WHY WE NEED ART.

by Velleda C. Ceccoli Ph.D. on March 6, 2011

Several weeks ago I wrote a blog about language and its limitations. I was essentially addressing the area of our experience that is not language bound, or if it is, it is bound to a language of affective experience and emotion, which cannot be captured in words, and often, disrupts logic and our sense of self-cohesiveness. The power of feelings to agitate and overwhelm us lies in the fact that they are a communication which contains a relational memory trace within it, embedded in the very fabric of the emotion. Or put another way, we learn to experience our feelings in relation to another, and we learn to understand them and navigate them within that relationship. Thus, the meaning(s) that we assign to a particular emotion, and the words that we chose to talk about it all come about through and within a relationship. Because affective experience has its own language (feelings) and its own logic (relationship based) words are often not enough to capture it. And this is where art, in all its manifestations, comes in.

Art provides us with a form of aesthetic communication that bypasses language while accessing personal experience. It dwells in an area of experience where words are not enough yet deep meaning is present. The aesthetic experience that art captures and translates for us speaks through rhythms, tones, and traces that are not yet coded through spoken language but are perceivable through colors and frequencies, a register of the senses, that is yet to be defined by language and defies a particular meaning. Think of how deeply a particular painting can touch you, or how transporting a novel or poem can be, stirring our imagination and our hearts. Or music, which is capable of providing an extra dimension to reason, rationality, logic and language by filling in for what words alone cannot possibly capture. Think of Opera as an example of bringing emotion into dialogue musically, the harmony changing the meaning of the melody, the rhythm varying its intensity.

The first inkling I had regarding the power of art to access and elaborate emotion came to me early on, through my studies in music. It was through various classical composers that I learned about the depth of my own feelings and how easily accessed they were depending on what I was listening to or playing.  Artists know this well, and they communicate and speak through art so that the rest of us can be stirred and touched through their aesthetic movement to our own. Perhaps this is one of the reasons we all have our personal, favorite composers, painters, choreographers- our individual interpreters of the movement of our own aesthetic sensibility. Bottom line: emotions and the language of affect are better apprehended and expressed through art in all of its various forms. We need art and artists to capture and interpret internal experience and shape it into a corporeal state that speaks to us directly and from the inside.

In my previous blog (I Do, I Do…) I wrote about relationships as involving a deep exchange between people which reveals intimate and previously unelaborated self-states about both partners. I invite you to click on the following link, and experience what I wrote about through the choreography of Mats Ek, in a three-part piece called Smoke. It says so much more through its movement than I could possibly capture in words. Enjoy.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Erika Schwartz,MD March 7, 2011 at 10:06 AM

Indeed. Since art preceded spoken or written language by millennia, as a form of expressing emotions, perhaps we should spend more time using art to help people reach their emotional core today.
By that I mean: throw away the pop magazines, stop watching trash on TV. Instead, let’s direct our patients and ourselves to the nearest museum, theater or book. Time spent in the company of art is healing and calming. Let’s bring it back! Great insight as usual Dr. V!
Erika

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