"The job of the artist is always to deepen the mystery." - Francis Bacon
In the early 20th Century, there developed an art movement called "Expressionism," in which the artist was more interested in expressing an emotional experience and less focused on depicting realism. The art work could be a record of what the artist was feeling at the time of making it, and it could also bring about emotional reactions in the viewer.
In a previous investigation, we took a look at art by Matisse, Picasso, Lichtenstein, Chagall and others to see how these modern masters showed emotion in their art. We've decided to revisit this issue, and to take a look at a different group of artists and see what approaches they've taken in order to depict emotion in their art. One thing that we're seeing more this time is the way the artists have made the subject's hands an integral part of the expression of the emotion. Let's take a look at a few examples below.
Here's two art works that both depict sadness ... what I find interesting by the painting at left, by David Alfaro Siqueiros, is that he's able to convey emotion without even seeing the person's face. The placement of the hands and the lines defining the knuckles sends the message that this person is fighting back tears. Below right we have Vik Muniz's reinterpretation of Picasso's famous "Weeping Woman," but this image is a photograph of piles of pigment laid out to mimic the original. She also has a hand up to her face, and her eyebrows arching up helps convey her emotional state.
Here's a fantastic painting showing absolute fear: it's a self-portrait by Dutch artist Pieter Van Laer from 1638. He's screaming out in terror as he sees the approach of the devil, as depicted by the monster-like hands reaching for him from the right side.
Here's a couple more ... do you agree with me that the painting below left also depicts fear? Is it because of the extra big, extra round eyes, or the teeth that might seem to be chattering? And the artist below right went ahead and labeled the emotion for his art: shame! The subject's hands are up covering his or her face just like the hands in Siqueros' painting, but in this case they're covering the face in shame rather than covering the eyes in sadness.
Here's a challenging picture for you to interpret, what emotion do you feel from looking at this painting? Is it anger, as the hand crumples some paper in a moment of disgust? Or is it sadness, as a hand clutches a used Kleenex? What do you think? (this painting is also by an unidentified artist at the 2011 Armory Show)
If you have any favorite "emotional" artworks, or if you've created some art that shows emotion, please share it with us. If it's your own original work, we can add it to our viewer-submitted art gallery.