Wayne Downs


Art as a Language for Pain


Experiences of pain are arguably some of the most isolating experiences one faces in life. Pain certainly makes descriptive articulations about the feelings one encounters difficult and clumsy, but some have accepted the belief that pain has the potential to destroy communication and the ability to find meaning during painful situations. The elimination of either of these abilities attacks core components of human dignity, thus the need for a method to communicate pain is clear. Therefore, the question is quite simply, how can pain be communicated, if it is indeed communicable? Too often, we falsely assume that human communication is reliant on words, or some sort of linear, logical progression of expressions. The overarching supposition in this paper is that various forms of art have been utilized for millennia to express feelings, attitudes and insights that are difficult to translate into coherent verbal articulations regardless of one’s vocabulary and compositional skills. In order to substantiate the case for art as a language for pain, I first argued that the pain shared through art is authentic pain, as opposed to imaginary pain. Secondly, I sought an explanation of how pain can be communicated if pain does supposedly precede, or even destroy language. I then explored the value and ensuing duty of a language for pain culminating in the point that the arts can be used to represents the totality of life’s experiences and thereby helping those facing affliction reinstate their dignity. Using art as a language for pain, one can vanish into another’s afflictions, unhindered by personal beliefs and prejudices, or emotions. Art as language of pain makes it possible for us to share in another’s pain and thus reestablishes the sufferer’s place in community.


Wayne J. Downs holds an M.Div. from George W. Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor University. He is currently working toward a MA in Philosophy at Texas A&M University. His long-term research interest lies at the intersection of cognitive science and philosophy, and focuses on the dynamics of pain in its relation to establishing moral values.