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Make Me Feel Something

March 13, 2019

By: Brandon Long, Creative Director

I think it’s important for people to have an opinion on art.When I lead field trips at the Community Arts Center, I always like to have the children (usually second and third graders) talk about how the art makes them feel.What moods does the art create?What temperatures does it give off?How would you dress to fit into the climate within the artwork? Does it stir up any emotions? Any memories?

After thoroughly discussing an art piece, I then let the kids as a group give the artwork a thumbs up if they like it or a thumbs down if they don’t.  Inevitably – one kid will always ask, “What if I give it a thumbs-sideways?,” which I assume is a position of neutrality.  Maybe they can’t decide if they like it or not, or maybe they just don’t care.  I try to caution them more about the “thumbs-sideways” than I do the thumbs down. 

I tell them from an artist’s perspective, we’d much rather have a thumbs up or a thumbs down than a thumbs-sideways.  Thumbs up means that the viewer loves it, they get it, they’ve followed our vision, and all is right with the world.  A thumbs down (if you take a more positive stance) means that the viewer doesn’t get it, maybe we’re ahead of our time, or the viewer hasn’t been exposed to this kind of art before.  But a thumbs sideways means they just don’t care – and that, my artist friends, is a dangerous position.

Showing my work at galleries, garden tours, and art festivals, I enjoy talking with people about my work.  Even though it gets tiring to tell the same elevator speech about the process, my inspiration, and my materials, it’s fun to make connections with people over your work.  I create art out of old recycled, weathered roofing tin, and people find different reasons to like it.  Some enjoy that it reminds them of their grandfather’s farm with tin-roofed barns.  On the extreme opposite side of the spectrum, some enjoy the abstract minimalism that is created from the overlapping sheets of colored, patina-ed metal. 

Even still – some people hate my work.  I’ve had people tell me that they’d have taken it to the dump instead.  Some people eyeball the work like I’m some sort of charlatan trying to make a quick buck selling a pile of rust.  As frustrating as some of these insults might be, I still prefer talking to someone who might trash my work than to see people stroll right on by, sipping a tall lemonade without taking a second look.

Why would I rather be insulted than ignored?  It’s simple… It’s because I made the viewer feel something.  They felt something so strongly, that they had to come tell me about it.  It’s a powerful thing to have someone actively hate your work.  It might not be the most positive thing, but it’s better than the viewer feeling nothing at all.  The children on the field trips often look puzzled when I explain that it’s better to give a thumbs down to a work of art than a thumbs-sideways, but it starts to make sense once they stop to consider how their reaction to the work is tied to the overall effectiveness of the work itself.

As artists, it is our duty to make viewers feel.  That’s the power of art – to convey the human experience through simple materials and perhaps some technique and finesse in a way that others can relate to.  Can you convey joy through a blob of pigment?  Can you illustrate melancholy through the angle of a shadow? If your art isn’t making people feel, it isn’t very effective.

When creating your art, don’t just try to make something beautiful.  Make something that’s beautiful – because…  (Of course, it’s up to you to complete the because, and the because should be able to tie to a feeling, a memory, or a sensation).  You might be painting a landscape that’s beautiful – because of the way that the light filtering through the trees warms the cool shady grass below.  You might be throwing a vessel on the pottery wheel that’s beautiful – because of how graceful and smooth the edges are, and how they might feel if the viewer were to touch them.  You might be taking a photograph of a fallen ice-cream cone that’s melting on the pavement that is beautiful- because you remember how heartbroken you were when faced with the same situation as a child. 

It is important to remember when creating “beautiful-becauses” that when it comes to art, that the term beautiful mustn’t be confused with pretty, or even pleasant.  When it comes to art, the things that are beautiful are the things that we can relate to as viewers.  In our shared experiences with the artist, and with all of humanity, we find that the greatest art is that which makes us feel.  

Whether we feel joyful, happy, annoyed, anxious, desperate, lonely, humored, peaceful, angry, etc- if a work of art has made us feel, it stands as a great work of art.