The Emotional in Art


Untitled – (Photoshop)


Somewhat returning to previous opinions that I have shared, I nevertheless wanted to touch again on something I always find interesting.

Namely the emotional impact that art has upon us.
Sometimes over thinking can hinder the enjoyment of the simplicity of simply liking or disliking a piece of music, poetry or art of whatever kind. And it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea to lend any more brain-power to the subject.

The artist Grayson Perry recently hosted a programme (probably still on the air as I speak – Channel 4) in which he explored our perceptions of ‘manliness/manhood/identity’ etc.

He collated in his mind all the conversations he was having with various individuals. At the end of which, and at the end of each programme, he would produce a few pieces of art based on his findings.

Whether I agree or disagree with his findings (we are probably poles apart, and some of his stuff is not for me) – the end result was a revealing of the piece of art he had created, that was the outcome of his research and talks with these various kinds of folks, from different backgrounds, and walks of life.

It was interesting to see how not everyone responded as perhaps he would have expected.

But for me we had that combination of people’s outlooks on the subject matter (manliness/identity etc.) and their response to the finished piece of art.

They may not in some cases have agreed with his conclusions intellectually. But responded to the visual as he presented his work to them.

Conversely the intellectual and the emotional combined sometimes to enhance their appreciation of the finished ‘product’.


The emotional impact of art as it greets the senses is an interesting subject. Again our individuality dictates our emotional reactions.

By emotional, I suppose I simply mean how we feel as we stand before a piece of art. Whether we enter a room, and experience the sum of the individual parts, as we are environed with a sense of place or space. Or whether the eyes focus in on the landscape shape on the wall and we enter a mini world that the painter has created, behind the glass of the framed painting.

We feel something. That feeling can go along with the recognition of the scene, the populated space, or the objects as in still life.

‘As a man thinks…so is he’
How we feel is the result of how we think. Only the connection isn’t always made, as the feeling can overwhelm any initial awareness or analysis of thought.

There is the spiritual dimension in all this, but that’s for another day.

What I have in mind with this chat, is the fact that emotional stirring is not the sole production of visual human reality.

The abstract plays a part in the stirring of emotion. And I suppose this is one of the major defences for the justification of Abstract Art.

We appreciate (here we go with the curtains again) someones decor initially not because of the individual recognition of something in reality, as in a scene, subject or object etc. but simply our response is to the design, colour and ‘abstract’ elements.

On one of my ‘painting only’ posts – someone responded to the artwork/painting with the words: ‘love the colour’. That in simplicity is an example of an emotional response to the painting. And that response was fine – (great glad you did).

We don’t analyse why we like the curtains, or the carpet, we simply either do or don’t. This is our emotional response. Analysis may come later.

Sight, sound, taste, touch, smell. All create a spontaneous emotional reaction.

Do we consider when championing a given school of art, that the fickleness of emotion can play a big part in forming our conclusions?

Today we like surrealism tomorrow we don’t. The fickleness of course is used to great effect by the style or fashion setters and sellers. No less in art. It’s lucrative to get people to change their car, clothes, furniture etc. often on the whim of emotion.

This is not to say that when we ‘go off’ something in pursuit of something new that this is necessarily fickleness. I’m referring more to the changing emotions that we all experience. How much does it dictate our decisions?

It’s ok to prefer something new in place of ‘old decor’ for example.

As humans we need something new to brighten our day. This of course can be life enhancing, or obsessively addictive.

But variety is the spice of life. We need however to be careful that we don’t fail to recognise our own ‘emotional fickleness’.

Take the flu – and suddenly we lose our appreciation of our favourite art. Critics can have off-days too and make unfair assessments.

Mutual appreciation is nice. When how it effects me emotionally is shared by you.

There is of course negative emotional response and positive emotional response.

However some depictions are not edifying in the least and create revulsion at the image which serves no purpose but to confront and rasp at good taste. I, contrary to many, believe in censorship.

I’m inclined to think that Abstract art will survive, and although not the whole ‘picture’ it serves to reinforce the emotional aspect of art.

However we can tire of it, whether out of fickleness, or otherwise when there is nothing visually real or objective to hang our hats on.

If you see what I mean?