Reflecting on a Tragedy: Can Artistic Outlets Save Lives?

In the wake of the recent Virginia Tech tragedy, I felt it necessary to provide some sort of commentary, especially since I am only a short time removed from college myself. I want to wait a few days though, in order to better let my thoughts coalesce, focus on a specific topic (as opposed to just discussing the event), let the shock subside and to especially give some time, without analysis and without a bombardment of media reactions, for people to mourn.

Now that some time has passed, I feel the need to discuss some of my reflections on the tragedy from the perspective of my two website focuses. For the Soul of Rock 'n' Roll, I have decided to focus on the concept of artistic outlets like music as a way to let out emotions. For my other site, the Sights & Sounds from the Fifth Column, I decided to focus on the issue of gun control. You can read that article here:

Both of these articles are dedicated to those who lost their lives, those who gave their lives protecting others and the families and friends of everyone directly affected by this tragedy.

Throughout the course of our lives, we are all continually subjected to new scenarios and new experiences that continually alter our personality and influence our actions. These events are interpreted by us based upon our previous experiences as well and so similar events can be viewed as enjoyable to some and immensely stressful to others. To individuals who are already stressed, fragile, or on the edge, regular everyday events can be blown out of proportion, resulting in major bouts of depression, suicide or fits of rage.

Sometimes the line between sanity and insanity is razor thin, and at times it doesn't take much at all to push someone one way or another. I believe that something as simple as an artistic pursuit, like music, can in certain cases be enough to save lives both from incidents of rage and suicide.

I consider music to be one of the most emotional media formats available. These emotions can range from absolute joy, to heart wrenching sadness, aggression fueled rage. No matter what an individual is feeling, they can often find a genre, a song and style that fits that emotion. Connecting with music like this can give us a sense that the writer/singer/band, feels the same way we do, can relate to the type of emotions we have and in turn let us let them out easier. Personally, my emotions shift my musical tastes. Some days, if it has been a bad day I may choose to listen to something that is sadder, darker or more angry to help me connect, let out some frustration and ease some stress. On other days where it has been a good day, I will choose something happier to connect with, and let it out. Both are like a form of primal scream therapy (one for happiness and one for stress) where emotions are released as they are occurring instead of holding them inside.

I think relating and connecting with something like this is important for all individuals and can also be the difference between feeling lonely and feeling accepted. Plus being able to let emotions out can be the difference between healthy responses and responses based in pent up anger or rage. Often times this connection can go one step further giving a sense of belonging, as individuals can bond over similar musical tastes creating a musical community of sorts and a support system.

The heavy metal community has for a long time been an incredibly close knit community with fiercely loyal fans. Although there has been debate as to whether the violent imagery of certain metal artists may encourage violence (especially after the Columbine tragedy), but I consider the adrenaline rush of heavy metal music to be more of primal scream therapy I mentioned before, where we can release some built up frustration and aggression; an outlet for aggression as opposed to a cause. Metal fans have also always stated that metal has given them a sense of community, a place to belong, a place to feel safe and have friends. They bond over their mutual enjoyment of metal music, and can easily relate to each other because they can identify with the emotions of the songs.

This sense of community extends to other genres as well where individuals share similar likes and dislikes and can help us feel more connected to people. By providing a sense of community and a sense of identification, these musical communities can help people overcome feelings of being outcast and loneliness that may fuel thoughts of violence or suicide.

Creating music, (or other artistic media) can also give a sense of community as people bond over the love of an instrument or art form, but more so, it serves as a another outlet for emotion. If we feel that we are unable to communicate our feelings to others, often time our music or art can speak where we cannot. By identifying with an instrument, we can help to release and express pent up emotion and relieve stress through an activity we enjoy. Sometimes the release of that stress can be enough to help us get through our day and prevent us from bottling up emotion and letting anger turn to resentment... turn to contempt... turn to hate... turn to violence.

Plus, by creating music or art, we can give ourselves goals to shoot for and even a purpose to our day, something that can probably help relieve depression. To others, our music and art can give them a sense of how we are feeling and allow them to better understand us as individuals

It may sound naive to think that something as simple as music can save lives and help prevent violence. That may be true, but I have experienced first hand the effects that music can have on an individual and help them release emotion, as well as how a community of like minded people can make a difference in your life. The emotional content of all artwork lends itself to deep connections that can be quite powerful.

Maybe in certain cases, individuals are just too far gone to be brought back by something as simple as a song, or an instrument. With the recent college shooting to which this article is dedicated, nothing as simple as connecting through music or art probably could have helped the individual responsible better handle their anger and in turn prevented this tragedy.

Still, I believe that there are cases where music and other artistic emotional outlets have saved lives and these artistic pursuits should be encouraged because everything that can help release the stress and emotion helps. Sometimes that little bit might just be enough to be the difference between an someone being able to cope with something and lashing out.


- The Soul of Rock 'n' Roll is a division of Fifth Column Media - -