22 May 2011

I’ve been thinking about art that makes you “feel” and art that makes you “think” and the intersection/layering thereof.  Your comments please (specific examples especially welcome) on the following, from Susan Sontag‘s 1964 essay on French filmmaker Robert Bresson (a master, in Sontag’s opinion, of “reflective art”):

Some art aims directly arousing the feelings; some art appeals to the feelings through the route of intelligence.  There is art that involves, that creates empathy.  There is art that detaches, that provokes reflection.

Great reflective art is not frigid.  It can exalt the spectator, it can present images that appall, it can make him weep.  But its emotional power is mediated.  The pull toward emotional involvement is counterbalanced by elements in the work that promote distance, disinterestedness, impartiality.  Emotional involvement is always, to a greater or lesser degree, postponed.  […]

In reflective art, the form of the work of art is present in an emphatic way.

The effect of the spectator’s being aware of the form is to elongate or to retard the emotions.  For, to the extent that we are conscious of form in a work of art, we become somewhat detached; our emotions do not respond in the same way as they do in real life.  Awareness of form does two things simultaneously: it gives a sensuous pleasure independent of the “content,” and it invites the use of intelligence.