05 June 2009

Art and Emotion

What is art? It's a big question, one that, with a little thought, I'm sure I could write a book about. Many people have, in fact. What started me thinking about this was the article that Glam posted today on The Innocent Flower. It's a good article, and I recommend you read it :o)

However, there's one thing in the article that really caught my attention - mostly because I disagree with it. Funny how things we disagree with tend to catch our eye like that, isn't it? *grin*

So, what was it that I felt strongly enough about to write a response post? This:

"Art that moves the soul toward feelings of beauty, serenity, or reverence is of greater intrinsic worth to humanity than art which moves the soul toward feelings of sorrow, anger, or horror. Art which may incite the soul toward wickedness has no value whatsoever."

It's an interesting idea, but in my opinion, it's not actually true.

You see, human seem to have this bias towards emotion - and, in fact, to life in general. We tend to harbour this perception that anything that feeling uncomfortable or unhappy must be wrong, bad, and somehow less than worthy.

And you know what? I disagree. There are two emotions in particular that leap to mind when I think of the poor-little-orphaned-emotions-nobody-loves, and I think both of them are very much misunderstood - which is something that we, as writers, cannot afford. We're supposed to deal with the entirety of the human experience, remember? At least, I believe we are ;) That counts for something, since it's my blog, right? O:) But seriously, it's about that weird principle 'honesty' again; not to mention the fact that conflict is the lifeblood of fiction.

The first emotion is sadness. Generally, people don't enjoy being sad. Funny that o.O But think about it for a second: just because we don't necessarily enjoy the feeling - does that make it bad? (And is anyone else thinking of the blatantly obvious vegetable analogy here? As in, I know you don't like your greens but they're good for you...)

Sorrow has a place. Sorrow functions not only as the opposite of happiness, an emotion that serves as a counterpoint and makes the sweet all that sweeter - it's also a necessary and appropriate response to certain situations. I think we'd all agree that someone who felt no sorrow at the death of a loved one was somewhat lacking in the humanity department. Sorrow is part of us, and part of who we are. It's part of life - and it's human. How can we say, then, that a story which moves one to sorrow is somehow of less value than one which moves one to joy? Is not the understanding and realisation of the natural sorrow of life, the tragedy to which we are all born, just as poignant and beautiful as a realisation of the beauty of life? Life is happiness and sadness, not merely one or the other. They're two sides to the coin of existence, both equally necessary. How then can we say that art that evokes one is better than art that evokes the other?

The other emotion that comes to mind in all of this is anger. Anger is a much maligned emotion, even more so than sorrow, despite the fact that it's not nearly as uncomfortable to experience - although to experience another's anger can be quite uncomfortable ;) But here's the question: why?

Ultimately, I think it's because a lot of the anger we see in every day life is misplaced; but because people waste an emotion on pettiness, does this mean it has no place in life? I think not. I would very much hope that anyone, confronted by the harsh reality of the sexual exploitation and abuse of very young children in many countries around the world, but most especially in poverty-stricken areas, would feel some modicum of revulsion and, I hope, anger. How can it be that things like this are allowed to exist in our world? Why? (Rhetorical questions. I know there are (partial) answers to these questions; that's not the point).

Anger, like sorrow - and like happiness, joy, love, peace, and all those other myriad feelings to which human beings are subject - has a place. And art, as well as simply being 'pretty', has a job to do, and part of that job is to both reflect and build up humanity - and any kind of 'building up' which is not grounded firmly in reality and truth is going to be a very shallow building up indeed. If art is to raise the collective spirit of humanity to a higher ideal, it must also seek to confront and overcome the things that hold us back - things to which our natural response must often be sorrow, anger, and regret.

Art does not exist just to make us feel good. It exists to move us, to challenge us, in whatever ways it can - and whatever ways are necessary. It is my hope that one day my stories will do the same.

So, question for you: Are there any works of art (in any medium, including writing) which evoke a traditionally negative emotion in the viewer, but which you particularly love? Marley and Me is probably the most recent book I've read that I loved, but hated at the same time because it was so sad. But despite the fact that I bawled my way through the last three chapters, and that it makes me uneasy and uncomfortable - I love this book. It's beautiful, and it's true. It's honest. So - what about you?


beth said...

Hmmmm....I just finished reading this on Glam's blog (I'm behind, obvs), and for some reason I didn't notice this part.

You make an interesting point. I've written something three different times and deleted it, so I'll just say...hmmmmmm..... I need to think on that some more!

ElanaJ said...

I definitely think these emotions are the most powerful. They are the hardest to write, and the ones that most people identify most strongly with. Everyone has experienced loss and sorrow and anger (misplaced or not).

And good art is anything that can evoke an emotion in a person and make them feel something. Because it's better to feel something than nothing at all.

Yunaleska said...

Inky, my mother's reading that right now!

(ignores current topic of post - sorry none spring to mind for me)

Danyelle said...

I agree--the purpose of art is to evoke an emotion in a person. To make them feel something and see the world with new eyes. I think purpose is an important part of that.

Lady Glamis said...

Thank you for your thoughts, Inky! Taken in the context you have put it, I agree somewhat with you in your opinions.

Sorrow often moves me, even more than any other emotion. But that is because it makes me more aware of beauty and the other more positive emotions. It is a touchstone.

I don't if that makes sense to you, but I think what you quoted from the essay is getting at the point that although those more negative emotions are valuable and not worth valuing less, their value is in helping us as humanity in getting to the more positive emotions that inherently make us happy.

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