“The opposite of war isn’t peace, it’s creation.”

Ashley Renee
4 min readJan 3, 2021


Art at the center of healing and integration

Columbia Pictures via elitedaily.com

The first time I watched the movie adaptation of Rent by the late Jonathan Larson, I was too young to understand most of the plot, the complex emotional states of the characters and pretty much all of the references named in La Vie Bohème.

References to Czech dissident and former president Vaclav Havel and Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana were just words I mindlessly sang until I grew older and started to study the meaning of this progressive anthem.

One line that always stood out to me was when Mark sang, “The opposite of war isn’t peace, it’s creation.” As a viewer, it was such a distinct line in the song, as if Mark had finally connected the dots of a philosophical question he had been ruminating over.

Ironically, it became a question that I would ruminate over for years.

My understanding was that the opposite of war was indeed, peace. Just like the opposite of happy is sad.

But, after about 9 long years of being stumped (it takes some of us longer), I changed my mind.

“Creation is the antidote of despair.” — Elizabeth Gilbert

We see this in times of individual and collective crisis.

Art helps us understand each other and creating art helps us understand ourselves.

This past summer, I experienced somewhat of a two-week existential crisis — the usual. It left me somewhat speechless and while I usually write to get out my feelings, I needed something more to do the job. I needed color. So I brought out my acrylic paints and created what turned out to be an abstract hurricane of warm and dark-colored strokes.

My mother walked in and interpreted exactly what I was feeling, simply from looking at my art work.

The antidote to the war in my mind was not peace; it was creating art and finding peace along the way.

Art also helps us process tumultuous events in our lives and in the world.

Not only did the U.S see a nationwide pandemic in 2020, but we saw cases of racial injustices highlighted, especially throughout the summer months.

These injustices not only sparked protests and conversations, but it sparked the need to create art for people to process the dense emotions they were experiencing in response to the lives lost.

From street art and posters decorating cities across the United States to original songs like “I Just Wanna Live” by Keedron Bryant circulating the internet in response to George Floyd’s killing, the creation of art highlighted a collective swarm of intense emotions.

It helped many process the complex emotions stirring inside them.

“Art is a wound turned into light.” — Georges Braque

It is the one way we peel back the layers of ourselves that were shamed into silence, playing small or suppressing our emotions.

At every corner of my healing journey, I found that art — whose main goal is to self-express — was the antidote.

As I unlearned one false belief after another, shifted my mindset about something or grieved, I realized that art was the antidote that carried me through the war. Writing, dancing through the emotions, or creating some abstract form of visual art always brought me back to myself.

Art at the Center of Healing and Integration

The point of healing is to strip away the idea that we cannot express ourselves fully.

We can do this through creating.

Art is the tool that helps us to do just that — express and release.

It shines a light on the parts of ourselves that we dim, hide away and suppress. It shows us that we are okay and we can integrate them.

To hum and sing is to make noise.

To dance is to take up space.

To paint is to leave our unique signature.

To put that red lipstick on or dye our hair green is to adorn our vessel.

And it is all okay.

Whether the war is within yourself or outside of you, there is always a space to create in order to center yourself — to become more human again.

“The opposite of war isn’t peace, it’s creation.”

Finally, I understand what Mark said — what Jonathan Larson meant.

And in the same way Mark’s supportive friends affirmed his philosophical breakthrough in unison, I can finally nod and say in agreement, “yeah.”

Also published in lifeasahuman.com



Ashley Renee

Creative writer | Lover of words, wellness and the arts