Does Art Have to be Happy?

Greetings Friends,

Our society is uncomfortable with grief. We avoid it, deny it, and do our best to “get over it” and return to “normal” as quickly as we can. Grief is seen as something to overcome rather than an experience we can allow ourselves to feel and process fully.

When in the midst of grief, you’ll often hear people say things like “It’s been six months (a year, five years) — aren’t you over your grief yet?” The reality is that each person grieves in their own way, in their own time. There is no timeline for grief, nor is there a right way to grieve. Grief often opens up a “grief window,” and we reexperience all of our unresolved sorrow from the past.

I find this discomfort with grief interesting, and it has led me me to explore grief in my art. Some would prefer that I move on to art that’s more uplifting, but does art always have to be happy? As an artist, I feel that it’s important to investigate issues that might be difficult for us to consider and contemplate.

People in the healing professions have said that we’re all processing grief right now. We all experienced losses during the pandemic, and the world is changing at a rapid pace. We’re navigating difficult terrain that includes grieving what we’ve lost.

Renowned psychoanalyst Carl Jung said that we cannot live fully without acknowledging and integrating what he called the shadow — our darker emotions that include grief. By courageously facing the dark within us we find wholeness and light. We’re then no longer trying to hide from some part of ourselves.

Over the past year I’ve immersed myself in the study of grief, and this inquiry has lead to a body of work-in-progress I call “Mending Grief.” With these pieces I’m using textiles and fiber arts techniques to create art that expresses facets of grief. Making the work has also been a way for me to heal my own darker emotions of grief.

These pieces feature hand stitching — the mending part of “Mending Grief.” The stitching takes a lot of time, and I find it especially soothing and relaxing to do in the evenings as the day winds down and morphs into night.

I’m working on many pieces at the same time, bringing them along in tandem. I’m not ready to finalize any of them just yet. Sometimes an idea that materializes for one piece also informs another piece.

Here’s some of what I have so far — work in progress.

Cassandra Tondro "Mending Grief" series

Cassandra Tondro "Mending Grief" series

Cassandra Tondro "Mending Grief" series

Cassandra Tondro "Mending Grief" series

I’m still working on the hand stitching on this last piece, shown below. It’s pieced together using fabric from plaid flannel shirts found at thrift stores. The stitching adds an interesting texture and dimension.

Cassandra Tondro "Mending Grief" series

How do you face and integrate darker emotions? I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts. You can share them with us in the comments section below.

With love and appreciation,


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