Artists struggle to express emotion in their work and yet, as Dewitt H. Parker writes ‘art without emotion does not exist’.
I began my research into this critical aspect of art by looking to the writings of Leonardo da Vinci, arguably the greatest of the Renaissance artists. Da Vinci suggests that in portraiture, his objective was not only to paint the subject’s corporeal body, but to also capture their moti mentalis, the inner thoughts and feelings that moved across the face of his subject as they sat for him. Think of Mona Lisa’s enigmatic smile as an example.
More recently, Todd James, a senior photo editor with National Geographic turns the conversation away from the emotions of the portrait model, to the thoughts and feelings of the artist. ‘Don’t show me what you see, show me what you feel’, says James when providing advice to photographers submitting their work to the magazine.
Central to the suggestions of both da Vinci and James is the French word sentire, in English, sentiment. It means to feel, though I prefer the more poetic, 18th century understanding of the word: “a thought colored by, or proceeding from, emotion". It’s what we all do, those of us working in the visual arts, we use the colours of our thoughts and emotions to express art.
The English Romantic writer William Wordsworth, using the poignant, yet simple words of a poet, perhaps said it best when he wrote ‘fill your paper with the breathings of your heart’.
Out in nature, my pause for a long, slow look reveals simplicity, subtlety, rhythm, and majesty. These and more are the sentiments that colour my thoughts and, in the mindful consideration of what I am seeing, my feelings flow, breath by breath onto the canvas of my camera.