Who said art is the expression of emotion?

In his 1938 book The Principles of Art, R, G. Collingwood presented his theory of aesthetics, addressing (among other things) the question of what makes something a work of art. According to Collingwood, art is fundamentally expression, that is, expression of emotions and feelings. In describing what he considers art proper, Collingwood makes an important distinction between the idea of emotion expressed and emotion aroused or betrayed in the work of art.

This distinction is vital to establish where art itself should exist as a form of communication that is different and beyond the everyday. Art itself is a form of communication that is capable of expressing authentic emotions in a way that will create a deeper human connection in those who witness it. When you see a person laughing at the bus stop, they are betraying their joy and happiness at the time. Art itself is not a mere sample of how the artist feels.

It's not your own art to rant and behave in the exhibitionist's way. This is not what Collingwood is referring to in relation to the artist. The artist is betraying her emotions when she becomes fully aware of that emotion itself and can express that feeling with “clarity or intelligibility” (Collingwood, p. 25 Reader).

This is where the true value of art and artists lies. When in normal life we relate, we often discuss how we feel. However, when we do, we talk about generalities. We can say that we were sad at the end of the film. However, this does not reveal the true nature of our sadness. Is it the same sadness you felt when your dog died or when your friend went to work abroad? How does the person sitting across from you identify with your difficult situation if you can't communicate your current state to them? How can we, as individuals distinct from everyone else, truly engage in a meaningful debate about our place in the world and what it means for us? Our experiences and reactions in the world are all that matter to us.

However, most of us can't fully share these things with those who matter most to us. This is the vacuum that art and artists occupy. For Collingwood, art is the communication of lucid and detailed expressions of emotional content to an audience that understands the message. Through the process of witnessing art, people come together in a moment of deeper understanding of the plight of their peers, allowing for deeper relationships based on mutual empathy.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email. Art as a representation of external existence (it is true that “seen through a temperament”) has been replaced by art as an expression of the inner life of the human being.