For whatever reason, when reading certain texts I weep. I'm not really sure what to make of it, nor have I formulated a sufficient theory as to why a particular configuration of words printed on the page should make a grown man cry. And yet, it is this exact effect that makes me feel that a work of art is truly great. But why should this be so?
e. e. cummings' poem, “somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond,” always hits me hard, especially the last stanza:
(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands
The introductory paragraph to bell hooks' "An Aesthetic of Blackness: Strange and Oppositional" in which the author relays how her grandmother, Baba, taught her about aesthetics also moves me:
Look, she tells me, what the light does to color! Do you believe that space can give life, or take it away, that space has power? These are the questions she asks which frighten me. Baba dies an old woman, out of place. Her funeral is also a place to see things, to recognize myself. How can I be sad in the face of death, surrounded by so much beauty? Death, hidden in a field of tulips, wearing my face and calling my name. Baba in a swoon, tulips everywhere. Here a soul on fire with beauty burns and passes, a soul touched by flame. We see her leave. She has taught me how to look at the world and see beauty. She has taught me "we must learn to see."
Strange that these two writers–the former a white male modernist poet, the latter a black feminist author and activist–should both write their names in lowercase. Perhaps there's something there. For the tears I speak of here are not the capital-letter kind of deep anguish, but rather the lower-case tears of simple everyday beauty as conveyed through beautiful writing. But who knows? Perhaps deep anguish is always there and it takes art for us to let it out.
Regardless of how they spell their names, certain authors, have the ability to profoundly move me. I have noticed that this can occur in the last few lines of the text, be it poem, chapter, or the final passage of a book, or in a poignant epigraph, like in the hooks essay. But what about other media? It seems fairly obvious that the form art takes moves us in rather different ways. Movies and music, for example, are known to deeply move people, quite literally in the form of dancing to music.
Years ago, during a crit for a painting course I was in, I became very moved by one of my classmate's work. It was a series of medium-sized abstractions that were mostly black. The thick outer layer of blackness was scraped into with a tool to reveal more colorful compositions dancing beneath the dark surface. For whatever reason, during the crit, these pictures began to move me. They started to almost vibrate and a sound seemed to emit from them not unlike that of a crescendo. Of course, this did not literally happen. It was something I was sort of bringing to the table. And I was fully conscious of the fact that I was doing this. But does that mean I was simply forcing this to happen? Why these particular paintings? No other student's work made me feel that way that day. And I wasn't especially depressed at the time. So why? When the professor asked for my feedback, I could only turn to the painter and ask, "Are you feeling alright lately? Because these paintings are making me very sad."
I'm not necessarily looking to be moved this way when engaging with art, although I suppose I am always looking for something profound. The same painting instructor once told our class that the highest compliment an artist could receive is that of tears. He relayed a story of how during one of his openings years ago he came across a woman weeping before one of his paintings. For him, this was the highest praise.