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6. Does art express emotions?
As we have seen, an artwork can tell stories or depict ideas; it can be realistic or abstract. However, for some people, the most important issue in art is that it expresses or stirs emotions. Art can be a record of what the artist is feeling and, at the same time, it can bring about emotional reactions in the viewer. In the 20th century, this type of art has been called Expressionist Art. There are expressionistic features within many different art styles and movements. Artists make choices about color, line, texture, and composition to evoke or express feelings. Sometimes this leads to abstracting a subject to make it more expressive. In the 1950s, a group of American artists referred to as Abstract Expressionists believed the best way to express pure emotions was to create nonobjective or totally abstract artworks in which colors, lines, shapes, and textures directly conveyed their emotional state.


In this activity, students will explore emotional impact using line, color, and shape.

Materials needed: 4 sheets of blank paper per student; markers, colored pencils, or crayons.

Have students title each sheet of paper with each of the following words: anger, happiness, loneliness, calm. On each page, ask students to create a totally abstract composition to express the emotion written on it. They must use at least two colors, one type of line, and an arrangement of shapes. No images or words are allowed.

Group together and display the pages for each emotion. Did students use similar colors, lines, and shapes for the same emotions? Ask the group to discuss their observations.

Show the following images:
1. Lee Bul Plexus Blue
2. Donald Judd Untitled
3. Franz Marc The Large Blue Horses
4. Georgia O’Keeffe Lake George Barns
5. Mark Rothko untitled
6. Kazuo Shiraga Untitled

For each artwork, discuss the feelings or emotions you think the artist has expressed. Look at the colors, lines, textures, and shapes. Compare these to your classmates’ drawings of particular emotions. Try to find characteristics used by the students and the artists to express similar feelings.

Discussion questions:
Which artworks seem the most expressive to you? Which seem the least expressive?

Do you think a work must express a feeling or emotion in order to be art? Why or why not?

What is more interesting to you: the shapes and colors in an artwork or the feelings and emotions it seems to express?

Related works of art (online version)
Related works of art (downloadable PDF version)

©2004 Walker Art Center