Finding the Emotions in Art

Patricia Cherry Artist

Art is an emotional experience. Each painting, each sculpture, each drawing was created through an emotional process endured by the artist. Their work is a reflection and a message from them to you. But how do you get in touch with the emotional side of art? In this blog post we talked about how to go in depth and read paintings. Now we’ll talk more about the emotions of paintings.

Sometimes the emotions that we feel from art are not necessarily the emotions that the artist intended. The beauty of art is that it can evoke so many diverse reactions from each individual. Our own experiences are brought to the table when we examine art. We’re all going to feel something that is completely our own.

Look at the art piece as a whole.

  • Does it appeal to you through your senses? It doesn’t have to be beautiful to be good, but it must grab your eye in some way. Perhaps it grabs your attention through its subject matter, its use of color, an interesting juxtaposition of objects, its realistic appearance, its lack of anything recognizable, a visual joke or any number of other factors.


  • Does it speak to you? Perhaps there are some symbols in the painting. Skulls in the older Master paintings were often used to remind people that wealth is temporal, worldly and in the grand scheme of things, meaningless. But don’t get caught in the trap of figuring out what the artist meant, but focus instead on what the work says to YOU.


  • What do you feel? A large part of the appeal of art is emotional. Some artists go out of their way to inspire strong reactions, ranging from awe, to lust, to anger and even disgust. It’s easy to dismiss work that upsets our notions of what art could be. Ask yourself why you are having the response you are having. What is it about the work that is upsetting to you, what purpose might the artist have in upsetting you? Likewise, if your feelings are positive, why are they?

Perhaps you are now getting that it is your reaction, your own emotions in the presence of the painting that are important. As Shakespeare said, “This above all, to thine own self be true”. Giving serious attention to art will indeed tell you much more about yourself than it could ever tell you about the artist.

The best art speaks to our souls. The pieces that speak to me might not speak to you in the same way. What truly matters is that viewing the art helped you to learn something about yourself.


How To “Read” A Painting & Open up A Whole New World

Patricia Cherry Artist

Can you recall learning to read? Struggling with the sounds-one-letter at a time. Then moving into inference and comprehension. Learning symbols to establish meaning, deduction to deepen understanding.   Learning what you agreed or disagreed with or what you liked or disliked, came only after you learned discernment and critical thinking skills. Was learning to read valuable to you?


I contend learning to “read” a painting can bring you the same value.


All art; film, music, performing, literature are ways to share the very human need to communicate, express emotions and ideas as well as to connect with others. There is one big deviation with visual art; the visual artist has only one frame through which to communicate his/her idea. And once committed to a 2D format the artist must then let go. Now it becomes strictly up to the viewer to interpret. Here is the paradox, what the viewer sees or interprets may or may not have anything at all to do with what the artist intended. The viewer is in charge, and the more open the viewer the more exciting the viewing.


A painting can challenge you, lift your spirit, call you to play, open a new world, change your perspective, delight, or annoy or any other possible human emotion imaginable. There is no ‘should’ in your reaction to a painting nor is there a ‘should’ in what one will like or dislike. But learning to look will enrich one’s life.


So….. how do you read a painting?


  • A fine art gallery is part of the art world on a mission to show you why looking is worth it. But to do so, one must first slow down. Looking is not a drive by sport. Now does one have to talk art or know about art to truly read a painting? No, no and no.


  • O.k. you’ve slowed down, now what?   Pay moderate attention to detail, and offer up a willingness to reflect on your own feelings.


  • What do you see? Consider style or technique. There are periods of time in history when well-established styles were in vogue. Consider Renaissance portraits which looked almost exactly alike to the casual viewer. We are not living in such a time. All bets are off and all styles are relevant. Some artists create closely detailed, finely controlled works while others slap paint around almost haphazardly.



Of course this is an incomplete introduction to art. It’s just a little nudge to get you thinking about art appreciation. The better you can read art the better the experience will become. Slow Down. What are you seeing, what are you feeling? What is the style, subject matter, story of the piece? Most importantly what did you learn about yourself?