentic thoughts and feelings, located at various points on the emotional scale, including at the happy end. Yet sadnes and melancholy can be wells from which we draw creativity. The art that we produce in these states may in fact not even be depressing but perhaps something of beauty that assuages our own feelings and is cathartic to others.

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