La Fiamma, 2016. Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14 inches.

The Best Art Makes an Emotional Connection

When art is made with love, it makes an emotional connection with the viewer. Unless art stirs the emotions, it falls flat and makes no connection. So the best art comes from a place of love.

Knowing the rules and tricks of composition can only take you so far

You can learn all the rules of composition to make powerful artwork. I understand focal points and color schemes and can line everything on a grid based on the Golden Section. But I’ve found that the art that sticks with me the most comes from the heart. I can admire paintings that use perfect perspective and color, but if there’s no soul, the painting won’t stay with me. You can use the brain all you want, but the best art comes from the heart.

Unless art has soul and energy, it will be cold and sterile and void of connection with its viewer. I realize this might be a romanticized view of art. But I wager that even the most “documentary” of approaches comes from a place of love and caring: the artist is seeking understanding.

Style without content is dead

This is something I realized in art school. If art looks cool and has no depth to it, it’s lifeless and dull. You can paint something that is all style without depth. There’s no heart. This isn’t to say that all art has to be deep, but it has to have something to it. Sometimes the simple expressions are the best.

Have you heard the term “drugstore cowboy“? It’s somebody who is trying to dress like a cowboy without actually having any experience being a cowboy. Real cowboys wear certain clothes for their function, not for their looks. Sure, they might lean toward a certain color or texture out of personal preference, but more often than not their look is based on practicality.

Likewise, some art is technically excellent, but when it’s all style and no substance, it’s boring and forgettable.

Zen and the art of caring

In college I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance one Christmas Break. It’s one of those books that I come back to every few years. The main premise is about the two main views of the world: the Classic and the Romantic. (I did a painting about this Classic-Romantic Split.)

One thing that stood out for me was a passage about caring. It taught me that when someone truly cares about their work and who they are doing it for, it shows, whether they are an artist, or a designer, or a writer, or a mechanic.

“Care and Quality are internal and external aspects of the same thing. A person who sees Quality and feels it as he works is a person who cares. A person who cares about what he sees and does is a person who’s bound to have some characteristic of quality.”

Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

The artist who cares about their work cares about their viewer and does the best they can out of love for the viewer.

The most profound art comes from a solid belief in something

Art that is presented where it is clear that the artist started, lost interest, and gave up, leaves you feeling “meh.” The artist didn’t believe in the work enough to finish. Which tells me the artist doesn’t believe in themselves.

Yes, some of the world’s greatest art has come from a place of self-doubt, but that self-doubt exists because some amount of self-love exists. The artist knows something of love and is reaching out for it. There may be despair, but there’s not That makes an emotional connection.

Not all emotional connections are happy

Sometimes the emotional connection is one of anger, or hurt, or injustice, or disappointment. People will connect to that. And I think it’s because there is a certain childlike idealism in all of us that constantly yearns for truth and justice. Some of us have just gotten better at denying it. It seems to me that authenticity on the part of both the viewer and the audience is of utmost importance.

A lesson from a mime: touch the audience

If a piece of art moves you, it will stick with you. The French mime Marcel Marceau, aka Bip the Clown, said, “il fault toucher le publique” (we need to be able to move the audience).