Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Point of View and Emotion: An Exercise for Artists

Have you ever wondered why certain works of art make you feel a certain way?  Why looking at a painting of a happy subject can make you feel vulnerable, or why a particular panel in a graphic novel can make you feel powerful?  Many times, no matter the subject matter of a work of art, an artist can partially control a viewer's emotions by the use of point of view.

When artists, whether new or experienced, study how various points of view make them feel, they can begin to use what they've noticed about their own emotions within their own work.  In other words, if an artist notices that a certain point of view consistently makes her feel lonely, the use of that point of view in her own work can help her express loneliness.

Point of View and Emotion

More than just perspective, or the use of three dimensional representations on a two dimensional surface, point of view includes the angle from which the viewer sees the world of the painting and the closeness or "zoom" of the scene.  For example, a viewer could view Earth from Mars or from the tip of a blade of grass.

Some of the emotions I've had when viewing particular drawings or paintings are smallness and vulnerability, largeness and power or control, distance and omniscience or loneliness, and closeness and intimacy or closeness and ambiguity.  For each artist who completes this exercise, there will be a diverse array of combinations of point of view and emotion.  Each reaction is worthy of additional study and experimentation.

An Exercise for Artists

A short writing exercise can help artists hone in on their own reactions to a variety of points of view.  More importantly, writing these ideas helps solidify them, allows artists to concentrate on expressing their emotions to other artists, and allows a conversation to take place.  After several observations have been recorded in a journal, the artist should turn those notes and observations into individual paragraphs for each point of view and emotion combination. Each paragraph should cover an explanation of the point of view and emotion, a rationale for the connection, and a potential use for the connection in his or her own work.

Example Writing Exercise 

Smallness and Vulnerability

Looking up while walking though a maze of skyscrapers in the city or through a canopy of trees in the woods can make me feel very, very tiny.  I'm also thrown a bit off balance when I gaze up at towering structures above me, sometimes to the point of feeling dizzy or having vertigo.  That feeling of being off balance or being tiny in a universe of largeness can lead to a feeling of vulnerability.  I know when I want to incorporate that vulnerability, or sometimes awe at the largeness of the world, I can use this point of view to draw or paint my chosen subject.  When painting in the abstract, line can be used to indicate the same "looking up" perspective.

Largeness and Power or Control

When I think of this point of view, I think of the song "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands."  Everything looks so small from a distance or from above a scene.  As the moon rises I can hold up my hand, squint a bit, and trick my eyes into believing I can hold the moon in the palm of my hand.  It makes me feel large, and gives me the illusion of control over my surroundings.  This same feeling can be transferred to a viewer, especially by the use of the juxtaposition of large and small objects in perspective.

Distance and Omniscience and Power or Loneliness

On the other hand, I can also stand above an ant hill and watch the ants work, all of them oblivious to my knowledge of their lives.   I feel omniscient, all-knowing and all-powerful, but at the same time I have some sadness: Although I can see the ants and I know all of their comings and goings, they are oblivious to my existence.  I am alone in that world.  This point of view is contingent upon the scope, closeness or "zoom" of the work and can be emphasized by borders and the use of negative space.

Closeness and Intimacy or Ambiguity

The closer I focus on a subject in my work, the more prominence it has, and therefore the more important it will seem to my viewer.  However, if I get too close, my subject will no longer resemble itself.  The subject becomes ambiguous, and that ambiguity may cause frustration, curiosity, or confusion for a viewer.  Depending on the subject, it can also create a feeling of intimacy, like getting exceptionally close to an unfamiliar person when they are experiencing an otherwise private moment.

Final Thoughts

No matter if this exercise is completed as part of a class or program or for private study, it's important the final product is shared.  As stated above, for as many artists there are, there will be diverse and varied responses to the exercise.  Sharing those responses and reactions is a fascinating conversation and study of how we can use point of view to affect our viewers.

Want to read more about painting?

Painting Supplies for Beginning Acrylic Painters
Product Review: Escoda MARFIL Series Brushes for Acrylic Painters
Golden Gel Mediums and Pastes Offer Exciting Acrylic Textures
Golden Heavy Body Artist's Acrylic Paint: An Artist's Review

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Please contact the author for permission for republication.

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