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Cope by Creating

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Lisa: If you're feeling depressed, do what I do and write something. A novel, a play...
Bart: Or I could write something that's not gay.

When a character uses art (such as painting, dancing, singing, crafting trinkets, etc.) as a coping mechanism to deal with extreme stress, such as trauma, loss, or isolation. This trope is a Truth in Television, as studies have shown that any kind of fiber art (knitting, crocheting, sewing, etc.) can reduce anxiety and depression. It is known as a form of sublimation in formal psychology.

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Captivity Harmonica is a situation- and mechanism-specific subtrope. Compare Cope by Pretending, where the character instead copes by pretending their stress is not as big as it is; Comfort Food and Heartbreak and Ice Cream, a.k.a. "Cope by Eating", and Cathartic Chores, a.k.a. "Cope by Working and Doing Chores". Contrast Percussive Therapy, a.k.a "Cope by Smashing". A Sad Clown is a character who copes by cracking jokes. See also True Art Is Angsty.

The inverse of this is Too Upset to Create, which can cause things like Writer's Block when a character's emotions leave them unable to create.


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Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • K-On! High School: Sumire realizes that playing drums relieves her from stress, which motivates her to join the light music club.
  • Outbreak Company: A while after the werewolf Elbia joins the protagonists as their group artist, she starts hiding away in her room, drawing non-stop while avoiding food, sleep, and baths. Shinichi confronts Elbia over this, fearful that he's turned her into a Hikikomori. Instead, she explains that short-term obsessive episodes are considered perfectly normal for werewolves, who had to find more socially acceptable ways of channeling their hunting instincts after they were integrated into human society. The Animated Adaptation, however, isn't an example — Elbia is shown losing sleep, but it's treated at face value as Shinichi getting her addicted to Japanese art (in general, the adaptation drops a lot of the novels' racism themes in order to focus more on its allegories for the British opium trade).
  • Dororo (2019): Mio sings so that she doesn't feel sadness even when she's selling her body.

    Comic Books 
  • Watchmen: After the Reality Warper Dr. Manhattan flees to Mars in the mistaken belief that he accidentally caused cancer to develop in people close to him, including his ex-girlfriend, he calms himself by creating a huge, intricate glass palace out of the sand.
  • Subverted in V for Vendetta. Delia Surridge thought that the Man In Room Five's fooling around with fertilizer and grease solvent was just him trying to cope with the trauma of his experiments through art. In reality, he was using the various chemicals to create napalm and mustard gas for his eventual escape.
  • In Doom Patrol, Dorothy Spinner uses her psychic abilities to create lots of imaginary friends as a way of coping with her profound loneliness.

    Films — Animation 
  • Frozen (2013): After Elsa escapes Arendelle, she creates a beautiful ice palace both to test her Elemental Powers and to release her pent-up emotions. She is singing "Let It Go" as it forms around her.
  • Klaus (2019): After the death of his beloved wife, with no children to tend to, the eponymous toymaker resorted to making birdhouses in her memory.
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    Films — Live-Action 
  • This House Has People in It: The Sculptor, creator of the in-universe show "The Sculptor's Clayground", keeps referencing his messy breakup with his ex and his time in prison, where he apparently learned to work with clay to get his emotions out. He's not very good at it, however, and it may or may not have given him "Lynks Disease".
  • The Shawshank Redemption:
    • Andy copes with the monotonous reality of his imprisonment by carving little stone figurines. There is more to it than his fascination with art. He purposefully invokes the trope to avoid suspicion while secretly using the carving hammer to dig out a tunnel and escape.
    • Subverted when Andy gives his friend Red a harmonica as a present hoping it will cheer him up. It reminds Red of the free days too much to serve as solace, so he avoids playing it.
  • Detective Callahan from Sudden Impact investigates a brutal murder in a small seaside town outside San Francisco. One suspect is a rape victim that moved back to town recently. Callahan visits Jennifer in her studio and sees the grim and ghoulish canvases that she has painted. Jennifer becomes his prime suspect upon viewing these works.
  • Marwencol and its derivative Welcome to Marwen are based on this trope. After a severe beating left him brain-damaged and unable to draw, artist Mark Hogancamp created a miniature town populated by dolls, which he manipulated and photographed to deal with his trauma.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Hard Time", O'Brien is sent to prison and, in order to cope with forced isolation, taught by his cellmate how to make "eseekas", geometric patterns formed by tracing his finger in the sand covering the cell floor.
  • Doctor Who, "Vincent and the Doctor": Discussed by an museum curator regarding the art of Vincent van Gogh. Going by van Gogh's reaction, he hit the nail on the head.
    Curator: He transformed the pain of his tormented life into ecstatic beauty. Pain is easy to portray, but to use your passion and pain to portray the ecstasy and joy and magnificence of our world, no one had ever done it before.
  • Shoestring: Eddie doodles caricatures of the people he's talking to in order to manage stress. When he's dragged into an abandoned train car in the pilot, he draws in the dust on the window.
  • Brian Topp in Spaced discovers he can only paint when he's angst-ridden; after finally finding happiness when he starts dating Twist, his inspiration dries up. Luckily, Marsha spots his predicament and deliberately taunts him about his artistic block, making him just upset enough to start painting again.
  • A Running Gag throughout NCIS is Gibbs' constantly making boats or other carpentry projects in his home's basement to deal with the stresses of his work/several divorces/whatever hell came knocking on his door this week. It's never made clear what he does to the boats once he completes them, since the basement doesn't seem to have a way to get them out and he's never shown destroying them once he's done making them. However, one of Gibbs' finished boats being part of a crime scene is a plot point in "Outlaws and In-Laws", prompting Abby to joke that the team's mystery of the week is to find out how it got out of Gibbs' basement.

    Literature 
  • The title heroine of Thaïs of Athens falls into a deep depression after her Best Friend Aegesichore and her lover Menedem are both murdered in a single day. The only thing that keeps her afloat (until major changes in her life help her overcome it) is riding out into the wilderness and dancing for hours at a time.
  • The Last Continent: The god of evolution reacts to problems by making beetles as he says it relaxes him (the god being based on both Charles Darwin and the "God has an inordinate fondness for beetles" quote). Stibbons, who is ready to give up everything to live with the only scientific-minded god on the Disc runs like hell when it turns out the god's evolutionary masterpiece is a cockroach.
  • The Wheel of Time: Perrin Aybara, a former village blacksmith who's childhood friends with The Chosen One, takes his mind off the world-shaking events he's been caught up in by spending time at work in the forge, even after becoming nobility. After the death of his friend Hopper, he starts smithing and inadvertently creates the first Power-wrought weapon since the Age of Legends.
  • In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine novel A Stitch in Time, Garak is living in a gardener's shed in the ruined remains of Cardassia. Unlike most people, he has no intention of rebuilding his house but instead turns it into a memorial to his mother who was killed shortly before the war ended when her body was trapped under the rubble. He stacks the debris in ways that appeal to his current emotional state. It doesn't take long for others to notice and start coming by to see it as well, for the construction has artistic and emotional meaning for them as well.
  • The Stormlight Archive: When Navani believes that her brother-in-law has been betrayed and killed in battle, she dissociates slightly and paints a huge prayer-glyph on the ground. After her mind clears, she realizes it's the symbol for "Justice".
  • The Handmaid's Tale: Offred, the story's narrator, mentions that Wives are not very satisfied with the grim realities of women's life in Gilead either, even though they are the top class women who have servants and their husbands are in power. About the only creative things they can do is gardening or knitting scarves for soldiers who fight at the fronts.
    "Many of the Wives have such gardens, it's something for them to order and maintain and care for."

    Music 
  • "Bird Set Free" by Sia :
    And I don't care if I sing off-key,
    I find myself in my melodies.
    I sing for love, I sing for me,
    I shout it out like a bird set free.
  • "The Mystery of Your Gift" by Josh Groban:
    So sing higher and higher,
    A thousand new voices ring through.
    If you sing out of the fire,
    The courage you need comes from you.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The One Ring has this as a game mechanic to heal the Shadow Points that Player Characters accumulate through misdeeds or traumatic events. The character spends a few months of downtime on a Craft or Song skill check, which represents them rebalancing themselves through creative work.
  • Vampire: The Masquerade: The Nosferatu Vampire Variety are twisted into The Grotesque and are usually stuck living in underground enclaves at the fringes of undead society. They're also a rare exception to vampires' Creative Sterility, channeling their alienation into eerie sculptures, haunting songs that use the acoustics of subway tunnels, or bizarre fungus gardens.

    Video Games 
  • The title heroine of GRIS copes with personal loss by singing. Notably, she cannot actually sing for most of the game (the "Sing" button is mapped, but only elicits weak gasps from Gris), only finding her voice again in the penultimate stage. At the climax, singing finally helps her to overcome her depression.
  • The protagonist of Bound is an adult woman who escapes into a fantasy world where she is a ballerina princess, in order to process her childhood trauma of being abandoned by her father through dance. There are also some hints that her imaginative dancing routines and drawings are a way to cope with her inability to actually dance in real life due to pregnancy.
  • In The Sims 4, you can tell Sims that are Angry or Sad to paint paintings based on their mood. The resulting paintings have an aura based on the mood of the Sim that painted them, making any nearby Sim that same mood. The possible paintings change as a result of this; Angry Sims, for instance, can paint a house burning down.
  • The Plain Doll from Bloodborne seems to have been crafted by Gehrman as a way of coping with the suicide of his star pupil (and secret obsession) Lady Maria. While he has meticulously recreated Maria's physical appearance, however, he couldn't bring the Doll to life, and so appears to have struck a Deal with the Devil to animate her (and the end result was markedly different from the original, personality-wise).

    Web Comics 
  • Catherine from Furry Experience is an introvert, and doodles frequently to cope with social pressures. Cat's class notes are littered with doodles. When Cat is assigned Courtney as a project partner, Cat draws Courtney with her cranial cap open and the brain flying out on silly little wings in the Tuesday 8 June 2010 strip. "I don't like her much," Cat admits to Ronnie.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Big City Greens: Gloria copes with sadness and extreme stress by painting and is happy to explain how she felt when she painted each work as well as what she was coping with at the time. Unfortunately, she's a Butt-Monkey and nobody sees any beauty in her paintings until Cricket adds crude drawings of common objects to the canvases. The very fact that her paintings got no attention without the help of a small annoying child does not escape her notice.
  • In the Steven Universe episode "Made of Honor", Steven explains to Bismuth the revelation that her leader Rose Quartz was also their supposed worst enemy Pink Diamond, that she had faked her shattering the rest of the Crystal Gems were corrupted as a result and that he had unbubbled her without telling the others. When Steven tries making her reappearance a surprise to the others, Bismuth wanders off and drowns her sorrows by working in her forge, making weapons for an army that will never use them because they have either died or were driven mad with corruption presumably because of an idea she had given to Rose.
  • In the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic episode "Fame and Misfortune", when Rarity's boutique is being boycotted because of negative reviews about the friendship journal, she copes by "stress-sewing" and churning out large amounts of dresses. She's later seen wearing a completely ridiculous and tacky outfit. When Rainbow Dash asks her what it is, Rarity snaps, "My emotions, darling! STRESS COUTURE!"

     Real Life 
  • The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt in Maryland encourages their patients to take up knitting as part of their recovery.
  • Frida Kahlo was a promising medical student until a horrible bus accident in her late teens paralyzed the bottom half of her body and worsened her chronic pain. Her parents encouraged her to continue her childhood hobby of painting as a way to kill time during her recovery and cope with her new disabilities. She went on to become one of the most revered painters in Mexican history.
  • In the couple of years after his wife, Natasha Richardson, died, Liam Neeson was in an unusually large number of movies. Some have interpreted this as him keeping busy to deal with his loss.
  • David Drake has at minimum strongly implied that the Hammer's Slammers series was at least partly a way of getting past some of his more unpleasant Vietnam War experiences.

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