Art and emotion



I find it illuminating to regard art as a process, the product of which–the work of art– is an artifact

There are, of course, various ways we may be affected.  For example,

  • To the extent that we’re able, an artist’s acts enable us to experience more-or-less empathy with their real or perceived state of mind.
    • Eugene Delacroix, the great French Romanic artist (d.1798) said that “…painting, that is to say the material thing called painting [is] no more than the pretext, than the bridge between the mind of the painter and that of the spectator.” (1850)[i]  
    • This may be is important for the artist as for any audience: trying to communicate is often necessary for full understanding.  “You don’t always know what your song’s about until you are able to sing it to somebody else…”  (John Prine at the Country Music Hall of Fame, Nashville, Tennessee with Peter Cooper on April 19, 2014) 
  • Alternatively, art can provide a redintegrative focus: a catalyst, often idiosyncratic, that pulls together previously unconnected thoughts in the observers mind in a powerful way reminiscent of an epiphany or an AHA! or a transformative learning moment.

  • Individuality:  One person’s response may be incomprehensible to others: Read about Cynthia’s Tears but overflowing emotion also evident at (e.g.) the Rothko Chapel and Chauvet Cave.
  • Spirituality :  What happens at the Rothko Chapel? Read NPR’s review.
  • Stress, evoked by “a real or perceived challenge to a real or perceived need” can “energize” the body’s processes by which motivations to meet needs are met.   More on STRESS


Intersubjectivity and empathy, Psychoanalysis and Phenomenology.  There is also a psychoanalytic perspective that resonates with phenomenology: The psychoanalytic perspective of Winnecott [see Psyche essay] is congenial to intersubjective elements of phenomenology  (see ART and EMOTION notes)

  • My notes there also include good connections with “being one with everything” by resonating with Husserl’s notion of “Einfuhlung”(usually translated as “Empathy.”   Karla McClaren (link)says that Einfühlung adds a wonderful dimension to empathy (actually, the English word empathy was coined in 1909 as a translation of Einfühlung), because it helps us view empathy not only as our interactional capacity to share emotions with others, but also as our ability to engage emotively with the world around us – and with the nuances and intentions underlying art, music, literature, and symbolism.”
  • Winnicott’s … vision spoke to “culture – its artifacts and its activities – as extensions of the transitional phenomena of childhood, themselves rooted in the original mix-up with the parent. He thought that the very worlds we inhabit and take for granted are always partly of our own making. For Winnicott, it is only because the worlds we experience are coextensive with ourselves that they feel alive, alluring and psychically experienceable in the first instance, rather than like cold, mathematical structures, as scientific materialism would have us believe. In this way, Winnicott’s psychological paradox of subject and object becomes a philosophical paradox of idealism and materialism.    (=relational and intersubjective depth psychotherapy)

Can MODELING explicate our responses to abstract art?   “… artist Wassily Kandinsky feels that abstract art, what people would perhaps consider the most emotionally subjective form of art, is actually completely objective. He suggests that the emotional objectivity of abstract art lies in the characteristics of the colors and their interactions with one another. This would mean it can be taught to a computer. … artificial intelligence… has not yet been able to identify why certain things evoke certain emotions — in the case of a painting, for example, why a blue blob would evoke sadness, whereas some red squiggles would evoke anxiety. A team from the University of Trento, led by Nicu Sebe, set out to prove his theory, and took to the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art of Trento and Roverto.” Read on about efforts to use modeling to understand.




  • Ambivalence: why do we enjoy negative emotions?  Read about the “Distancing-Embracing model of negative emotions in art reception”  — what about sad music? 
  • Sometime you don’t know whether to laugh or cry…
  • Singing and Crying (e.g, Tom Rush song, “The Panama Limited” or how the “blues” make you feel better … [news link] The blues?]
  • Tango:  a great performer of Argentine tango spoke of the moments tears would flow  down his cheeks, but were respecrted as a “beautiful anguish” (in National Geograhic: Tango by Robert Duvall (https://vimeo.com/418393861 (1993). 

Epigraphics: “Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog” Friedrich 1819;   “The Scream”  Munch 1893

look in on “The power of cognitive context”

[i].  Eugene Delacroix (1798‑1863): dated 1850.  Journal (1893‑1895), Eugene Delacroix, Journal, Walter Pach, translator, New York, 1972. http://www.bc.edu/bc_org/avp/cas/fnart/fa257/delacroix.html  Also cited by Gilson, 1957:132.