Emotionalism theory is an aesthetic and critical theory of art which is mainly concerned with the expressive qualities of art work. According to the theory, the most important thing about a work of art is the vivid communication of moods, feelings, and ideas.
The theory posits that an artwork can either be shocking or entertaining but will mainly try to provoke you into action or call for your attention to any issue of concern. The artwork can either be realistic or acquire an abstract outlook but the primary objective of the artwork is to get the viewer’s attention in a dramatic way and to impact the viewer’s emotions.
A good emotionalist artwork will succeed in getting the artist’s message across. Pieces of artwork will mainly depict characters showing emotions. Artwork is however classified as emotionalist only if the emotion being expressed was the primary purpose of the artwork. An example is artwork by David Siqueiros which has been tailored to draw your attention to the horrors of war.
A screaming baby’s head emerges from the destruction. The artist is making the point that no child could survive in that environment for very long. |[pic] |
The painting below is a social-protest work of art. It depicts an actual event in history when the French army, led by Napoleon, invaded Spain. The painting shows the merciless French soldiers executing defenseless people at point-blank range.
Critique of the theory
The theory has been criticized for dwelling too much on the emotional aspects on the pieces of art work and ignoring the identifiable features such as interest, recognition of motifs, forms, or ideas, acute perceptual awareness, intuitive insight, perception of relationships, and the like to give true meaning.
The theory assumes that an aesthetic experience must be characterized by an “aesthetic emotion”. The theory ignores the identifiable features in art and basically analyses the quality attached to the emotional aspects in the experience without highlighting any positive features of human experience, and maintaining that it is entirely unlike the emotions of “life.” Therefore, the narrow representation of art by means of one or many emotions only offers a partial account because the emotional- element is just one factor that is discernible when the experience of art is reflected upon.
The theory has also been faulted for describing pieces of art based on general terms like “joyful,” “sorrowful,” “exhilarating,” “depressing,” and “exciting to reflect the meaning in the art piece.” These general terms have widely been touted as misleading especially when similar descriptions are applied to an indefinite number of dissimilar art works to distort meaning.
Further, the words used to describe emotions in art work are restrictive in comparison to the richness of emotional experience. Therefore any time we assign a single term or even a combination of them to a work of art, one succeeds more in misrepresenting and distorting than in characterizing it eg the description of a musical composition as sad, tragic, amusing or cheerful.
Moreover, to apportion a single type of emotional reaction such as pleasure to cover all cases of aesthetic response can not only lead to misinformation but also limit the variety and scope of aesthetic experience by confining it to a single feature of its emotional aspect. Further, falsification of meaning can occur if “feeling” is used to summarize “everything that can be felt, from physical sensation, pain and comfort, excitement and response, to the most complex emotions, intellectual tensions, or the steady feeling-tones of a conscious human life,”. Such generality, however, makes feeling equivalent to the entire range of human experience of which we may become aware, and goes well beyond emotionalism
Any objective analysis of artwork must therefore capture all the other aspects of the experience. This helps bring out the totality of an experience that is usually tied to the emotional component during the experience and before reflecting on it.