Studying Emotionally Evocative Art


I am in the early stages of a research project. I am compiling a list of artworks, from many mediums, with a handful of constraints:

  • They must be viewable in 10 minutes or less.
  • They must be viewable digitally (via photography, video, written transcription, audio recording, etc.)
  • They must be emotionally effective to a high degree*.

*For the purposes of my analysis, “emotionally effective” is measurable by the physical response incurred in audience members upon viewing. If a piece is beautiful, cool, clever, unusual, innovative, or any other measure of aesthetic or novel excellence, that does not qualify (nor disqualify) the art in question for my list. Rather, I am collecting works which consistently evoke: tears, sweat, an increased heart-rate, laughter, stomach-knotting discomfort, goosebumps, etc. in a large sampling of first time viewers.

I am collecting this data FROM viewers/audience members, not from the artists themselves. To avoid sample bias, I am hesitant to include works from the many skilled artists who I know personally.

Of course, what makes one viewer laugh will not make everyone laugh. Therefore, as I collect these works, I am particularly sensitive in evaluating which things are evocative enough to meet the criteria. It is an impossible and arbitrary measure, therein lies the greatest fallacy of my research. I believe that if people submitting the works to me, do so under the pretense of “This is the most emotionally powerful ____ I have witnessed.” and that I then witness it myself and share [physiological] results, and perhaps share with an additional small group of friends, who in turn also respond, this it is for my purpose good enough. An aside: It would be a moot point if I were witnessing this artwork attempting to be unmoved by it (and fortifying some kind of mental wall), and so at each evaluation I will seek to observe from an open-hearted and attentive perspective. Needless to say, this is going to be very challenging research to conduct.

My aim is to compile at least forty of these pieces, if not more, and describe them analytically in terms of their visual (and/or multi-sensory) characteristics in great detail, watching/viewing each one about ten times, picking them apart for characteristics. I want to tackle the moment that gives you the goosebumps, the frame of film where tears begin, the rhythm and timing of the joke (in seconds, or in measure of vocal pitch-variance) that elicits the biggest laugh.

When I have this list (which I will publish, here), and these summaries, I want to highlight and connect all the common characteristics shared between the photos, dances, poems, films, songs, etc. and find a kind of backbone or formula, hidden in emotionally profound works. I hope to learn from it, and integrate my learnings into the art work that I create.

The bellow statements (PART II) are related, though indirectly, to the more scientific approach described above. Rather than being about the formula for generating emotional potency, I have reflected on the more illusive source, which is immeasurable.


I propose a bold thesis: the key to creating meaningful, emotionally potent art is to allow yourself to experience vulnerability. At its root, the practice of being vulnerable, open, exposed in your fears and candid in your truth, is the most essential part of creating valuable works of art. Art the likes of which steers our culture, fuels innovation, inspires creation and the attempt – sometimes the completion, of great feats. Without this vulnerability, this susceptibility to pain, we not only stifle our ability to connect with others over the experience of living, but perhaps rob ourselves much of the very experience of living fully.

Straying further –

Self-censorship is the crutch. It is a great injustice to our capacity for growth to turn or shy away from love, even in its painful roulette of unjust dispense. In all forms, love helps us grow and learn – from platonic to brotherly, passionate and temporary to steadfast and lasting, we are educated by it. Love is not quantifiable, it is not justifiable, it does not care for social norms or dictatorship. You should be responsible for your actions, you should be aware of your surroundings – your cultural habitat, but the root of all transcendental growth must come from that place of emotional vulnerability and truth. It must. I am growing ever more confident by the day that there is no other way to become wise, or to create great works.

About Ide

Funambulist, producer, witch, and general roustabout.
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1 Response to Studying Emotionally Evocative Art

  1. Alex Ponting says:

    If I may volunteer a few items: – “That 2,000-Yard Stare” by Tom Lea

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