Loss and Art

The book, “The Art of Racing in the Rain,” (which was also made into a film) is completely told from a dog’s point of view. It’s wonderfully written, and even now I still remember the book’s fabulous first line: “All I have are gestures.”

Or think back on your own life and those losses that broke your heart and took you out at the knees. You can fictionalize it if you’d like, or write it like memoir. Allow yourself to go to the well of that pain and confusion. Remember what Ocean says, that part of writing is abandonment. When we write without fear, when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, we create art that rings true not only for ourselves, but for others. 

In the description/summary for this course, I referenced how loss is the theme used in much of the most memorable art ever created.

During the pandemic, I was so distraught at times that I would Google “Happy Songs.” What I discovered is that the best songs are almost always gut-wrenching—beautiful but sad, affecting and memorable because they mirror pain we once felt, and thought was ours alone.

Here are just a few:

Nothing Compares 2 U – Sinead O’Connor

Everybody Hurts – R.E.M.

Shallow – Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper

Calum Scott – Dancing On My Own

Lewis Capaldi – Someone You Loved

Billie Eilish exploded onto the scene as a 17-year-old who wrote spare, dark confessional songs. There’s nothing tricky about her music, she simply shares her pain, fears and foibles in an honest way that fans readily relate to:

If you have never heard of Olivia Rodrigo, you’re probably older than 30. Like Eilish, she became a massive success at a young age (18) by writing a bitter breakup album. The song, “Driver’s License” won several Grammys, stayed at #1 for over two months and has nearly 9 million YouTube views. Her first three singles have over one BILLION streams EACH. Why? Because she’s touching a nerve we’ve all dealt with at one time or another.

The loss of worldly possessions. Loss of bodily functions. Life slipping away, bit by bit. These are all great fodder for potent writing that will surely impact your reader.

This is probably the saddest, yet most powerful music video I’ve ever seen:

Hurt – Johnny Cash

And this song/video, “If the World Was Ending,” by JP Saxe and Julia Michaels, though written before 2020, could not have captured the mood of the pandemic, and the pain of separation, any better:

A friend of mine was in a band and he explained that the way they wrote songs was to “borrow” a riff from a song they liked, then play with it until they’d made something new that they thought sounded catchy and fresh.

Try plucking a lyric from any of the songs above to write a piece. Then go back and alter the artist’s original lyric.

Or just focus on the cinematography in any of the videos. Almost all of them are mesmerizing, if not also haunting, and they deftly capture a specific mood. Set your character in that landscape and then create a problem that he/she/they must solve.