Thursday, March 31, 2005

Words For Feeling

Thanks to simpleposie for pointing me in the direction of Emily Vey Duke's C Magazine article replublished by It was quite a timely read for me as I've been grappling with ideas surrounding empathy and art.

I had no idea that empathy was a term originally associated with art.
The idea was first elaborated by Robert Vischer inDas optische Formgef├╝hl (1872) as a psychological
theory of art which asserts that because the dynamics of the formal relations in a work of art suggest muscular and emotional attitudes in a viewing subject, that subject experiences those feelings as qualities of the object. Aesthetic pleasure may thus be explained as objectified self-enjoyment in which subject and object are fused.

Empathy is said to involve the entire body of the viewer. It is a state in which the body responds unconsciously to stimuli and is used frequently in describing someone feeling pain for another's situation. I suppose the pain that we experience watching a particularly moving work of art allows us to engage in catharsis. We can feel it and, then, release it.

Can a work of art inspire a bodily sensation of joy?

I had this discussion before with friends. Why is there such a large appetite for the suffering of others? I wanted to see if it was possible to make art that spoke to happiness and have it be as effective or affective as art based on sadness. Can I make something about falling in love without it coming off trite, ironic, or corny? Pollyanna, they said. That's what ecstacy is for.


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