November 9, 2010

Emotion and Art

Have you ever observed your emotional life? I mean, really monitored how you were feeling and how it affected you and how you felt physically as a result?

As writers, I think most of us have. If you haven’t, it probably affects the quality of the writing. Because, after all, writing ~ fiction at least ~ is all about conveying emotion. Feeling that emotion, capturing it in concrete terms, and hoping that your reading is also feeling that emotion, or another emotion that you intend.

That’s the question: What is the most effective way to convey emotion? Certainly, just saying a character felt that way is not the way to go. “She felt sad” will certainly not make a reader feel sad. You have to make your reader care about this person by having them spend time with her in her day to day and see her with all her flaws and her strengths. And then emotion has to be conveyed in concrete terms, with the full complixity and import of it all. And sometimes, you want your reader to feel (or know) something different than the character is feeling, which is called dramatic irony, of course.

But it all comes back to us figuring out our own emotions ~ which we probably never fully understand.

I recently realized the extent to which I turn anger in onto myself. One day, as if I were outside myself, I watched as the anger shot out from me toward the person whom I felt had hurt me and then did a complete 180 and then pierced me through. I don’t know how else to describe it. So if anger arises as a protective measure because we feel pain, then turning the anger back onto yourself is actually wounding yourself all over again. A vicious cycle. Whole relationships are built on this sometimes. Anger is meant to be a positive force to prompt us to protect ourselves, but we turn it back onto our own selves.

It certainly explains the ways in which people are so self-destructive. The unmanageable anger, violence, cutting, the drugs and alcohol, the eating disorders, denying ourselves our basic needs ~ the small but horrible things we do to ourselves.

I’ve written characters ~ one in particular who was a writer ~ who didn’t believe that art made a difference in healing emotional pain. I can see how some people can believe this. I however am not one of them, and I think that the writing has actually saved me from going crazy and being even more self-destructive. I don’t say it to be dramatic ~ I say it to illustrate the point. If unprocessed trauma and emotion forces us to do all kinds of horrible things, and not just to ourselves, then dealing with that trauma and emotion through art, working it through, is one of the most healthy things you can do. Psychologists say that you are damned to repeat your emotional traumas until you heal them, and better to work them through in art than in another disasterous relationship.

Anger, when used constructively in self-defense and healing, is a positive force, but it needs to be used intelligently. Art ~ the same thing. A very powerful force, but it too must be used intelligently. And, as it is a cry to the outside world for recognition, it should be made with that world in mind, not be self-indulgent. This sounds like a contradiction, but it’s not. Great art is a true reflection of lived reality, and if you aren’t trying to get at the truth in your art, then it won’t be art nor help you emotionally as much as it could.

Gosh, look at me up on my soapbox.

Questions of the Day: What do you think about the connection between emotion and art?


Pembroke Sinclair said...

I think you're right: I think stories are a great way to work out/understand our own emotions. It allows you to separate yourself for a little bit, maybe see it from a different perspective, than apply it to real life. Or, it allows you to kill in horrific detail that jerk who p*ssed you off royally! :)

Tamara said...

Yes! The few times I've tried to write memoir in the first person, I've failed miserably. If I do the same thing in third person, I can do it. Go figure. Distance.

And yes! Do horrible things to that jerk who pissed you off!!


DazyDayWriter said...

Hi Tamara, thought I'd stop by, see how things are going in Wyoming. (I'm in eastern SD and think we connected briefly a few months ago!) Emotion and Art. Great post, intriguing thoughts. As writers, as poets (guilty), we have to navigate the murky waters of emotion in an effort to discover "truth." It's quite a challenge at times! A few recent posts in SunnyRoomStudio have touched on this topic, as well. If you stop by, be sure to say hello! Wishing you a lovely Thanksgiving. --Daisy

maker J said...

Hi Tamara
your thoughts on 'art and emotion' all seem on the button. The development of work that is 'true' is never easy. Away from recipe art the markers of original work are all internal and the mind I find reluctant to release the truth, but I keep at it. Thanks for the thoughts

Tamara said...

Thanks, Daisy! Yes, and being brave enough to speak truth is hard. It's much easier to be tepid. I can't wait to check out your posts!

Thank you, John! Yes - there's always the problem that, if you are true to the way you see things, they'll be too far from the mainstream for a large audience to "get" them. I just checked out your artwork. I love your palette choices and your figures are wonderful! They remind me of good dialog - outward-looking toward each other and connecting on some levels but also sad and awkward and fragmented.