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Mother and Daughter Working on Painting in Art Studio - April Wright Therapy

Emotion: An Integral Part of Art, Self-Awareness, Empathy, Self-Control And So Much More

Human behavior flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge. ~Plato

Let’s talk emotion.

What does the word emotion mean? According to Wikipedia, “emotion, in everyday speech, is any relatively brief conscious experience characterized by intense mental activity and a high degree of pleasure or displeasure.” I refer to emotions as feelings about the self, others, objects, and experiences. Emotions trigger thoughts, psychological and biological states, and inclinations to act (Goleman, 2006).

What kinds of emotions do we experience on a day-to-day basis?
There are numerous emotions, along with their variations, combinations, mutations, and subtleties. Well-known emotions include anger, sadness, surprise, shame, disgust, fear, love, and happiness. The list is not exhaustive. Many different forms and names for emotions exist, but at least you can get an idea.

Why are emotions important? Feelings trigger a response to danger, the ability to love, and experience passion in life. Emotions stem from the amygdala – the reptilian part of the brain. The amygdala is the root from which the neocortex – the newest development of the brain where our thoughts lie. Because of the interconnectivity of the brain, the amygdala plays crucial roles in the neural architecture. Emotions have an immense influential power of the functioning of all aspects of the brain including our thoughts.

Let’s discuss color.

With some understanding of emotions and their importance, color, also has tremendous power. Extensive research has concluded certain colors instigate certain emotions and arousals. According to Birren (2006), warm colors such as red and yellow increase arousal more than cool colors like blue and green.


Many forms of line exist including straight, jagged, squiggly, zig-zag, continuous, soft, hard, and so on.

Let’s create emotional art.

Turn on some tunes and warm up by drawing lines based upon certain feelings using pencil on newsprint. IE: draw happy lines, draw sad lines, draw angry lines, etc. If nothing comes to mind, base your lines on the music. It could be classical, alternative, electronic, jazz, whatever is your preference.

Once “warmed up” begin working with acrylics. Make sure you have several paintbrushes, clean water in a cup and a minimum of the three primary colors (red, yellow and blue).

Begin by deciding on a particular emotion or feeling which you would like to express using various paint colors, lines, textures, and shapes.
Take as long as you need to create the final work. It’s a good idea to step back from time to time and look at the full composition and the accuracy of the emotion you’d like to convey.

When standing back, ask yourself – Is it moving in the direction you want? Are the desired feelings starting to emerge?

Remember this is a very intuitive and subjective exercise. Perfectionism or criticism during analyzation is not part of the process. Emotional painting is personal expression of feelings and differs from person to person.

When your painting is complete, hang it up and see how others interpret the work. Is what they see similar, or different, why?

Expressive art exercises:

  1. How do certain colors make you feel? Why?
  2. Look at the works of various artists in history. While looking at the pictures, see if you can notice any strong feelings.
  3. After you completed your painting, use the creative art of language and write an emotional story or poem that reflects upon your picture.
  4. Watch videos of dancers and observe their rhythm and movement in music. Compare the idea of “emotional music” with “emotional painting.”
  5. Bond with family members or friends with an afternoon of artistic expression.  Use color, light or strong brush strokes, thick or thin lines, or whatever comes to mind to express your feelings toward those you love.  There is no better gift than one created from the heart.

Red is such an interesting color to correlate with emotion, because it’s on both ends of the spectrum. On one end you have happiness, falling in love, infatuation with someone, passion, all that.  On the other end, you’ve got obsession, jealousy, danger, fear, anger and frustration. ~Taylor Swift


Wikipedia (online).
Goleman, D. (2006). Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ. Bantam Dell: Random House.
Birren F. (2006). Color psychology and color therapy: A factual study of the influence of color on human life. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger.

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