Of the many things that set art apart from other disciplines, none may be greater than its ability to inspire emotion in the people who see it. What most artists don’t realize is what an amazing tool emotion is for connecting with the real people in their audience. I would argue that emotion is one of the strongest tools artists have in their toolbox. But how much do artists know about emotions?
Emotions are universal. That means that every human experiences the same core emotions. For a long time, scientists actually believed the opposite. They believed that emotions were learned behaviors, meaning that people from different cultures actually experienced different emotions. Lucky for us artists, an anthropologist named Paul Ekman proved this theory wrong. The truth, explained so eloquently by Dylan Evans, is that “emotional expressions are not like words, which differ from culture to culture; they are closer to breathing, which is just a part of human nature.”1 There is some really amazing scientific research to prove that all humans share these basic emotions. But for now, let’s dive into how these universal emotions affect art.
The fact that every human being experiences the same basic emotions means that you have access to automatically connect to any and every person sitting in your audience. No matter their culture, where they’re from, their societal status, or even what language they speak.
Being able to emotionally inspire your audience opens creative doors. It is integral to creating a solid purpose for your piece, and it allows you to truly connect with the people in your audience. But an artist must be very conscious of the way they use this tool. We need to carefully consider the difference between utilizing emotion to inspire an end goal and simply portraying emotion. I may not be a dance critic, but I can say that I’ve seen so many pieces that attempt to connect emotionally to the audience only to result in a wash of one overpowering emotion, exhausting the audience instead of inspiring them. We have to remember to always consider how our audience is perceiving the work we show them.
The ‘tool’ of emotional connection is only powerful if you use it to inspire your audience and avoid simply showing that emotion in the work.
1Dylan Evans. “Emotion: The Science of Sentiment”
Paul Ekman. “Emotions Revealed”