What does the second half of this paragraph mean?

In viewing art, we recognise that we are not alone, confined by our mental and physical boundaries. We merge into a collective consciousness. Of course this happens in other circumstances, too, in rituals or riots, but to experience person to person – artist to viewer – a shared sensation, the confirmation that someone can feel, if only for a split second, exactly as one does, provides a kind of elation to the lonely self and we sometimes need to return to an artwork to experience this reassurance. (Sian Ede, Art and Science)

  • 2
    There's probably an interesting philosophy question in there somewhere, but I don't understand what the concern is here - the artist feels something, depicts the feeling, the viewer then views the depiction, and feels the same feeling that the artist originally did. Sep 14, 2015 at 18:29
  • yeah "self expression".
    – user6917
    Sep 15, 2015 at 19:52
  • 1
    I am open to collective consciousness effects but "shared sensation" in perceiving a work of art is not a case of that. Perceptions and interpretations of paintings and music are not only culturally dependent, but notoriously divergent even among people with similar backgrounds. So the elation is not a confirmation or reassurance of commonality, it is an example of exalted self-suggestion.
    – Conifold
    Sep 15, 2015 at 20:31
  • I was just about to comment on that in spite of the age of this question to dissuade people from readings books that make ridiculous claims, but realized I don't need to anymore. Thanks, @Conifold.
    – Joachim
    Nov 7, 2019 at 18:21

2 Answers 2


Famously Plato banned poets from his Republic; in one dialogue he had Socrates pokes a little fun at Ion, a rhapsodist - a singer of songs - for being unable to explain his gift for a rousing emotion in his audience.

Ion is actually a little afraid of Socrates questions; he wants to escape, perhaps he is thinking: stop thinking, Socrates and listen; listen to my song, and allow yourself to be carried away; then you'll understand - that just by listening naturally, one understands with no explanation ever being articulated or even found neccessary.

But Socrates persists, for he is a persistent man; eventually he explains it for Ion: he says Ion, when he sings - and especially when he sings well; he is not himself, he is transported out of himself (ekstasis - out+stand) and by virtue of his art, he is able to do the same for his audience.

They, the audience, when listening to his song, are reliving or anticipating a passion - the same passion; so they are brought to a kind of unity where not:

'being confined by our mental and physical boundaries'

We realise we are not alone; and see each other, eye-to-eye.

This explains the first paragraph.

The second paragraph is the same, said differently and more intimately; for there is no suggestion of an audience, but only you and an artwork - perhaps a piece of music, perhaps walking into a courtyard, or a painting glanced at; or again, a book of poems, as in the answer by @Barzell.

Another example along the same lines, but in a quieter key is to glance at a painting by Vermeer, and recognise a moment of contemplation in a moment of aloneness; which Vermeer too must have felt to have chosen this moment to paint; and that fills that moment and erases the aloneness and connects artist to the viewer in a moment of recognition; some spark of spirit abolishes time and distance; and therefore brings

'a kind of elation for the lonely self'

Which even if not glanced at again, but recalled later - perhaps much later, brings back that

'experience of reassurance'

One is indeed, again, not alone.


Art (paintings, stories, etc...) speak to the human condition and this serves to alleviate suffering. Why?

When I suffer, there is an loneliness to the suffering, a feeling that it's just me who's in pain and the rest of the world is happy. So now on top of the pain, I feel marginalized.

For instance, let's say I'm suffering due to a romantic breakup. Well, that's bad enough, but now when I walk the streets, I notice seemingly happy couples everywhere. They all have someone, yet I'm alone.

Then I pick up a poem about love lost, read it, and feel someone else has suffered what I suffered. Someone understands this! Better yet, that this poem is known by others seems to indicate that they too felt it spoke to them. Now I may suffer pain, but I'm no longer an outcast; I'm part of humanity, playing my role in experiencing the human condition.

In this shared suffering, I find solace, or to put it less charitably, misery loves company.

For an interesting comparison/contrast, check out Schopenhauer's Aesthetic Theory. While he elevates connection to a universal level, the connection and relief from suffering are there.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .