Great art has the power to evoke deep emotions in its viewers. Some argue that evoking emotions is the sole purpose of art, while others believe that art elevates the human experience. Bob Dylan once said, “The highest purpose of art is to inspire. What else can you do? What else can you do for anyone but inspire them?”. This statement speaks to the greater relevance of art in our world; it goes beyond simply evoking emotions and has the power to inspire and uplift us in ways that go beyond the surface level.
Many things can evoke emotions, from a heated argument at the dinner table to the joy of a positive pregnancy test. But there is something inherently artistic about the intentionality and creation that goes into making a work of art. And while many things can evoke emotion, art can elevate our consciousness and build a deep connection between the artist and the viewer. This connection can bring new ideas to the forefront, provide peace for a troubled psyche, and even alleviate physical pain.
One example of this is a viewer of an original oil painting by Erin Hanson, who stated, “I first saw your work hanging on the wall at Kaiser hospital in Anaheim, California. A huge wall painting blew me away, and I forgot all about being sick.” This is the power of art – to take us out of our present reality and transport us to a different place.
The purpose of this article is twofold – to explore the nature of emotion and how art affects it and to delve into the more profound meaning and purpose of art beyond evoking emotions. To begin, let’s define emotion. According to Merriam-Webster, emotion is “a conscious mental reaction (such as anger or fear) subjectively experienced as strong feeling usually directed toward a specific object and typically accompanied by physiological and behavioural changes in the body.” Emotions can range from apathy to great enthusiasm, joy to sorrow, and hatred to fear. They can manifest physically in our bodies, from clenched fists to a spreading smile. They can push us down into the depths or uplift us spiritually.
But emotions are often a manifestation of something deeper. They may reveal past hurts or be a reflection of a joyful moment. They are often associated with a specific person, place, or thing. Emotions work within our bodies and mind to tell us what is safe and what is not.
Art, in its many forms, can evoke these emotions within us. It connects memories with new ones and provides a glimpse into the artist’s vision. But it goes beyond simply evoking emotions; it can uplift us emotionally, spiritually, and mentally.
In his book The Painted Word, Tom Wolfe refers to this phenomenon as “It.” He describes it as “the visual reward… which must be there, which everyone… knew to be there… something to radiate directly from the paintings on these invariably pure white walls, in this room, at this moment, into my own optic chiasma.” He argues that waiting to feel or see something from art is backward and that one must truly believe in the work to see it and be inspired by it.
Art theory is a vast and deep body of knowledge that seeks to understand why art makes us feel the way it does. Great art often inspires a transcendent experience for those who view it. It is the kind of art that makes you come back repeatedly, finding new details and feeling new emotions each time. This is because great art is always created with intention. In my own work, my purpose is to pull viewers into my world and allow them to see the beauty that I see.