On Emotion And Art

I’m not crying, you are crying

M.A. Mercier
Published in
4 min readJul 18, 2021


Image by Callum Skelton on Unsplash


I love a variety of art forms, and one of the reasons is that it makes me feel something. In one of earliest articles on Medium, I said that I think the best art is the one that brings out highest amount of emotion. I stand by that. That does not, however, mean that a book or an album should bring you to tears to be considered a high piece of art. That would not be correct! I did not cry while reading ‘The Great Gatsby’, or ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’, or while listening to ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’, you get the point.

There are, however, things that demand a strong emotional response. I have never cried while consuming art, and maybe I just haven’t found the right piece yet, or it’s just that I am too tough for the world. Either way, the point remains true. I have experienced strong emotional responses from some pieces, though. I recently read Jane Eyre, and I was not very happy for the most part. I have some(many) thoughts that I would like to share and I am angry at many characters. That qualifies as a strong emotional response.

My Experience and Why This Article

People who also follow Anthony Fantano (He also featured on my top Youtuber’s list)would know that he gave out the sixth 10/10 review of his over a decade long career a week ago. I should review that album, shouldn’t I? Not really. The ones that I have reviewed, like Atrocity Exhibition, and Call me if you get lost, provoked my emotional responses, and that is why I reviewed them. Not because they were some higher forms of art. I am not saying I disliked it either, I liked most of the songs from it, the lush instrumentals speak to me, and I enjoyed it as a whole, too.

The thing that really kicked off this article for me was that a few weeks ago, I listened to ‘The Epic’ again, and then read Jane Eyre. I will talk about Jane Eyre another time. From ‘The Epic’, the crescendo to the brilliant ‘Clair de Lune’ almost brought me to tears. I don’t know why. I was always intrigued when I saw people saying they cried to an instrumental. I still am, but one thing that changed is that I am one of them. It is not just that it was overly layered instrumental and the crescendo just released it very well. That is the case for many cuts from that record. One other that I particularly liked and almost had me in tears was the ‘Re Run’ and ‘Re Run Home’ duo, which was inevitable really. The hook, or refrain — I think jazz has hooks too, correct me if I am wrong — is irresistible. I have come close to crying while listening to other songs, but I don’t remember them. I just happened to be closely listening when this one happened.

So, the question remains unanswered, what is the relation between art, and emotion. I, of course, think they are intertwined and essential to each other. But the why is what we shall try to tackle today.

Art, in its purest form, is an expression. Expressions of the highest caliber are intended to evoke emotion. I think that does not explain in any other way than before. Let’s try again. Most of you have watched movies, and those who haven’t… sorry! Anyway, the best ones usually tend to be ones that you are the most passionate about, and feel something for the characters, be it love, hate, care or any emotion. I hope it is clear now.

The Why and the Which

Now, for the why. I think emotions are what makes us humans, and I do not think this is a revolutionary idea. We’ll stick to it. Anything that enhances that, makes us more human. The art that makes us feel, is itself more humane than the most. I remember people complaining EDM(Electronic Dance Music, the most popular music genre of the 2010's) has no emotion and that is why it is bad music. I won’t go that far, but I think I understand where that sentiment comes from.

Which emotion, though? There are so many emotions that a piece can evoke, disgust, happiness, sadness, and many more. I have said in two of my previous articles that I think fear is the most universal emotion, not love. I stand by that. However, I also recognise that evoking fear is not always possible. I also recognise that all emotions should be equal. They are not, to be clear, but they should be. Is it easier to evoke sadness than to evoke joy? Humorists will certainly say so. I don’t think tragedians will. At the end, it depends on your emotional palette. Some will be like Hermione, others like Ron. I hope nobody’s like the tin man, though. (Refer to the ‘emotional palette of a teaspoon’ scene in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince and ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’ for the last one.)

What is something that made you feel something? Let me know in the comments. And, hey!I have a newsletter now! It will be a monthly email, a kind of monologue about literature, writing, philosophy, and music, linking the articles I found most useful. It will be delivered on the 19th of every month. Do Subscribe if you are interested.