The theory that we value art because it expresses the feelings of the artist is one held by those who believe in what is called ’emotivism’ – art is valued because of its emotional impact (on the audience), whether that comes from our own personal reaction, the artwork acting as a ‘container’ for the artists emotion (implying that the emotion we feel is the same as the artists upon creation) or the artwork ‘capturing’ the emotion by sharing what it is like to feel it (like a metaphor). According to this theory, a ‘good’ artist is in touch with their emotions and can channel them . We feel our emotion when we experience artwork, and good artworks are those which give us an effective feeling. These emotions are the same as emotions that we may feel elsewhere in life, but art somehow uses them in a different way.
Aristotle raises the idea of catharsis, which is the idea that we (us personally and the artist) use art as a way to experience emotion in a ‘safe’ way. As an example, when I watch a sad film the sadness I feel is ‘purged’ from my system without me having to feel sadness in the real world. Thus, even a negative emotion can have a positive effect on the audience. On the other hand, Tolstoy and Collingwood have a different point of view and state that we appreciate the skill of the artist in conveying the emotion in the piece.
Thus we appreciate artists who are ‘genuine’ or ‘sincere’ in their emotions; as an example, think about the difference between generic manufactured pop music, and music that has been created by someone as an individual pouring raw emotion in to it. This theory could be seen as accurate for a couple of reasons. Firstly, when we are describing our reaction to art we use an affective vocabulary – often when we are asked what we think of an artwork, we express how it makes us feel. Secondly, it also opens the idea of art up; every human being feels emotions, which suggests that we are all capable of experiencing and appreciating art on the same level or wavelength.
According to Tolstoy, men come together through speech/thoughts and art acts in a similar way. Art allows us to share feelings and emotion as opposed to thoughts. It doesn’t matter whether it has already been produced or is in the works of being so. We experience the emotion of the person who expressed it upon creation of the art – if you want to share you feelings, you have to do something external such as creating a piece of music, writing a book or writing a play. We don’t necessarily have to have experienced something in order to fear it (e.g. being trapped in a room full order of spiders), as long as it can be expressed to others in order to allow them to share your feelings.
Art can be anything that allows emotion to be shared – it is a means of union among men. The genre of art, literature and poetry known as Romanticism emerged in the 19th century and concentrated on the individual artist as some who feels particularly strong feelings and is able to channel these. An example of this type of art could be William Wordsworth’s ‘Daffodils’ poem from 1815, in which the artist focuses on his personal response to the beauty of nature – suggesting it is emotivist as he is expressing his own emotions in order for others to be able to feel them. A more recent example of emotivism could be Jackson Pollock’s ‘Number 8’ from 1948.
This is known as ‘Abstract Expressionism’ and Pollock suggested he put an emphasis on instantaneous, automatic or subconscious creation. He used Jung and Freud’s ideas of the subconscious in order to portray pure emotion, not one particular emotion but just emotion as a whole. It does not portray any objects, as he did whatever he felt like at the time, with him suggesting it was his subconscious emotion that created said work of art.
However, this theory is questionable. Is it really the self expression of the artist we value? It can be difficult to create a link between the artists’ emotions and ours. How can we be sure that we are experiencing the same emotion as the artist initially felt? Even if we both feel sad, is it the same sadness? Wimsatt and Beardsley’s The Intention Fallacy argues that we should never even take the intentions of the artist into account when we judge an artwork; all that matters is our own response. They stated that “the design or intention of the author is neither available nor desirable as a standard for judging the success of a literary work of art”.
This means that we can not be sure we are experiencing the same emotion as the artist initially felt, and even if we could it is not desirable anyway. If this is the case, how can we judge an artwork on the basis of how well it conveys an emotion? Wimsatt and Beardsley say that we should only consider the evidence internal to the artwork when judging it – this is the actual details present inside a given work, e.g. quotes within a poem.
These are internal to the work; evidence based on internal evidence never presents an intentional fallacy. What is not literally contained in the work itself is external evidence, including all statements made by the artist privately about the work, or published in journals about the work, or in conversations, e-mails etc. It is also possible contextual evidence is used when interpreting a piece of work – this concerns any meanings produced from a particular work’s relationship to other art made by the same artist – including it’s exhibition (where, when and by whom). The use of biographical information in a discussion of an artwork does not necessarily indicate an intentional fallacy but it may do. The meaning of an artist’s work may be affected by the particulars of who does the work without necessarily than interpretation as an intentional fallacy. Preoccupation with the author leads away from the poem, thus we should only consider the evidence internal to the art rather than trying to guess at that the artist was trying to express.
Further critique has also been made of the emotivist theory – there is an extent to which our emotional responses to an artwork are based upon our own experiences, which make art subjective. It may also prevent our reaction to art from being an aesthetic reaction. It could be that I’m really appreciating the emotion that my memories and experience are giving me, rather than the art itself – as an example, a painting may remind me of an old friend or experience I once had. Also, not all art is necessarily emotional – minimalist art concerned with just colours and lines seem to deliberately deny the audience an emotional reaction such as Piet Mondrian’s Composition No. 10.
A still-life or landscape painting can also be seen as good without necessarily making the audience feel anything. Emotion may not be an affective base for judgement as stated above, it is essentially subjective, as different things affect different people emotionally. Does this mean that it cannot be used as an objective base for calling art ‘good’ or ‘bad’? It can be difficult to express why we can describe art as emotional; for instance, the ‘sadness’ of a D minor chord is not the same ‘sadness’ we are referring to when we call a person sad. Finally, if what we value is an emotional reaction then the impact that art has is far less important as it first seems as this emotion can easily be experienced outside of the context of an art gallery.
Emotivism seems to provide a good and strong theory as to why we value art – simply because it allows us to feel and express emotion, and that ‘good’ art is art that expresses an emotion and moves us in a particular way. It seems a credible theory with regard to the real world, it makes sense that we would enjoy and appreciate a piece of artwork because it gives us a particular feeling, whether that be happy or sad – however like all theories it has its weaknesses, it may not be the artist’s self-expression we value, our responses to the artwork may also not be the focus of our appreciation either, as it may remind us of a particular event or someone.
Not all art is necessarily emotional like abstract minimalistic art, and possibly most importantly, emotion is essentially subjective so it is not an effective base for judging whether artwork is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ because everybody will feel differently dependent on their particular emotions; emotivism may provide useful in explaining why different people value pieces of art but not with regard to society as a whole.