Food for the Soul

Food for the Soul

How does Art evoke the emotion of empathy?

Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing that is, the capacity to place oneself in another person’s shoes. 

The ability to understand things from another person’s perspective and the ability to share someone else’s feelings and emotions and understand why they’re having those feelings.

Empathy is of 3 types: cognitive, emotional, and compassionate.

  • Cognitive empathy. This is the ability to understand how someone else feels and to work out what they might be thinking.
  • Emotional empathy or Affective empathy. This refers to the ability to share another person’s emotions. That is when you see someone else who is sad, it makes you feel sad.
  • Compassionate empathy or Empathic Concern. This is when you take feelings to actions. It goes beyond understanding and relating to other people’s situations, and pushes an individual to do something.

Art and empathy go hand in hand. The artists are able to increase empathy in others through their work. They can show the feelings from people who may be numb from all the terrible things going on in the world, making the viewer more sensitive and vulnerable.

Some human beings are born with a greater inclination towards empathy. But empathy can be taught. It’s something art museums can help to do. One of the ways to bridge gaps and foster greater understanding is through storytelling. The works of art tell stories and many of them are about people.

Simply viewing a work of art can evoke emotions. The colors, the textures, and the subject matter of the art work can all influence the emotional response of the viewer. The key to using this surge of emotions to develop empathy is helpful in directing it from being indescribable to something concrete.

We all have a sense of empathy when we view works of art.  When we see any kind of gestures in a portrait, we actually simulate those gestures in our mind.  We tend to often implicitly act as if we are moving our arms in response empathically to what we see in the painting. 

What is the role of empathy in art for the artists?

Some say empathy is essential, because without empathy it will be only apathy. The work of artists is about passion. It is very difficult to paint apathy even if they try.

Making art assumes empathy. It is an act of sharing. Making art is by definition, an invitation to others to leave their isolation and meet others on the same road as you. Without empathy an artist is like a sociopath.

Empathy can also be painful. Some artworks deal with suffering in one form or another on a conceptual level. When we make an artwork we experience empathy in the process. When we witness suffering and distress in others, our natural tendency to empathize can bring us indirect pain.

Empathy speaks the language of connection. Connection to the life experiences of the viewer. We are all connected in different feelings that we experience like pain, joy, fear, wonder, hunger, and yearning. In art empathy banishes isolation and invites healing.

Without empathy art becomes a technical exercise.

Empathy is the most important, essential and foundational element of painting and drawing. Empathy is the guiding principle of many artists. It is the basis of civilization and the most radical human emotion.

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