Artists often say that creating an emotional connection with the audience is their goal. The audience is usually seeking the same thing, at least in terms of emotional impact if not in the details, so the relationship balances and can be beautiful when it works.
But how is that emotional connection formed? What makes it work?
I don’t have a complete answer, but there are clues in how we perceive the world. Our experience is based on our senses, but what we see (research indicates that somewhere between eighty and eighty-five percent of our perception is visual), hear, smell, taste, and feel is ultimately determined by our brains. We are experiencing an interpretation of the world around us rather than an immutable reality. As surreal as it sounds, we create our own experience.
The relationship between sensory input and our response is not simple. It is mediated by instinct, culture, and past experience, so while some aspects are universal others can be highly personal. An emotional response occurs when something we sense resonates with one of our instinctive or experiential triggers, and for art’s sake, the more subliminal the connection the better. Just as explanation can ruin a joke, analysis can dampen the emotion of an encounter with art that we “get.”
The next time a photograph or artwork makes you stop and look twice, affects you in a way that you can’t explain, enjoy it. Don’t think, just feel. Analysis can come later. The gut reaction that artists work so hard to elicit needs to be savored to complete the emotional connection that gives value to all art.