“’Come to the edge,’ he said. They said: ‘We are afraid.’ ‘Come to the edge,’ he said. They came. He pushed them and they flew.” Guillaume Apollinaire
Why is it that when you are exposed to certain kinds of art you sometimes feel despair, depression, etc. while other types connect you with the sublime? I remember very well having attended various art museum shows and then suddenly sensing great despair and hopelessness as I looked at a series produced by a visiting visual artist. Asking others in the room what they sensed, I found it quite intriguing that they felt the same.
Almost all my life I have been involved in some form with the visual and performing arts, either as a student, an admirer, or even marrying a watercolor artist. It is no surprise that my own children have gone on to become forces of their own in the contemporary art world (http://www.TMSisters.com) being featured in common and trade publications as well as doing shows all over the world. Over the years, being so surrounded by this world, I have developed relationships with visual and performing artists, often serving them as a mentor, coach, or psychotherapist.
In my trek to understand the relationship between emotional states and creative output of the artist, I have seen, what appears to be, a correlation. In dealing with many visual and performing artists, I have noticed that there is a difference between the art they produce when they are stuck in low emotional states and the art they make when they are in highly positive and healthy states. I am not speaking of experimental works such as in acting and taking on certain characters, though even this can have a deleterious effect on the person. I am referring more to stuck emotional states in the artist.
I have known brilliant visual artists whose talents are simply amazing, yet when you look over their work, you become depressed. Some of these artists possess phobias such as agoraphobia (fear of going into public places) and claustrophobia (fear of crowds). It is interesting that, one in particular, portrays scenes in the darkness of night with clandestine activity done by classically oppressed people. The metaphors are powerful indeed.
Clusters of Darkness and Light
It does not take a psychoanalyst to see that there are clusters of emotions that go from the very dark to the realm of great light, symbolically. In other words, there are emotional states that are very detrimental with negative effects while there are others that are quite resourceful and healthy. These emotions go the whole gamut… from those emotions that make a person experience negative feelings all the way to those that are full of health and sublime.
Take, for example, lower emotional states such as shame. A person can be stuck in shame for many reasons. The most probable is that this person experienced forms of humiliation at earlier stages of their life. Their outlook to life can be very miserable and, if they are spiritual, they view their Higher Power as one who despises them.
Victimization, Grief, Fear, and Anxiety
A slightly more resourceful, yet, destructive emotional state is victimization. Feeling like a victim can easily create an extreme narcissist blaming others. They think they are entitled to better treatment than the rest of the world. Victimization can also create a guilt-ridden individual who cowers at the “meow” of a cat. This takes us to another level up into the realm of despair, which creates hopelessness and apathy. Art created by individuals stuck at this emotional state can be quite disturbing to one’s psyche. Other more resourceful but negative emotional states could be those of grief, fear and anxiety. With grief, you can see the artist sharing his worldview of sadness with us. I appreciate the pain many of these artists carry, but I can only bear the burden but briefly before I get drawn into the abyss of tragedy. The same goes for artists that live in fear. They see the world as a frightening place. As a result they live in the shadows. Their artistic expressions show it.
Anger and Pride
The last cluster of negative emotional states is, what I would call, living in anger and pride. I know some artists that are carrying a very heavy load of rage coupled with arrogance. One artist I am acquainted with is constantly trying to prove that he is the ultimate male. You see symbols of his father-anger emanating from his brilliant works that are full of vitriol trying to shock the public. I once engaged this artist and found it quite interesting that his view of a Supreme Being was that of a very angry paternal creature. The artist grew up without a father in his life.
A Better Way
If I were to stop here, I would not be doing the reader or artists any favor by abandoning them to the despair of being stuck in lower emotional states. For that reason, I would like to say that there is a better way. There are whole other levels of emotional states that leave dark outlooks behind. These levels provide the emotional platform to produce inspiring and sublime art.
When an artist crosses from the world of emotional darkness into the world of most resourceful emotions he then goes under a fabulous transformation of sorts. The first step to higher and better emotions is to attain to an emotional state of neutrality. This is where you tell yourself, “It is all good!” A smile breaks out and the sun comes up in your life. Art created in this state can often be very humorous and playful. It can be fun to enjoy this kind of art. The artist can begin to laugh, even at himself. The Divinity laughs with him.
Hope, Compassion, Understanding, and Unconditional Love
An even higher level of emotion is the state of being filled with hope. It creates optimism. The artistic expression gives hope to others witnessing it. Herein is the birthplace of inspiration which is contagious. A next upward cluster of emotions could be that of compassion for life, understanding, and unconditional love. These are extremely powerful forces inside of a person. Having compassion for life enables the artist to forgive those who have created pain for them and others. It is here where the artist begins to take on the role of a healer. Balanced by a carefully thoughtful and balance outlook of circumstances, the artist is able to move into the realm of releasing unconditional love to the world through their medium of art. There are certain types of music, performances, or visuals that create moments of awe, moments that mend the soul. It is almost like something other-worldly happens. One is enveloped by a powerful sensorial field. It is not very often that I have experienced this but when I have I knew that I was at a very special and pivotal place at that moment. Usually, my life became altered in a very significant way.
Joy and Peace
The last cluster I would like to cover is that of joy and peace. Having experienced the healing of unconditional love, one can move into the realms of ecstatic joy and peace. This is the kind of transcendence Gandhi and Mother Teresa spoke about. It is as if a Divine transcendence captures one’s spirit. Once a person has tasted it, it is like a drug. You want more. The artist who has attained these levels is similar to a Shaman. His work emanates powerfully uplifting forces. Words cannot contain enough adjectives to describe the experience. One is speechless. The artist that consistently reaches this emotional state is one who lives touching the face of God and dances with the angels. It almost seems like nothing in this world really matters anymore.
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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 13 Feb 2012
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.
López De Victoria, S. (2012). Dancing with Angels: Art from the Darkness and the Light. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 26, 2013, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2012/02/13/dancing-with-angels-art-from-the-darkness-and-the-light/