. . . Consumption Blues

. . .

Consumption Blues

With sobs and tears he sorted out
Those of the largest size,
Holding his pocket-handkerchief
Before his streaming eyes.

... "He ate more than the Carpenter, though," said Tweedledee. "You see he held his handkerchief in front, so that the Carpenter couldn't count how many he took: contrariwise."

I have to believe that John Elkins (link via Splinters & simcoe) started out with thesis firmly in hand before he collected his results, because seven out of thirty art-historian respondents admitting that paintings have made them cry (presumably not in pain or in laughter) seems a high number compared to what you'd get from a random sampling of non-art-historians. Might even indicate that people who've been emotionally moved by art are more likely to study art history....

Knowledge vs. Emotion? Not in my experience. Maybe Knowledge vs. a certain type of self-pitying it's-all-about-me Emotion, but that's not a type of Emotion that we necessarily need more of, despite it's being the most pluckable heartstring in sight. Or maybe Emotion vs. a certain type of dictatorial it's-all-about-me Knowledge. Contrariwise, when art has made me cry without sickening me afterwards, it's always with (from?) the feeling of gaining knowledge, including knowledge once held but since lost -- like, for example, the knowledge of the experience itself.

. . .

Consumption Blues, cont.

A conversation with artist-historian Juliet Clark brought up these further points:

  1. The extent to which the sentimental can be distinguished from the profound may be arguable, but it deserves mention: in contemporary usage "profound" usually marks a (purported) weightiness of both emotion and intellect, mutually reinforcing rather than in conflict.

  2. What interferes with an art historian's (or a literary scholar's) emotional expression is less likely to be education than career. In scholarly research (and in academic advancement), the direct emotional experience of an artifact can be a distraction from other aspects of the piece, and at the very least has to be detached from them for the discipline to get anywhere at all. This doesn't mean that knowledge interferes with emotion; it just means that one has to leave the frozen moment of absorption if one is to learn anything outside that experience itself -- and that it's considered bad form to cry in the workplace.

  3. The Everly Brothers aside, to fill with love is not always to fill with tears.

  4. "Have you ever sneezed in front of a work of art?"
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