There has long been a raging debate, are there different levels of art? Is there high art and low art? Is this art? Is that? What is art? There are, in fact, not only many levels but several (and only several) kinds of art. The reasons for this and how it works is the subject of this post.
The human mind is not well understood, by science, at any rate. There are esoteric traditions which understand the human mind quite deeply and differently. One of the most important, possibly the most important thing to understand about our mind(s), because we have several kinds of intelligence, is that our emotional capacity is one of them, and in fact, one of the most powerful of them.
The two most important points to realize about the emotional mind are that every emotion, without exception, from every level, originates as a perception of relationships, and only then is experienced as a ‘feeling’; and that the range of degrees of complexity from one emotional perception to another is enormous.
Emotions do generate feelings, from the profound and powerful to the delicate and sublime, from the rarefied to the crude and coarse. However, before there is a feeling there is a perception in which the relationships between two or more elements are perceived. We experience the working of our emotional perception as a feeling rather than a perception because the perception is so incredibly quick and fleeting while the feeling lingers, sometimes for mere moments, sometimes for hours or days after the original perception took place. If you had an emotion, rest assured, you’ve seen something – taken in through your emotional intelligence some specific relationship, however simple or possibly very vast.
The residual feeling is a direct consequence of the perception, and is in proportion to the power of the perception and of like nature. Its purpose is to motivate, so in a sense it is not necessary that we realize what has been perceived because we are generally induced to take action, either internally or externally by the emotional perception and resulting feelings. This is true for all emotions, no matter how rudimentary or sublime. The perception of disharmonious relationships leaves us with a negative feeling, however slight and conversely, the perceptions of harmonious relationships feel good. But there is a great deal more to the relationships we emotionally perceive than harmonies and contradictions.
Although there are many levels of emotions – a gradient, so to speak, from very basic to extremely complex – there are only four kinds of emotion. There is what we normally think of as emotion where-in we say, for example, I’m happy (why we feel happy is explained further on), I like that and so on. There is motor, or moving center emotions having to do with the perception of spatial relationships and the experience of motion. This is often experienced in conjunction with Instinctive, or physical emotions – the perception of danger, physical pleasures and so on. And there are intellectual emotions – the desire for knowledge, the enjoyment of learning, intellectual understandings in which we make connections, the negative mental emotion of confusion in which we are aware of not perceiving a relationship.
What all these kinds of emotions have in common is that they all involve relationships, whether spatial, physical, mental or emotional. In this blog I am going to address only emotional emotions – (sorry, I have no better term for this). It has been our emotional mind, (as opposed to the emotional part of our other minds, or centers) by which art, at least in the Western world and before the turn of the last century has developed, and by which art has been evaluated and appreciated, (again, until the early 1900’s when intellectual and motor center art emerged). Our emotional mind is the mind of the artist.
What does this mean? Simply that emotional perception is responsible for determining the harmony, disharmony or utter lack of relationship between things. All art is about relationships. What is art but the expression and perception of a whole through the inter-relationship of the diverse elements? Why does a work of art, a painting, say, or a flower arrangement or the layout of your own living room work or not work? It is the relations between the parts and the subsequent whole those parts create and support that determines the validity, the quality and the meaning of a work of art. What makes a building beautiful? It is not the windows or the material of the walls, the line of the roof or the placement of the doors but how all these parts relate to one another and to the whole. What makes the Taj Mahal or the Venus de Medici beautiful or any part of those sculptures beautiful? It is the associations between the components and within the elements of the components—the face and all the aspects of the face, the relation of the head to the body and all the parts of the body. A work of art is successful because all the parts of the whole relate to one another in a cohesive manner and we perceive these relationships, and the subsequent whole through a non-verbal process. Through what I call ‘the mind of the artist’.
What is not generally understood is that when we experience beauty, or pleasure or happiness or irritation or disappointment or delight or any of these non-verbal responses we are not simply feeling something, we are not simply reacting to something, we are perceiving, often, quite a vast lot of something. The mind of the artist is that intelligence which perceives these often very complex relationships and generates the subsequent feelings or sensations we have.
We experience art through our emotions because emotions are central to the creative process and are designed to perceive and experience the resultant relationships that process creates. And if you think about it, it is obvious.
And this is precisely why we so enjoy experiencing art – the act of creating art takes place from our emotional capacity – and yes, there are higher and lower, finer and more coarse dimensions of this capacity, just as we can feel envy or compassion, and consequently, there are higher and lower forms of art – and witnessing such art invokes our finest emotional intelligence. We perceive through the same mechanism what was created by that mechanism, or ability or intelligence. High art elevates and permeates us with feelings of a sublime nature through the process of emotional perception. The higher and finer the art – a composition by Bach or a painting by Vermeer, say—the finer our emotional experience.
Without our emotional intelligence we couldn’t dress ourselves properly (and you have noticed that some are better at this than others, meaning this part of their emotional intelligence is more developed), we could surely not maintain social and personal relationships, which require us to be emotionally aware of others, their states, tastes, etc. In fact, we could hardly carry on in the world at all without emotional perception and for those who are very undeveloped in this regard, getting along in the world is a serious problem. They don’t see what we need to see (emotionally perceive) in order to create and maintain working relationships. Let’s take a specific example of the emotional faculty at work. Next post – Consider the Daffodil.