A Father’s Story: Processing Pain through the Arts

I haven’t always appreciated the arts, but fortunately, I have a wife who has. In 2012, she brought me to our first art show, “Beauty and the Pain”, by a family friend and professional artist, Paul Tepper. The art was captivating, but it was the stories that inspired his paintings that took me from being “indifferent”, to now years later having the beginnings of a collection. That deepened appreciation, combined with a few years of travel that included trips to galleries in NYC, Chicago, and Europe, fine art became a way that I processed pain… Here is my story of Processing Pain through the Arts. 
Art Show

Processing Pain through the Arts

Death of Vision:

In 2016 we started to notice our young son was going through a regression. He was losing speech and developed some repetitive behaviors. This ultimately led to our son Titus being diagnosed with autism. Needless to say, I was devastated. I was filled with despair that controlled me for nearly six months. I had a vision for what fatherhood would look like, and suddenly I had to lay it down and let that vision die so I could pick up a new vision for how to be the best father to my son. And it was literature and fine art that helped me do it.

The Literature that Led to the Art:

As I processed my pain, I happened to read Hemingway’s Classic, “The Old Man and the Sea”. The book spoke to where I was in life: completely out to sea, in troubled waters, and struggling to get back to stable ground. At one point in the story, the old man lost at sea says, “I wonder if anyone is looking for me, I wonder if anyone cares?” and eventually comes around to say, “I have a good town” – a community and friends that he knew would care for him eagerly await his return. It was my community that brought me back and helped me pick up a new vision, but it was literature that turned into art that reminds me of God’s faithfulness in my life.

T with painting - Processing Pain through the Arts

“Look Up”:

So, after gathering my thoughts, I contacted Paul. We talked extensively about my vision for the work and the background. Then, he asked questions, processed my story, reviewed source pieces, and made the painting his own. Entitled, “Look Up”, the painting is BIG. It’s a 5’ by 6’ painting hanging in my home that everyone entering sees. It causes me, and others, to “Look Up” so I can fully recognize God working in my son’s life and it serves as a way for Titus to communicate his story. It’s the art that reminds me I’m healing. It’s the art that reminds me that even when I am in troubled waters, there is a way forward.

Here are a few meaningful details about the painting:

The Painting

The Hands: The hands are modeled after Michelangelo’s painting in the Sistine Chapel, “The Creation of Adam”, and speaks to the powerful connection between father and son.

The Creation of Adam

The Fish is Painted facing Up: Nearly every film or piece of art depicting Hemingway’s novel shows the marlin painted “belly down”. But, Tepper painted the fish facing the sky – pointing to the heavens. His reference was to Leonardo da Vinci‘s famous portrait of John the Baptist, which depicts him pointing up, heralding the greater things to come.

John the Baptist

The Ups and Downs of Life: The two faces show it’s okay to have rough times. It’s okay to have sad thoughts. In fact, it’s natural, it’s life. But, the light is much larger than the darkness because it’s vital to step into your story with confidence.


The Frame: The frame is handcrafted, with roping, nets, and other nautical elements, and painted in gold. This represents the old man’s community – surrounding and supporting him.

Frame - Processing Pain through the Arts

Art Speaks

The arts have always paved a way for the world to reflect on and process everything around us. Each book, play, song, and work of art tells a powerful story. I encourage you to step into the arts. Creating it yourself, or enjoying the powerful works of others when you need to process emotions or life events. Beyond supporting your community through important investment in the arts community, the personal benefit may astound you. Whether reflecting great joy, or great sorrow, hope or despair, each work has the opportunity to change, and heal you. So, today, take a moment and open yourself up to the world of fine art.

The Artist

Have you experienced Processing Pain through the Arts? What works have impacted you? For a more in-depth look at this story, you can view my video, here.

Rachael is an old soul with a passion for great stories, and the people that tell them. Mom to Titus, age 4, Rachael married her high school sweetheart, Andrew, nine years ago, and life has taken them on some wild, beautiful rides since. Originally from the Midwest, they have relocated to three different states in the last four years, living in South Tampa since the spring of 2017. A homeschool graduate, Rachael holds a bachelors degree in communications & political science and is a former PR pro. During downtime, she enjoys classic films and literature, history, great food, design, working with service organizations, and being active. You can follow Rachael’s personal blog at FreshlyMintedLiving.com.