Grief has always been an unavoidable part of life, but it’s been particularly prevalent over the last two years for many of us. During times of grief, it’s common to find an outlet, and for a lot of people, that outlet is art. If you want to understand just how much of an impact art can have on the process of grief, Andrew Garfield has a pretty profound perspective on it.
Andrew Garfield, an actor who is well known for his roles in things such as The Amazing Spider-Man, recently appeared on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert to discuss his new film, Tick, Tick… BOOM!.
In the movie, Garfield plays Jonathan Larson, a composer and playwright known for his work on musicals like Rent. While the film is a biographical tale of Larson’s life, it also explores themes of aspiration, friendship and love that are expressed through music.
Garfield lost his mother in 2019 to cancer and told Colbert in his interview that playing Larson in the film helped him process her death.
“This is all the unexpressed love, the grief that will remain with us, you know, until we pass. Because we never get enough time with each other, right? Not even if someone lives until 60, 15 or 99. So, I hope this grief stays with me because it’s all the unexpressed love I didn’t get to tell her.”
This in itself is a pretty incredible way of looking at grief. I can’t help but think of the “but what is grief, if not love persevering?” line from WandaVision because both offer such simple ways of turning typical outlooks on grief on their heads.
The real Jonathan Larson tragically died at an early age right before the opening of Rent. Garfield said the process of taking on a character who died so unexpectedly allowed him to simultaneously process his grief.
“This film is kind of to do with … this ticking clock that we all have. That we all know somewhere deep down life is sacred, life is short and we better just be here as much as possible, with each other, holding on to each other… I got to sing Jonathon Larson’s unfinished song while simultaneously singing for my mother and her unfinished song…
“I’m indebted to everyone who has brought me to this place so that I can honour the most beautiful person that I’ve ever experienced in my life through my art and use it as a way to heal. Use it to sew up the wounds…
“Both John and my mother were artists, and they were warriors for art. They knew the power of art and they knew the power of leaving the world in a slightly more beautiful state than when they found it.”
Garfield’s speech is one of those rare instances where a larger than life concept has been put into words and can be seen in action. A lot of us inherently recognise the value that art has, but seeing it expressed in such an honest way really leaves an impact.
Understandably, his reflection received a lot of attention online. You can see it in full in the video below.
There has been a fair bit of research into the relationship between art and grief that supports Andrew Garfield’s message.
International Arts + Mind Lab wrote in an article that engaging in creative activities can help us to regulate grief.
“Creative activities may help regulate the highs and lows of grief by bringing feelings that are repressed or difficult to express out in the open and making them more accessible for processing.
“The arts can also help the bereaved sustain their bonds with the deceased and make meaning of the loss. In fact, meaning-making is now considered a sixth stage of grief. Research shows that those who find meaning in loss have greater subjective well-being and even immune system functioning than those who don’t find meaning.”
For Garfield, it was through his portrayal of Jonathan Larson that he was able to find meaning in the death of his mother and also celebrate her life.
For others, it might be finding meaning through music, painting, drawing or writing. It might even come through simply engaging with a piece of art you have a connection with. Regardless, the importance of art in our lives simply can’t be overstated.
If you want to see why this performance had such an impact on Andrew Garfield, you can watch Tick, Tick… BOOM! on Netflix now.