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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)

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    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
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    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

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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.

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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.

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