Fire… and Art?

Feb 09, 2020

Fire seemed to be everywhere. Our country was burning. Australia in the summer is hot and bushfires are common, but not to the extent we have just experienced. Obviously not everyone was directly affected but everyone was impacted in some way. Fire continues to be uppermost in our minds as the hot weather continues.

With any traumatic experience there are so many emotions we feel. How we deal with these feelings varies and can be influenced by our situation, age, experiences and support networks. As parents, carers and teachers helping young ones to work through and with these feelings builds strategies for responding to life’s challenges. Engaging in art, in its many forms, can be an approach that is calming and soothing.

Technology has brought the experiences to the forefront for everyone. It felt like we were there with those most closely involved: the fires, the resulting devastation and then the heartwarming stories of rescue and recovery.

The art of capturing the moment

I watched the images on our screens and was struck by just how amazing these photos showing the devastation were. Can there be an acknowledgement if not an appreciation of the artistic skill in the composition that these images have captured? Photography is an art. The subject, though, can be so emotional that it is hard to step back and see past the heartache. I searched the internet for photos and found some ‘beautiful’ photos but in amongst them were images of dead animals as well as dead vegetation. I didn’t want to share those links. I prefer to look for the positives and to see photos of recovery and rejuvenation: these made me feel so much better. These I wanted to share.

This ABC report, Waking Up, shows the beginnings of new life amongst the devastation. Being able to actually do something ourselves to help, makes us feel better. Altruistic acts, showing selfless concern for the welfare of others, releases endorphins which are happy hormones and make us feel good. For the benefit of scientific research, it has been suggested that we, citizen scientists, can help by taking photographs of recovering flora and fauna. A win for us, a win for science and a win for nature.

Art for a cause

Artists have also been supporting recovery. Just as tennis players have played exhibition matches as fundraisers and singers have performed concerts, so too artists have created artworks to raise money in support of the rescue, recuperation, restoration and rebuilding efforts. People want to help. We can each use our skills to achieve something that will help others. Linked here are examples of artists from all over the world paying respect to the Australian bushfires with beautiful art. 

The art of cultural burns (cool fires)

Seeing the valuable side of fire is important to recovery as well. Yes, the fires that have devastated Australian bush, farmland and towns are, generally speaking, a natural disaster. They are hot and fierce, destroying not only man-made elements of the environment but also baking seeds and burning from the roots to the treetops. But, in contrast, the traditional fire management practices of the Aboriginal people continue to be followed by rural councils. The indigenous communities perfected the art of cool, quick burns that are planned and carried out based on their knowledge and recognition of the natural vegetation, climate conditions and weather patterns. These are not destructive fires but fires that clear the grasses - like a gardening strategy. This is a fascinating tradition that I recently witnessed firsthand in the north of Australia: self-contained, almost gentle fires - a stark contrast to the wild bushfires. Here are a couple of sites that helped me understand the art and science behind these cultural burns.

*Cool burns: key to aboriginal fire management
*Traditional Aboriginal burning in modern day land management

Fire is an inherent part of nature and natural cycles, along with wind and water. It serves a purpose for good both in nature and as a way to create warmth and cook food. It’s good to be able to reflect on the benefits of fire after watching its destructive powers. 

Art as therapy 

In times of stress and pain after traumatic experiences, we all need strategies to help us cope. Being able to engage our creative side can be relaxing, distracting and healing. Artworks may mirror the dark side of our emotions and provide an outlet to defuse tensions. Just as talking or writing about how we feel can help, so too can drawing and painting.

The recent bushfires have been devastating but to see how people have shared their thoughts and experiences through art, with an eye for aesthetics in the face of adversity, is encouraging. Supporting our children to develop their creative skills, gives them an outlet when they are confronted with overwhelming events in their lives. Making art can be a way to bring beauty and light back where things have become bleak and blackened. Artventure and its big sister, Art Eye Deer, offer such opportunities for drawing and painting. It feels good to use art for healing as much as for pleasure.

Teacher and Artventure Blogger