Recently, I was thinking about art as defined by the transmission of specific emotions as opposed to simple “loving care.” These ideas are in conflict or in agreement?
The argument has been made that art must inspire or convey emotion. Cezanne, the father and founder of Modern art, famously said, “A work that does not start in emotion is not art.” This is the refrain Tolstoy used in his book “What Is Art.” He states that art is “To invoke in oneself a feeling that one has previously experienced.” Tolstoy tried to expand the definition of art. Tolstoy believed that art encompassed a wide range of human experiences that transmit an emotion directly from the artist to their audience. Tolstoy used the example of a boy who experiences a terrifying encounter with a wolf. He then tells the story to the audience and fills them with the same fear. This is Tolstoy’s definition of art. This message conveys a particular emotion and is very clear. This would imply that art that does not evoke emotions or feelings is not art. Is this possible?
This is what I’m thinking about when I think of the Greeks who attempted to imitate nature through their sculptures. You will notice that early Greek sculptures from the Archaic period aren’t full of emotion. The expressions are stiff and the stances rigid. This is art? Does it need to be classified as artifact or craft? How about a hand-thrown burl bowl? It is difficult to describe and imagine this work as art. A fine handmade chair, a beautiful vase made of glass or a lovely landscape painting could all be described as art. These things are not meant to express or convey emotion. However, they are beautiful objects. They are more than that. They can be a call to us and invite us into the greater beauty within them when done right. Although I don’t feel any passion, rage, jealousy or love when I view such works, my eyes do tend to linger on their curves, textures and other visual elements to see their beauty. Sometimes, by doing this, I can feel a connection with the artist of the work and a sense of humanity that is not present in other things. Even though the work is lacking emotion, I still feel like I am experiencing art.
To be considered art, an object or thing does not need to express strong emotions, as Tolstoy would like us to believe. Two qualities are needed to be considered art objects and things. This is the quality that conveys a feeling of being done “with love and care”, as well as the intention to create art. This will transmit a subtler form of emotion to the work if it follows these criteria.
We all know the expression “done with loving concern”. It denotes the completion of an action with deliberate thought or concentration that is beyond the normal. It signifies that the person who is performing the task has more than just the effort to complete it. One parent might prepare a meal for their family. The gardener might tend to a bed or the sculptor may carve a piece from stone with love. The human spirit is transferred through this action into the object being acted on. It is possible to witness and experience that transmission by looking at the completed work. The family enjoys the soup’s flavorful beauty and delicious taste. The garden takes on a tranquil aspect and the vegetables thrive. The sculpture evokes a sense form, texture and line in the viewer, which entices them to engage with it.
Cooking a soup or planting a garden is different from creating art. While the soup may be delicious or the garden beautiful, it is not common to say either of these are works of art. However, I don’t rule out the possibility that one could be considered art if the right circumstances were met. Here is where intention comes in. Intent refers to the desire and purpose for creating a work or piece of art. It refers to the intentional actions taken in order to create art. A wood carver, for example, creates a beautiful bowl with the intention of creating it with as many beauty and elegance as possible. The carver creates the bowl, decorates it, and then sets out to make it stand on its own as a beautiful work of art. When we look at the finished piece, we linger on it and feel a sense o f wellbeing. The bowl is more than a functional object. We see it as art. We can sense the artist’s love and intent.