Turn to art for comfort

After the horrific events of July 22, Norwegians turned to the creative arts for solace

Line Grundstad Hanke

The National Gallery, Munch-Hall

The National Gallery, Munch-Hall

Art can do wonders for us in hard times. It is a proven fact that art stimulates our mind and makes us feel good, so it is no wonder that Norwegians went to see art galleries, museums and movies in the few days after the July 22 attacks in Oslo and at Utøya.

By art, we mean storytelling, poetry, music, dance, visual arts, painting and sculpture; everything that is usually thought of as creativity. Art is used in many forms and we see that it has a good effect in hospitals and nursing homes. One feels free and gathers strength in the beauty of art.

Cinemas and museums in Oslo had surprisingly good attendance rates after the attacks on July 22. “We expected much fewer visitors because of the situation in Oslo,” said Hussein Hussein, department manager of the Oslo Cinema, in an interview with Aftenposten. “But we sold almost as many tickets as we would have before the attacks.” On Saturday, the day after the tragedies, attendance was especially high. “We got many comments from people that it was good to have a place to go to,” said Hussein.

The National Museum, Viking Ship Museum and the Munch Museum in Oslo also reported surprisingly small changes in total visitors after the terrorist attacks in Oslo and on Utøya.

The National Gallery reported that many Norwegians – not just foreign tourists – visited on the Sunday after the attacks.

“When so many go to the art gallery in this situation, I think it shows a need to go back to a normal life,” said Jean-Yves Gallardo, the department director for communication with the National Museum.

In an interview with Aftenposten, Norwegian psychotherapist Melinda A. Meyer of the National Research Center on violence and traumatic stress said, “Many use art to gain strength after a crisis.”

She has used art as therapy with traumatized people. “After big traumas, a person’s senses attach themselves strongly to images. Just think how many sat in shock in front of news broadcasts in the days after the attacks,” she said. This is why returning to a normal life after a traumatic experience is very important. “It is important to get the senses in motion again as soon as possible. Here art is a big help, because it speaks to our feelings. To experience a concert, movie, or art exhibit gives the possibility to come away from those other images.”

Some may not think that seeing a disturbing painting like Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” would be of any help to victims of trauma. On the contrary, said Meyer to Aftenposten. “It can be a comfort. The Scream lives in many of us after such an experience. There, we can find an echo of what we cannot put into words… When you escape from the trauma and do something completely different, you are able to regain movement. It is necessary to take breaks. Then you can come back to the pain with a new perspective.”

“Many do not have words to speak about what has happened,” Meyer continued. “The advantage of art is that it, too, is wordless. In art there is room for both pain and healing.”

This article was originally published in the Aug. 12, 2011 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. For more information about the Norwegian American Weekly or to subscribe, call us toll free (800) 305-0217 or email subscribe@norway.com.

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