Been thinking a lot about emotions lately and it made me realize that I experience art for one reason: to make me feel something. Art is healing, as they say. It’s a method of emotional communication almost uniquely limited to the human species. Humans produce art to find meaning in life. Art is a method of healing for many, including me. Are you an artist? Then your job is to make me feel something.
What am I talking about? Simple: Art helps people get in touch with and express feelings that might otherwise remain buried or ignored. If you’re healing from things like depression or PTSD, processing emotions in a non-traumatic way is an important skill to learn. You can’t regulate what you can’t understand. Langston Hughes was right: deferred dreams can explode and this boring dystopia doesn’t only use racism as a form of social inhibition. We’re introjected from a young age to know our place, accept our fate, while others born on third base walk through life like they hit a triple.
Where do you go to scrape out those unexpressed feelings like rotten meat before they ferment and explode in your refigerator? Well Sweet Pea, that’s art. Art gives us that space, whether we create it or we consume it. We’re getting the yucky stuff out of us. The best stories make you feel something, and telling stories helps you clean your own ’emotional closet.’ Any kind of art be it painting, poetry, movies, or video games – mainly you’re there to feel something. You might talk about technique and process, but you’re there to feel something. That’s what the rest of this blog post is all about.
The Best Stories Make You Feel Something
I know I’ve alluded to this in the past but it’s time to make it more explicit – stories are about emotional consistency, not logical consistency. Big ideas, well-paced stories, but in the end: emotions. You read the story, you watched the movie, you played the video game because you wanted to feel something.
Now, what do you want to feel? Well, that’s up to you. Some people love the timeless perspective, social themes, and emotional safety of classic literature so they’ll read The Hobbit, To Kill a Mockingbird or Catcher in the Rye. Others crave the transgressionary, vicarious thrill dropping out of society – they read William S. Burroughs and Henry Miller. Still others are fascinated by liminal spaces, the creepy feeling you get in a lonely office building or an abandoned mall – they make videos like the Backrooms and people on Youtube eat them up.
The point? Nothing should be more important to an author than how their story makes the audience feel. What those creators understand, what we need to learn as creatives, is that we start with the emotion first and then work backwards. I’ll talk more about that in a second. First, let’s talk about the therapeutic value of storytelling, and what it does for storytellers.
Telling Stories Cleans Your Closet
All creatives are storytellers, regardless of their medium. What I’m starting to understand now is what storytelling gives me, regardless of whether I become ‘successful,’ or not. I’m here doing my Inkican thing, because I have a lot of stuff inside that needs to get out. Sad stories, trauma, regret. I need to clean that out of me and walk the path of life without all that baggage.
With the right eyes, that baggage or garbage clutters up your mind heart: an old, overstuffed coffin-sized space filled with musty sweatsocks and stained t-shirts. In real life, a dirty closet has the tang of skin oil and farts. I can tell you what a dirty closet smells like right now – you probably can, too. Some people’s lives are just like those closets – junked-up and overstuffed with things they don’t want any more but can’t bring themselves to remove.
I learned a long time ago that telling stories helps me clean out that emotional closet in my mind and heart. ‘Cleaning up’ has introduced me to many other people who also have their own struggles and weaknesses. It’s brought me to you and other readers with their own stories to share. The real treasure was the friends we made – and the emotions we processed – along the way.
Start With Emotion – Work Backwards
So here’s how to do it – as far as I can tell. Start with the emotions you’re trying to explore in your work. Are you happy? Great – work out what’s making you happy. What does happy feel like, smell, like, taste and look like? Then, take it back one step: What *kind* of happy to you feel? What does that look like, feel like, sound like? What are different events that say ‘happy’ to you? Who are ‘happy’ people you can reference?
Now, bring it back together: How can your art convey those emotions so that other people feel your kind of happy, too? One of my favorite ‘happy’ artists is a guy named Weird Al Yankovic and along with being hysterically funny, he’s a genuine and kind person who knows how to be happy. He’s my go-to ‘happy’ artist.
Yes, your job is to make me feel something. You decide how to do that. Make me feel your brand of happy, sad, scared, or amazed. When I feel what you feel, and I realize that I feel the same way, I feel seen, I feel understood. Thank you for making me feel that way.
Make art, make me feel something. Now that I’ve finished talking about making you feel something, do you know how I feel? I feel accomplished, finished. I did it. I did what I was supposed to do, today. One step closer to being who I want to be for the rest of my life. Go find something that brings you one step closer, too.