Looking at Art: Emotion or Intellect?

"Stand of Yellow Trees", oil, 24 x 24", by Karen Gillis Taylor

“Stand of Yellow Trees”, oil, 24 x 24″, by Karen Gillis Taylor

I believe that a work of art connects first to our emotions, then the intellect. Speaking from my own experience, I first take in a painting as a whole, I might decide to look a little closer, and spend some time viewing it, which is a “gut” decision based on emotion. As I scan a piece of art, something has touched my own soul, triggering an appreciation which can be anything from a feeling of awe to ones of sentiment, joy, surprise, sadness or simply intrigue.

As I look more closely, I begin to sort out these reactions. If I’m looking at an abstract landscape for example, I begin to wonder what has caused these immediate feelings. If I am attracted to a piece and “sticking around” to look longer, I may realize I adore the colors first, hence, more emotions of joy or peace, etc. Eventually, my intellect may be called upon to wonder about the “whys” of the painting. For example:

• Why am I drawn to this piece so strongly?

• Why do I like this one better than all the others?

• Why did the artist paint the mountain this unusual color? Etc.

Each individual will be thinking about their own inner questions and reactions, and begin to reason out their early connection. Some people enjoy explaining why they feel connected to a piece. Others often say things like, “I don’t know why I like this piece so much, I just DO!” End of intellectual thought.

I’m not saying we should all pursue deep intellectual thoughts about art. That is always up to the individual and circumstances. If a piece of art has captured your attention, and you start answering your own “why” questions, you may begin to realize things about yourself that stirred this personal engagement. That’s one of the great things about art. It can be a mirror for self-examination.

Okay, now it’s your turn. How often do you look at art? Do you view art from your emotional side or your intellect?


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4 Responses to “Looking at Art: Emotion or Intellect?”

  1. Leslie Ann Clark Says:

    Interesting question. I think I come at it in more than one way. Sometimes I look at it and I want to be IN IT! It takes me away. Other times I fall in love with the color palette which triggers something in me. I always want to live in YOUR paintings!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jesse Says:

    I’m much more in tune with my intellect than with my emotions. I think I enjoy the “just-being” experience of connecting with art because it takes me, briefly, out of my over-intellectualized self.

    I actually went into studying visual perception because of my fascination with colour. I had a spin top as a child that was black and white, but when spun, produced illusory colour (a “benham’s top”)… and i spent hours pouring over the light sections of physics textbooks in highschool trying to get insights into how it might work.

    But after years of studying vision, it occurred to me that I didn’t care as much as I thought I did about the specific neurons involved. What I *really* was trying to understand was why colour has always moved me so deeply…. why I would call intense emotions “red” as a small child because I had no other words for it, or know intuitively that pachelbel’s canon is a gentle living green, and moonlight sonata is a deep velvety purple.

    Today, I’m trying to be ok with just … being … with emotions and reactions in a way I had blocked out for far too many years.

    Thank you for this blog and posing these questions… I’ve bookmarked this blog for times when I need gentle soothing reading.


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