Something that strikes me about all modes of artwork is their platform for creative expression and the emotions they can inspire in audiences. The emotional impact of a painting is, in my opinion at least, the most impressive.
Books and films envelop you in their story long enough to emotionally invest in the story and characters. Photographs reflect images that are immediately recognisable to us; their power lies in the composition and how the image is taken. Paintings, however, do something very different. Most often they can’t tell a story as effectively as books, and they can’t reflect reality as exactly as a photograph. Because of this, we don’t connect with them in the same way we would a movie. Many paintings have no recognisable subject matter at all, and yet have the ability to inspire a moving, visceral emotion immediately upon viewing: joy, sadness, passion, fear. It’s not quite as sophisticated as sympathising with the inner psychological world of a character, but it is much more startling.
I think of paintings from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century when remembering my most powerful and unexplained emotional reactions to paintings. Often the movements don’t matter. It was a time in history when formalist painting – aesthetically ‘pleasing’ and unemotional art – was really being rejected. This had a lot to do with war and political unrest being rife at that time. This quote from Barnett Newman, one of the major figures in the Abstract Expressionism movement, explains why emotional expression became vital in art at the time, and much earlier too:
“We felt the moral crisis of a world in shambles, a world destroyed by a great depression and a fierce World War, and it was impossible at that time to paint the kind of paintings that we were doing—flowers, reclining nudes, and people playing the cello.”
The chaos of the world reflected in the artists’ works. I like to think that they began painting with their hearts, instead of their minds; that the paint felt its way onto the canvas, rather than being planned out and structured. Perhaps images of some of these paintings can convey more accurately the raw emotions they were created in the image of:
The first three paintings are by artists that belonged to the German Expressionist movement. The last is by Picasso, who did just about everything under the sun before his death. I chose mostly scary or shocking images to better illustrate what I mean by paintings that make you feel something. I’m not even sure what some of them make me feel, but it is something powerful and I find that fascinating.
Since that time, the tendency to express oneself emotionally through art has not faded away. It has manifested itself differently through the decades, as it still does today, but the importance of this form of expression has been realised more and more. Creating art has been recognised for it’s therapeutic abilities and it’s capacity for healing. People no longer go to art museums just to view beautiful paintings, but also to feel something; to take some emotion or insight away. I think that is an experience unlike any other, and one that is so valuable in appreciating art and understanding oneself.
I highly recommend visiting the biggest museum you have access to and exploring its halls for works that make you feel something.