What is Emotionalism?
The Emotionist artist uses art to communicate emotions directly to the observer. This is different from art where the artist tells a visual story that then tries to convince the observer to feel the intended emotion the artist was going for. Let us look at a painting that shows this latter art style:
In this classical painting by Kerald (Meister des Codex Egberti), we see the artist using storytelling to invoke a feeling of tragedy. The artist is relying heavily on the observer to understand what the art is about, and hopes it will evoke the feeling of tragedy in them. Emotionally, this style of art communicates indirectly with the observer. As the observer explores the art, he or she will actively build up an understanding of it. The observer tells the story of the art in their own mind, and through that storytelling he or she will convince themselves what to feel about the art. This is where Emotionalism differs. This is different from creating art that shows a tragedy. The tragedy in this painting is simply showing a tragic scene that the observer then can interpret as being tragic. Instead, Emotionalism communicates tragedy without telling the observer that the art is tragic and without showing certain actions or scenery that is tragic. For example, a child being killed by a solider in-front of the child’s mother, this is a tragic event. Emotionalism communicates this tragedy without the child, soldier and mother. Emotionalistic art doesn’t tell the observer anything. Instead, it communicates emotionally with the observer’s subconscious. The observer doesn’t know why they feel tragic, they just feel it. They can’t think of why, but they feel it. Art is already about evoking emotions, however, Emotionalism takes this part of art and exaggerates it.
An Emotionist doesn’t depend on the observer to successfully stimulate an emotion within them. Instead, the art communicates the intended emotion directly to the observer’s subconscious. The art is not meant to activate the observer into thinking what the art is about, or what they should feel about it, instead the art subconsciously makes the observer feel a certain way. It is actually counterintuitive to even think about the message of the art, for there is no message. There is no political, religious, social or philosophical message, there is no story. The art operates solely on an emotional level, and its purpose is to put the observer in a specific emotional state. To understand this concept one has to accept emotion as a language, much like how mathematics is a language. You are right now reading a text in English, this is how we communicate verbally or in text. In mathematics we communicate by using numbers within different types of operations. Similarly, emotions can be used to communicate. For example, someone stealing from you will trigger a feeling of loss. The reason you feel safe by locking the door is because you have associated an unlocked door with danger. These can all be used to manipulate you. When you read a novel about a protagonist going to bed, but forgetting to lock the door, the author is intentionally telling you this to evoke fear and worry in the reader. Even if nothing happens, the author has successfully communicated fear and worry. This is communicating emotions indirectly, as mentioned before, where the artist conveys an emotion by portraying something from life that everyone can relate to. Which, when observed, will hopefully trigger the feeling the artist was looking for. Again, this is not what Emotionalism is about. The best way to understand Emotionalism is by giving you an example:
In this painting by Ahmad Wehbe, a specific feeling is being communicated with the observer. Can you tell what that feeling is? People who experienced the 1970s and 1980s will tell you it feels like they are taken back to Miami in the late 70s and early 80s. People who have never experienced Miami during this period will not be able to tell you that it is Miami in the 70s and 80s. However, if they were to travel back in time, to Miami between 1975 and 1985, it will then remind them of this painting and say “oh, this place feels like that painting by Ahmad Wehbe”. Even if someone fails to express the feeling of the painting, the painting has already communicated the feeling to them successfully into their subconscious. The observer can feel it, even if they don’t comprehend it, they can still feel it. It is then a matter of time and personal growth that allows the observer to better express what they are feeling. In the case of this painting, if you have never been to Miami in the 70s and 80s, well, now you at least know how some aspects of it would have felt like. This is the power of Emotionalism.
Of course, people will give a different answer, and they’re all more or less correct. For example, it is to be expected that people are at a different maturity stage in their life. As mentioned before, emotion is a language, and as in the case with all language you need to practice it to become better at it. People talk about emotional maturity being a good trait to have, however, it is very abstract and there is no definition or guide to help people become emotionally mature. It is instead expected to come naturally with old age. However, this is not always true. Emotional maturity can be obtained at a young age as well, as long as one puts the effort into it. This might be difficult in societies that frown upon you for expressing your feelings. Another culprit is expressing ourselves using very few feelings, such as anger, sadness and other basic emotions. There are millions of different feelings! People who limit themselves to very few basic expressions will strengthen those over time, until it becomes their only way to express themselves. In the case of anger, people who are angry all the time are like that because they have relied on anger to express their emotions. As time went by, their understanding of their own emotions has become interwoven with anger. In other words, all other emotional expressions are pushed to the side in favor of expressing anger. This is why it is common to find angry adults who react and express themselves immaturely. With this said, it is then expected that people looking at this painting will express different feelings.
Another issue people might have is the inability to relax their mind and let go of all their expectations. This causes people to guess what they feel the painting is about, which is the opposite of Emotionalism. The observer is doing what they’re used to doing; thinking. And art has developed over the centuries to reflect this human trait of thinking. Thinking is of course a great thing! However, if you are thinking, then you are not feeling. If you are talking, then you are not listening. The painting itself does the job of communicating the intended feeling directly to the observer. It is therefore important to understand that there is a possible disconnect between what the observer says he or she is feeling versus what they are feeling. They might lack the experience, imagination or vocabulary to express the feeling accurately – and there is nothing wrong with that. If one pays close attention to these varying individual expressions, then one can discern an actual connection to the feeling the painting is communicating. For example, someone would say that this painting by Ahmad Wehbe feels like it is raining and then you get drops of water on your eyes, blurring your vision. This is somewhat on the right track because they are expressing being outdoors in a city with a lot of activity that makes it difficult to focus on one single thing. They understand the feeling, and they express it according to their knowledge and experiences. They have been given a feeling that takes them back in time and allows them to experience something they’ve never experienced before – and they are not even aware of it!
There are two methods to best observe Emotionalistic art, both are passive.
- The first method is to get close enough to the painting to almost fill your entire line of sight. Then you clear your mind and allow yourself to be absorbed into the painting. Don’t think about the painting, ignore everything on it, ignore the details; look at it without getting stuck on any particular area. Now meditate and imagine there are no limitations, just like how you would dream about flying and slaying dragons. Reach a daydreaming state of mind and allow your emotions to dictate – your mind should only be listening to your feelings.
- The second method is to simply place the art someplace you frequent often, such as the living room, the office, the bedroom etc, and then ignore it. Every time you pass by it you will feel it strike you with something peculiar. Ignore it and continue with whatever you were doing. Again, Emotionalistic art is something you feel, it is not something you have to observe and think about, in hopes of cracking a code that is hiding some sort of message. The effect of the art is instantaneous and subconscious.
How do you create Emotionalistic art? There are two methods, the difficult way and the less difficult way:
- The difficult way is by meditating and exploring the feeling you want to convey, you repeat the feeling within yourself until it becomes a real experience. You then paint with that experience in mind, knowing exactly what you’re looking for. You might have to redo a painting a 100 times to get it to convey the feeling you’re looking for. This is why it important to meditate enough until the feeling becomes an experience you can easily recognize. If the painting doesn’t convey that specific feeling, then redo it. This method is very time consuming.
- The less difficult way is to go by the experience you already possess. Find a scene in real life or a photo that evokes the specific feeling you are looking for. Then you begin extracting the elements from the scene and exaggerate them over and over again until the intended emotion almost radiates and pops out of the painting. This method requires many attempts as well.
Due to the amount of wasted materials, it is recommended to create the art digitally.
How NOT to do Emotionalistic art! There is a very important principle to keep in mind. Emotionalism is not created by being sad, or angry, or happy. You can’t be in the mood you are trying to paint. For example, let us say your pet dies and you feel very sad about it, so you decide to paint this feeling of sadness. In your mind, you believe you are conveying sadness. However, in reality, you might instead be conveying loss, death, depression, agony, etc. Emotionalism requires mastery over your own emotions. You have to be in control of your emotions, otherwise your emotions will be in control of you and you won’t be able to pinpoint the specific feeling you want to convey. So, contrary to belief, the Emotionist is not an emotional person, instead, they are masters of the emotional language. It is important not to mistake an Emotionist with someone who is an emotional person. The Emotionist is rational and doesn’t think with their emotions. However, they use their mastery of emotions to communicate a specific feeling of their choosing.
You can find Emotionalistic art by Ahmad Wehbe for sale at his website: https://ahmadwehbe.pixels.com/art/emotionalism
Discover or share Emotionalistic art on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/emotionalism.art
Article written by Ahmad Wehbe, November 19, 2019.