The Emotions of Art

By Bella Pallett

Art began as a form of documentation; a simple way of recording. But as it developed it turned into something much more poignant. It became a way of expressing emotions. Due to the invention of the camera, the need to record life through art diminished.  

Instead, art became much more engaging and personal, it became ultimately about our associated emotional relationship with the work, how we viewed and interacted with it; an emotive symbiotic relationship. The art exists for us to engage and understand the emotions through the content of the piece, to develop our own understanding.   

Many different art movements looked to pinpoint a specific idea or emotion through their work, events such as childbirth, death, war and technology are often examined and explored by artists in their practice.

Inspired by this fast-paced rise in technology, Ben Grosser creates interactive experiences that examine software’s cultural, social and political effects. His exhibition Software for Less takes visitors on an interactive journey through a pseudo tech exposition. Through deliberately interrogating and reimagining how software is created, each work is presented as a product that could have come out of an alternative Silicon Valley.    

By provoking the viewer to consider the influence software has on us and how software relates to who we are, Grosser presents radically different ways of interaction within the software through his media-based artwork. Through taking apart capitalist ideologies, he debates that today’s software wants exactly what its creators want: more. 

At the centre of the exhibition is Grosser’s brand-new platform called Minus, a new social media where users only get 100 posts for life. Making the viewer reflect on the most important events in life and emphasising the dwindling opportunities left, Minus presents a stark contrast to normalised media with its endless user engagement.

Through exploring the events that shape our lives, art is intimately personal not only to the creator but to its many viewers. Modern art is shaped by our emotions and we engage because of how it evokes something profound within us as we relate and place associations to the events and emotions that the artists portray. The experience of being at one with a piece of art that has been created to share an emotion or idea is what makes art truly powerful.      

Ben Grosser explores the issues of the virtual world through art, a stark contrast to the real-world issues addressed by Mark Rothco through paintings that allowed him to explore his anguish.

Living through the Great Depression and Second World War as an artist, his work is raw with emotion, not obvious but so deeply entrenched. Because of his Jewish identity, he migrated from Russia to the US due to fears of being drafted and as he grew as an artist, he began to see his work as a vessel for his emotions.

The effects of war heavily influenced Rothco and his emotions in response to the Holocaust can be viewed through his art, for example, the set of paintings known as the Seagrum Murals (on display at Tate modern). He wanted the works to always be shown together and in an immersive environment, originally intended for the Four Seasons restaurant in New York City’s Seagram Building.

Deciding to focus and explore basic human emotions such as tragedy, ecstasy and doom, he decided the restaurant would not be an appropriate location for the set, ultimately deciding to give them to the Tate Modern.

Alternating from luminous hues to dark voids, it is clear that Rothco aimed to evoke a significant response from the viewer. Through creating large, seemingly floating rectangles of colour the viewer is
almost engulfed in its expanding dimensions and depth.

Explored by John Logan in his passionate play, ‘Red’, the challenge of creating a masterpiece is showcased in Rothco’s dimly lit studio. Through using the colour itself as a character that unifies and disrupts, the transportive beauty and intense emotion of the art is captured.

Another topic worthy of exploration and one that has been explored by many artists is the very essence of life itself.  

Bill Viola captures two events that are heart-wrenching and beautiful in his piece Nantes Triptych where he explores the ideas of a metaphorical journey between birth and death. Through the medium of video, three panels play different footage at the same time to create a fluid journey through life that pulls you in. The intense visuals shown are accompanied by a soundtrack of crying, water movement and breathing, making the viewer feel like they are experiencing all of the events and the strong emotions that are brought with them as they are placed in partnership.      

On the left, the event of birth is shown inspired by his first son. The footage was filmed at a natural childbirth clinic and depicts the raw and emotional event of childbirth. Mixed with sounds of crying, it is a beautiful yet overwhelming event that incites maternal feelings of love.     

To the right, footage that Viola filmed as his mother laid dying in a coma is shown, creating a gut-wrenching sense of shock as you watch the intimate scene unfold. Filmed to help Viola confront her death artistically, it is clear that the graphic footage shows a raw and emotional event. Mixed with the sound of breathing, there is a sense of suspense that leaves you feeling distressed and helpless creating a stark contrast to the depiction of birth.     

In the middle of birth and death, Viola depicts a metaphorical journey between the two events shown through a body floating in water. It depicts the physicality of life itself and mixed with the sounds of water movement it is clear there is a sense that life rushes by and it is not life’s journey that is important, but more the beginning and end.  

Through harnessing the audience’s senses, Bill Viola is able to capture the intensity of the emotion of art. Below he discusses how he chooses the most engaging sounds and his sources of creativity and influence.

Bill Viola was interviewed by Christian Lund, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, in London, 2011. Camera: Marie Friis Grading: Honey Biba Beckerlee. Edited by Martin Kogi Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2013

Through creating an opportunity to dissect and question how we are governed, art allows us to openly discuss our emotions towards politics.

In 1989 during the beginning of third-wave feminism, The Guerrilla Girls, a group of anonymous American female artists published a poster titled Do Women Have To Be Naked To Get Into the Met. Museum? Working hard to open the discussion and expose sexual and racial discrimination in the art world, they protected their identities by wearing gorilla masks in public, often seen pasting up posters in the depth of night.  

Marian Boom

The Girls banded together after it was revealed that out of the 169 artists showcasing their work in the Museum of Modern Art in 1984, less than 10% were women. Due to women’s presence in museums and gallery exhibitions diminished drastically, they dubbed themselves the ‘conscious of the art world’ and began a poster campaign targeting those that they felt were complicit in, or actively responsible for the exclusion of women and non-white artists.   

Using witty humour to strike a chord with the viewer and point a finger at the double standards they exposed not only within the art world but in society, the Girls became quickly iconic and associated with their playful sarcasm. In their poster titled Do Women Have To Be Naked To Get Into the Met. Museum?, a naked woman is reclined wearing a gorilla mask next to the following data; ‘Less than 5% of artists in the Modern Art sections are women, but 85% of the nudes are female. The illustrated woman’s pose taking inspiration from the famous oil painting The Grande Odalisque, the Girls directly comment on the consequences of the male gaze on the female body.   

The world of art has something for everyone, whether it is new explorations into the growth of technology, debating the essence of life itself, or how to be a powerful feminist; there is no doubt art provokes intense feelings within its viewer. 

If you enjoyed reading this, why not read about Gonzo Journalism here.

Immerse yourself in Mark Rothco’s Seagram Murals here.

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