How Does Art Make You Feel?

Art is a way of grasping the world. Not just the physical world, but also the human world – a world of ideas, culture and spirituality. Art drives cultural evolution and, at the same time, can prevent subversive messages from being silenced. It’s an ever-evolving tool that can bring people together across cultures and continents, regardless of language or societal norms.

Whether it’s a piece of music, a painting or sculpture, an installation or photograph, a dance performance or film, or even just finger-painting on the wall – art is something that makes you feel things. But what do these feelings come from? And can they be distilled into one single emotion? It’s a debate that has raged on throughout history, and the truth is that there’s no one agreed-upon answer. Art is a form of expression that doesn’t have to be limited by functional requirements, so the emotions that it can invoke are diverse and unique. Depending on your background, story and emotional state at the time of viewing, you might think that a particular piece of art is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen, or it might make you feel angry. But if you ask someone else, they might disagree with your assessment – and that’s okay!

Many forms of art can evoke complex emotions because they touch on deeper concepts and issues that aren’t easily captured in words. A famous example is Raphael’s School of Athens, which glorifies ancient and modern philosophers. It’s an idea that would be difficult to convey in a painting or performance, but it was the perfect choice for this space in the Papal Apartments in Rome because of its status as a symbol of learning and knowledge.

Other pieces of art might provoke an instinctual reaction that can be hard to put into words – for instance, artworks that appear threatening, dangerous or interesting can trigger reactions from the brain’s limbic system. These are the “fear and reward” areas of the brain, which can be triggered by a variety of factors, such as the presence of danger or novelty, and may have a lasting impact on how you perceive future events and situations.

In the case of paintings and other visual artworks, can you see how the artist has organized the picture through compositional elements (for example, line weight, length and direction; overlapping or clustered objects; use of shadows to anchor and define shapes; the positioning of dominant and non-dominant objects; use of perspective, tonal modeling, linear and radial alignment; broken frames and bordered perimeters)? What effect does this have on the overall feeling, mood and meaning of the work?