Paintings hanging on walls, colourful objects, street art, art on the human body, patterns on textiles and garments. These are just a few of the forms of art that I enjoy observing and being surrounded by. Reasonably enough, certain styles and types amuse me more than others. I mean, it’s called personal taste. Here’s my issue though: emotions.
Art has the power to make me feel happy, impatient or sometimes nostalgic. It can make me encounter excitement, enthusiasm or even bursts of love at times. These are fundamentally very different feelings – I agree. But there is a common ground. Intensity. Sharpness. What makes me wonder is why and how this comes into being. Don’t get me wrong, I love it. I get into a state from which I truly do not want to leave. But, you know that inner voice asking why such things happen? Well, that’s what I’m trying to figure out. Just out of curiosity.
Art has the power to make me feel happy, impatient or sometimes nostalgic.
Let me share an experience that really made me thinking. Last year the Tate hosted the “EY Exhibition: Impressionists in London”. Without second thought I rushed to plan my visit. You see, impressionism sits high on my list. Those thin, small, but yet visible brush strokes are simply a pleasure to my eye. Perhaps it is also that I enjoy observing any image that goes beyond realism – it very well triggers my brain and, most of all, my imagination. Anyway, let’s go back to the Tate. The exhibition featured the work of many renowned artists of the era; such as Monet, Tissot, Pisarro. As I walked through the gallery I stopped and stared at the work that truly stood out to me. But, there is one single piece of work that really captured my attention: Pissaro’s Rhododendron Dell (1892). It just jumped out at me! Never had I ever felt so captured by a painting. I stared. At first, I got enthusiastic. I felt excitement flowing in my veins. I felt overwhelmed without really understanding why. And this was intense. This was a very unique feeling that no matter how much I try to describe in words, I will fail to deliver in accuracy.
Camille Pissarro, Rhododendron Dell (1892)
But, let’s not blame only Pisarro. You other artists out there demonstrating your work in galleries or through your blogs, in art studios or in the street – yes, you too trigger my emotions. Let’s talk about Damien Hirst, who during the early 90s was a key figure to the Young British Artists movement and whose work I much adore. The “Veil paintings” series just speak to my heart.
Damien Hirst, Veil of Love’s Secrets (2017)
This series definitely trigger my emotions at the highest level. Where could I start from? The vivid combination of coloured splashed dots just make me want to stare endlessly. The richness, power and chaos of colour just excites me! My brain is asking my eyes to feed it with more colour and soak my memory with it. In fact, to put it simply: I just want to dive into the picture and remain there. Or, perhaps what I want is to have the power to enter a room similar to the Obliteration rooms of Yayoi Kushama’s “Flower Obsession” -oh what a crush! And please, don’t get me started with Kushama’s work. And yes, if you haven’t guessed that already, I’m impatiently waiting for the next gallery that will host her work.
Yayoi Kusama, Flower Obsession (2017)
But really, I could go on talking about the work of other artists renowned or not, that trigger my emotions in such way. I could go on about Ohara Koson whose work I first encountered at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and which I found extremely stunning – how could Japanese art not achieve upward values in my barometer of artistic appreciation? I could go on about all that amazing work decorating Shoreditch’s streets in London. But, I don’t want to rattle away. I think you get what I’m talking about by now. Or at least I hope.
Ohara Koson, Tit and Wild Grapes (1934)
So, getting back to my issue: how do we explain the emotions sensaited through art?
Well, interestingly enough there is an expanding field called neuroasethetics , that focuses on explaining how the brain perceives and processes artwork. There are, of course, many theories out there and various studies experimenting whether and how art leads to a sensatory response. There is however at least one undebatable outcome: art does have an impact to our brain. Obviously, my aim is not to talk technical here, nor to discuss extensively about these theories. However, there are two key points that I found appealing and which actually seem to cover my initial question.
The first point has to do with the fact that the human brain functions in such a way that when it comes across an image -whether it is a perfectly structured real life portrait, or an abstract painting- it will immediately try to make sense of it. It will try to understand what it is you are looking at and will try to figure a potential pattern. It will try to understand whether the image you are looking is familiar. But wait! Art is not just making sense of what we’re looking at, right? I mean, there must be a deeper purpose behind it. This takes us to the second point: experiments have shown that our brains change state when observing a piece of work that we consider to be beautiful. In particular, according to a study carried out by Professor Semir Zeki, Chair at the Neuroaesthetics at UCL, by observing a piece of artwork that one considers beautiful, increases the blood flow to the brain by as much as 10% – and guess what.. this is equivalent to looking at someone you love. The above form an environment which nourishes the feel that we want to place ourselves into the artwork! This is called “embodied cognition” and basically what it refers to is a state that when we observe a picture/painting in which there is e.g. some king of motion such as dancing, then our brain kind of adopts that and makes us feel that motion. Actually, what I realise from all the above is not only how appreciative one needs to be towards art, but how essential or how much of an integral part art (of any form) should be in one’s life – either as a creator or an admirer. Given the experimental evidence of how powerful the impact of art is on the brain, given the pleasure than one receives when observing a piece of artwork or how happy one becomes when being surrounded by art helping them to escape from reality; it convinces me more and more on how much of an indispensable part art should have in our everyday lives. And how privileged we all are to be able to observe beautiful work in various forms, each one of them being unique and created with the love, care and hard work of its creator.
By Giota Papadimitri