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.