Elemental Emotion

During my first project I set out to understand how minimalistic art can create emotion. By creating minimalistic art myself, and examining its effects I was able to come to the conclusion that the power of a simple subject comes from its interaction with deeply rooted context.  

My favorite minimalistic artwork

Robert Mangold through extreme simplicity of lines and color still creates huge emotional capital through his ring paintings.  At first I did not understand why these paintings were so moving. Some consider the white circle in the middle of the painting to be the subject of the painting while the colored ring around it creates context. Others believe that the lines in his paintings are given context by the color behind them. However these reasons were not compelling enough to explain the ring paintings create emotional capital. Knowing that the outside ring gave context to the blank middle still did not explain why his paintings evoked such serenity, calmness and love.

Ring Painting - Robert Mangold

What the ring painting means to me

The painting is covered in a Caribbean ocean blue. It is carefully divided into five sets of two sections giving the painting structured roots. The perfect roundness of the ring also adds to this meticulous, precise and orderly expression.  Then, atop this logical background, the painting reveals an imperfect symbolic heart.  The heart is not characterized by perfect symmetry nor is one section of line alike.  These expressive elements connect the precision of all life, to the mystery of seemingly illogical love.

Why minimalistic art is powerful

Eventually I realized that minimalistic art simplifies the subject allowing the viewer to more easily apply personal connections (context). The effectiveness of art to evoke emotion is not a function of its own exertion on the viewer.  Rather the more effective the art, the more easily the art’s subject makes connections with the viewers thoughts. This is not to say that the artist can’t inform the viewer of new thoughts and make connections with the viewers newly learned thoughts, but the emotional experience is created by the viewer themselves making connections.

connecttomemain_2“Laboratory of Neuro Imaging, Carlos Mena, Betty Lee, Moriah Thomason, David Shattuck, and Arthur Toga. www.humanconnectomeproject.org”

My attempt at it

In my parking lot space I sculpted sand into a line which weaved through the five rocks. It was brilliant, it connected me to ideas of love because of the convergence of two lines representing the bottom of a symbolic heart.  Take a look.

Bottom of Heart


Not quite, not one viewer said anything about the connection to the bottom of a heart. Actually the most common response I got was that the sand reminded them of the beach. One guy told me about how he had a couple tons of white sand in his back yard which was the perfect getaway for “throwing back a few beers”. While I can’t relate to casual day drinking, it was so interesting that his emotional experience was totally different them mine. When you think about it, it makes total sense. Everyone has different experiences, influences, hopes, etc…  The context each person brings to the artwork is different. The next question for me then was how can someone make universally emotionally moving art.

See Gallery.

Universally moving art

Of course there are many forms of art which seem to influence people universally. Music, perhaps the most influential of all art forms is also arguably the most universal. There are hardly any prerequisites for listening to music.  In a conversation I had with Matt Coolidge we talked about the duality of music being the reason for its universal appeal. A musical beat is recognized just as much by the beat itself, as it is by the absence of the beat. In the same way that the sunlight is recognized but the darkness of the night and life is recognized by its juxtaposition to death. Duality is a simple universal truth which most people can identify with.  Therefore allusions to duality often have an emotionally moving effect.

Possible other reason for musics appeal?

A beat also allows us to recognize that time is passing because we can use the presence of a beat and absence of a beat to detect passage of time. When we become aware of the passage of time in the context of evenly spaced beats which are steady, cyclical, and therefore seemingly everlasting, we are lead to feel steady, cyclical, and everlasting. Music is steadying, it makes us dance, and in some way makes us feel everlasting.