“The aesthetic element is present in all visual accounts attempted by human beings […]. Perceptual and pictorial shapes are not only translations of thought products but the very flesh and blood of thinking itself and that an unbroken range of visual interpretation leads from the humble gestures of daily communication to the statements of great art.”
Rudolf Arnheim: Visual Thinking (1997); pg. 134
We can observe that shapes in comics serve two general purposes: to show or reenvision the world through the eyes of the author (and consequently the reader) and in doing so express emotion, which I would say is by far the most obvious and important aspect of all art, even beyond the ideology … I dunno, maybe I’m a romantic at heart. You would be hard-pressed to find any type of art in any type of medium that is bereft of emotion … and what is more, does not capture emotion or imagination of the observer of said art. Arguably, evoking emotion and an emotional composition may be two different things altogether, but they still reside within the same frame of reference. Art pieces are envisioned by human creativity through their unique emotional capability to be experienced by their followers, instilling emotion in their own right. It becomes an emotional hermeneutic cycle (of the wheel of life) and with each turn of the wheel, potentially more potent emotional responses are given birth to.
The pictorial principles in art may be more or less deliberate and intricately created. There is always interplay between the intended and the perceived. Nevertheless, we are aware of the emotional forces, even if they work beneath or beyond the conscious level. Just as our eyes can be deliberately “tricked” towards moving in a specific direction, tracing a path through a picture or over the panels on comic page, we are emotionally invested in doing so. If not, we see far far far less than we actually could … Hence the reason why some lunatics like mu are able to stare at a painting in a museum with a still gaze for many minutes. I mean, I’m not complaining, it’s exciting and eye-opening, but my advice is don’t go pic-gazing before the museum closes, because skimming through works of art is like eating soup with chopsticks … it gets (c)old very fast and you’ll go hungry.
In any case, art of any kind has historically served many different purposes: from preserving the aristocratic image through numerous portraits, prolonging cultural/religious imagery to experimenting and extending the gaze of techniques and points of view … from the prehistoric cave paintings, through seemingly perfect classics towards postmodern reimaginings and multi-modal expressions. Nevertheless, the prevailing factors in and of art have always been the emotional responses and emotional investments from the observer. (Obviously, I’m referring predominantly to visual art proper, even though even this broad definition has always been rather flimsy.)
Even the most pragmatically-oriented, science-based research yields to emotional factors. Knowing a particular structure or organization of a work or a discipline may foster further understanding and enriches the personal experience, yet we cannot escape the fact that even the most formalistic research was done because it was deemed important enough. In other words, there are levels of emotional investment present there as well.
In a weird way, objectivity in scientific research goes hand in hand with emotional investment, which is based on pure subjectivity. And yes, even theoretical research has an emotional component hidden within its loins; quite simply, if the researcher is not invested in the subject matter, the result will be underwhelming. Apathy breeds blindness. Now, while too much zeal can make you prone to hyperbole, criticism for the sake of criticism also leads nowhere fast. There’s always a balancing act, the middle way if you will. The drive for expanding one’s knowledge is essentially subjective and ego-driven, objectivity as such is only partial; whether the goal is to prove or disprove a hypothesis, the investment becomes personal because it’s about personal creativity, which in turn has merit only in a larger social (critical) environment. Just as perception becomes emotional, interests are merely its outcome. Even the “guise” of an academic analysis is essentially subjective, since it reflects the researcher’s personal choice of the subject matter, but the goal can paradoxically only serve its function as an elaborate guide for readers and other researchers … in other words, hermeneutic cycle at its best.
I like to use this McCloud’s example for various reasons, primarily because it’s self-explanatory and because he deliberately created it within his own theoretical research, so it fits rather nicely into this context as well. While the words in comics have been for the most part heavily stylized and more often than not tend to be excluded from expressionistic portrayal, pictures themselves thrive on expressiveness and become the main vessel of human potential.
I’ll conclude with some emotionally impactful art by Vesna Nichevska. Since she has a large collection of drawings and paintings, I’ll use more of her art as examples or pure visual analysis in future posts.
You can find her at:
The desire in the eyes, tilted head, slightly opened mouth, hair already slightly ruffled and looking up at her lover … all emotionally powerful and perfectly capture her anticipation.
Gazing look, yet head lowered slightly and engulfed symbolically by her hair and the desperation of her emotional stress. Darker patches directly around her add to the contrast as well as her state of mind, perhaps some anger and despair mixed together as well.
The flames are engulfing the various female faces that could be symbolic of only one female or the artist herself. The impact of the image is enlarged through the focus on various eyes and lips, where curved lines extend upwards and like a flame burn brightly and ferociously, but only for a while … so you have to experience the fire at its peak.
The embrace of lovers, of two becoming one, the yang-yin of passion, where both halves are appropriately stressed by the hair that symbolically encircles them. His hand on her hair and her embrace indicate love and passion, not merely emotionless sex. The faces get lost in the dance, just at time stands still when love is sublime.
And that is just a morsel of how powerfully emotions can almost effortlessly work their magic in visual imagery. Especially in Vesna’s art.
For reasons of extreme prejudice, the author of this blog wishes to remain anonymous …