The Power of Art to Move Us

From time to time, I quote lines about art expressed by fictional characters because what they say is provocative, interesting, or simply rings true. Recently, two publications offered me more statements to consider.

Source: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/9503

Source: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/9503

I was listening to the audiobook of Amy Tan's Saving Fish from Drowning, when I felt impelled to hit pause again and again until I was able to write down something the narrator reflects on after her mysterious death. Although I gave up finishing the book, I did come away with the following from the ghost of Bibi Chen, San Francisco socialite and art vendor to the stars:

With romance, I felt pangs of love, yet never the passion that overcame my friends. But then I discovered art. I saw pure feelings, for the first time--nature expressed in a form I could understand. A painting was a translation of the language of my heart. My emotions were all there, but in a painting, a sculpture. I went to museum after museum, into the labyrinths of rooms and that of my old soul, and there they were: my feelings, and all of them natural, spontaneous, truthful, and free. My heart cavorted within shapes and shadows and splashes and patterns, repetitions, and abruptly ending lines. My soul shivered in tiny feathered strokes, one eyelash at a time. And so I began to collect art. This way, I was able to surround myself with the inexpressible, to exult in the souls of others. What a lifelong debt I owed to art!

"Untitled" (1988), by Friedel Dzubas (1915-1994). Source: https://www.artsy.net/artwork/friedel-dzubas-untitled-9

"Untitled" (1988), by Friedel Dzubas (1915-1994). Source: https://www.artsy.net/artwork/friedel-dzubas-untitled-9

While my own experience doesn't mirror Bibi's, I wonder how many people find in art what they've had difficulty discovering in their day-to-day life. Is art a realm where we do realize more clearly what our feelings are, a place where those feelings are awakened, even modified? If so, what makes that happen?

"The Bath" (1891), by Mary Cassatt (1844-1926). Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/

"The Bath" (1891), by Mary Cassatt (1844-1926). Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/

Source: https://www.goodreads.com /book/show/25614298

Source: https://www.goodreads.com
/book/show/25614298

Then a friend sent me a quote from Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jhumpa Lahiri's new nonfiction book, In Other Words, about her love affair with the Italian language:

I think that the power of art is the power to wake us up, strike us to our depths, change us. What are we searching for when we read a novel, see a film, listen to a piece of music? We are searching, through a work of art, for something that alters us, that we weren’t aware of before. We want to transform ourselves, just as Ovid’s masterwork[Metamorphosis] transformed me.

I wish I could sagely state why this is so, why art has such a powerful effect on us, why we are profoundly moved by a poem, a picture, a sculpture, a dance. Is it because whatever the artist felt in creating it is coming through to us, eliciting our mirrored emotions? How often have I felt suddenly overwhelmed in my body by something inexplicable as I gazed upon a painting or a statue, or found myself in tears while reading a passage in a book or watching a scene on a movie screen? Or is it that we are conjuring up something the artist didn't intend yet, for whatever reason, we have a need to experience? I suspect it's different each time, our response emerging according to the conditions and circumstances in the moment. We also could simply attribute this phenomenon to the "magic" of art, without stopping to analyze it.

"The Moon" (2014), by Koyama Toshitaka. Source: https://www.artsy.net/

"The Moon" (2014), by Koyama Toshitaka. Source: https://www.artsy.net/

Questions and Comments:
Both Tan and Lahiri describe the powerful impact of art. What effect does experiencing art have on you? Do you feel something similar or different when you're the one creating art? If so, how would you express it?

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