Reflections and Rejections: A Periodic Column by Jana Begovic ---Search of Meaning: Alchemizing Life Through Art

In Search of Meaning: Alchemizing Life Through Art

“Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose, or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation.” Graham Greene

I was very young when I watched the movie “Splendour in the Grass”, and even though I can recall few details from the storyline, I still vividly remember how visual art, i.e. painting helped Natalie Wood stitch back together her splintered heart, and exorcise the love malady that at one point left her dangling between madness and death. Later in my life, especially during my graduate studies in literary criticism, I became acquainted with Freud’s concept of sublimation through which repressed and unfulfilled desires are channeled through artistic expression and creativity, and it was then that I became aware of the alchemizing power of art and creativity.

Treading the path of fate, we collide with losses, drown in sorrows, face fears, anxiety, suffer the agony of chronic physical pain, and numerous other miseries braided in the tapestry of our existence. Navigating life’s dualities in our search of meaning or healing, many of us discover and utilize the transformational power of creative expression, whether by finding solace in it, or using it as a tool for self-therapy, self-analysis or self-transcendence. Heinrich Heine, a famous German poet comes immediately to mind as someone, who in spite of being bed-ridden for several years, continued writing and thereby transcending his unfortunate circumstances.

Art and books can infuse us with aesthetic pleasure, or they can stir our emotions with their messages, social commentaries, philosophical musings, vivid descriptions of inner and outer landscapes, etc. Great books entertain us, and also teach us something valuable. By dissecting the human condition and peeling away layers of its complexities, and by narrating about painful and terrifying events, writers break down the walls of separateness across the sands of time, and invite us in the circle of inter-connectedness, diminishing thus our sense of isolation.
Writers and artists, in general may create for different reasons, but for many, one of the reasons is to understand themselves better by excavating their subconscious. That process is both healing and cathartic.  One of the composers, whose music often plays in the background while I write, has never hidden from his fans his bouts of debilitating depression and suicidal thoughts. He sees music as his salvation, and has said that composing has helped him much more than psychotherapy ever had.

Life goes wrong for everyone, leaving us, at times disoriented and unsure of its purpose. The blows of Fate may make us feel we are no longer standing on terra firma, that our feet are touching an empty space, that life has become lustreless and meaningless. And yet, we are creatures of meaning, we crave it and seek it, and feel compelled to ascribe it to the events in our lives, even when the Universe seems to be cold and indifferent, or even chaotic reminding us of our insignificance and aloneness. Those who are deeply rooted in religious belief may find meaning and solace in their faith. Others, like Tolstoy had on an occasion, may question the value of any effort, seeing futility, banality and absurdity everywhere, realizing that there is no higher force that can save them.   

Philosopher David Hume, as well as the existentialists Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus found the antidote to meaninglessness in engagement with life.  Through the creative process, writers and artists engage with life by alchemizing the raw material of anxiety, isolation, mortal dread and sorrow experienced on the personal level into something universal. By plumbing the depths of their own psyche through words on paper, paint on the canvas, or notes on music sheets, they untangle some of their internal strife and tension, and cleanse their souls of life’s debris restoring meaning to their existence.

The alchemizing and healing power of writing, or art in general has been recognized long ago, and these forms of expression have been utilized in the treatment and processing of trauma, PTSD or bereavement. Creativity is a catalyst of emotion, it is self-revelatory, it is salubrious and by exploring their interiority through writing, or other form of artistic expression, artists transcend their own condition and reach others. Through the process, they hold up the mirror of humanity to their readers, who, in turn can see their own reflection, and feel less isolated in their own suffering.

Sherwood Anderson said, “The object of art is not to make salable pictures. It is to save yourself, to make yourself alive.” This is applicable to every facet of creativity. It is redeeming, healing, connecting and catalyzing. Art may be an underutilized tool in our struggle to alchemize life’s darkness into light, and to find meaning in our transient existence. It helps us discover our soul’s treasures and build resilience toward existential sickness or crisis, which reminds us of our finiteness, and to which, occasionally everyone succumbs. But most of all, by allowing us to elevate the personal to the universal, it lets us not only save ourselves, but also others.

Jana Begovic

As far back as she can remember, Jana has been fascinated by storytelling. Her love of reading and writing propelled her toward studies of languages and literature resulting in B.A. degrees in English and German Languages and Literature, an M.A. Degree in Literary Criticism, as well as a B.Ed. Degree in English and Dramatic Arts.

Among her publications are an academic article published by Cambridge Scholars, UK, the novel Poisonous Whispers, published by Roane Publishing, N.Y., poetry, short fiction, articles, art reviews, and blog posts featured in literary journals, such as Ariel Chart, Chantwood, the Pangolin Review, Abstract, Canada Fashion Magazine and Authors Publish (Facebook page). Her short story, Purveyors of Magic will appear in the springtime edition of Black Shamrock. Currently, she is working on a collection of children's stories and acting as a senior editor for Ariel Chart and contributing editor/writer for the Canada Fashion Magazine. She has been nominated for the 2019 Best of the Net and the PushCart awards for a piece of non-fiction and a short story published in Ariel Chart.

She lives in Ottawa, Ontario and works for the Government of Canada as an education specialist in the field of military language training.

She can be contacted via her Author Page at


  1. What concerns me about inspiration is how the average thinker confuses it with being boring. This article is inspiring because it is not full of cliches but rather informs the reader of the power and promise of literature.

  2. As it was said in the podcast "inspiration" is not a disney phrase or hallmark is the best manifestation we have for hope and maybe a faint sign of a spiritual world beyond this one. The author makes it real for all involved in the arts. We could use more of this voice. Very well done.

  3. in the period of global upheaval i feel its a duty of writers to help create a more positive environment. This work does that. You should be praised.

  4. on a bad day i will return to this work and find solace and a renewed purpose.

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