Art for the Heartbroken

The physical symptoms of heartbreak do not, misleadingly, tend to include a wrenching pain in the chest; they more frequently manifest themselves in the delightful combination of twisting stomach cramps, prickly eyes and a constant headache. Unpleasant as this may be, it’s fairly easily cured: strong tea, ibuprofen and maybe even a brisk walk generally does the trick.

If only that was it. It’s likely that the victim will also be suffering from a strange melange of resignation, disbelief and exhilaration. Depending on individual cases, there may also be the odd bit of despair or anguish thrown into the mix. And I really do believe that art can help with any of these feelings. This works on two levels: first, if you’re an art buff, you probably went on a fair few gallery dates with your now absent lover. Going on your own could serve as a symbolic readjustment. You might even have a nice time. Secondly, art is absorbing. Right now, you need reprise from all those thoughts in your head and this can be a wonderful distraction.

So, I prescribe Turner. Specifically his Venice paintings but, really, anything will do. His work is consistently dizzyingly gorgeous. Light seems to come out of his paintings, inviting you into a soothing world full of dreamy colours and gently glinting water. The sheer scale and magnificence of all of this is disorientating. And this is what you need. You need to be reminded that there is more out there than what you feel right now, and it is a particularly beautiful sort of more. You need to dream about all the things you could do now that you’re on your own (sorry to be blunt – but it is a good thing). For me at least, our very own Joseph Mallord William makes a really marvellous companion through all of this.

Lucky, then, that the National Gallery is currently showing Turner in January, Henry Vaughan’s bequest of 38 watercolours. Whatever stage you’re at of the healing (or hurting) process, go along and lose yourself in these life-affirming – yes, honestly – paintings. I’ll see you there.

Originally published in The Student, January 2011.

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