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Energy & Emotionalism in Art

ART TIMES January February 2009

One of my favorite sayings concerning art comes from the novelist Leo Tolstoy, who defined it as “conscious communication of feeling.” A visual arts movement quietly growing for fourteen years, and accelerating since 2004, more than lives up to this statement. The artists involved call themselves “The Emotionalists.”

The concept began in the United States with a Polish artist, Lubomir Tomaszewski, who saw the need to bring more of the human aspect back into the arts. After previous vanguards of cubism, minimalism, and sensational tabloid-worthy exhibits featuring such phenomenon as “as a bicycle on a pedestal, a urinal, a giant toilet or hamburger,” Professor Tomaszewski began to incorporate into his own works, “ a purpose that is visible in the works themselves…created not as a result of cold intellectual calculation and application of proper formulas or recipes, but rather of deep world experience” and that speaks “directly to the recipient’s emotions…art that resonates naturally and deeply within the viewer, observer or listener.

Art can play an important role in individual and social life, if it has a positive relationship to mankind, if it’s helpful in building a better human being or a better society, instead of solely entertaining or surprising the viewer,” Tomaszewski teaches. “Contact with a work of art should enrich the viewer and allow for experiences that he/she never had

before…“Most essential is “the depth of sensation that the artist delivers to the audience.”

Looking for this purpose in the work of others, Tomaszewski brought together a multi-disciplinary group of artists—painters, sculptors, printmakers, musicians, dancers and designers. He gave them a voice, saying “We believe that now is the time for change, to create art that is profound, strong, passionate... art that doesn't require an elaborate explanation; art that involves the whole man, who he is and who he can become.

While the emotionalists have been widely exhibited in the United States and Europe, Basha Maryanska of Athens NY, a member of the Emotionalist group, has been curating some of their shows throughout the USA and in Europe, with the idea that they have been gradually becoming a movement. Exhibiting her own work and acting as curator for many shows brought her into contact with other artists from Europe, Australia, and throughout the United States. She observed that, despite cultural differences, many artists shared feelings compatible with the Emotionalists, and saw that Emotionalism is larger than the existing group. For the past four years, since she began work as a curator, and at the same time expanded the range of showing her own work, she saw Emotionalism growing as an international movement

With this vision, and the backing of the Professor, Maryanska invited artists to a show, Energy, the Art of Emotionalism, at New York City’s New Century Gallery. As curator she brought together artists from different parts of the world who show internationally, in order to show the universality of Emotionalism.  She chose for its site Chelsea, Manhattan, “one of the most international places of the world where all arts meet and create new configurations,” she said. She wanted a showing “in the heart of this most contemporary art section in New York City, where artists from all over the world meet and where all the distant cultures come together.”

The invited artists responded passionately to the question about ENERGY, an issue currently so important to everyone. “It touches all of us,” Maryanska said, “so of course the invited artists were excited about expressing their thoughts, feelings and emotions in painting, graphics and sculpture.”

Professor Tomaszewski began working with energy twenty years ago. Trained as an engineer, he designed and installed a solar energy system in his Connecticut home. It cost $1,200 and has saved him $10,000 in the intervening years. Photos of this system are shown at many of his exhibits, along with his rhythmic moving sculpture in metal, wood and stone

Emotions carry a lot of energy, an aspect of the arts that deserve more exploration. Einstein gave impetus to energy concepts with his E=MC2 formula; this easily applies to visual arts, poetry and writing. E means Energy, which translates into M, Matter, (or vice versa) as it is affected by C, velocity or speed, often thought of as light, the fastest moving observable phenomenon.

Scientists usually start with matter, and find ways to turn it into energy; huge colliders are being built to crash atoms at high speed to measure the resulting energy. Some practical, visual results of Einstein’s work are computers, cell phones, the high tech world we have today. The arts go in the opposite direction, turning the energy of ideas and inspiration into physical embodiments of paint, pigment, sounds, music, spoken and written words. The energy of ideas, meanings, emotions, and feelings are in these arts, and that is what differentiates them from random colors and shapes, sounds and babbling words.

All arts need some form of matter. Visual arts need paint, pigments, color and shape, while music utilizes instruments and sounds. Poetry utilizes images, sensory memories of things seen, heard, smelled, tasted and touched as vehicles to carry things you can’t see, abstractions, emotions, qualities, feelings. One poet gives exercises in which you have a teacup full of friendliness, anger, nostalgia, joy, or a blizzard of desolation, hope or possibilities, a concrete block or a river carrying ideas. In poetry, energy builds with images until it explodes into an “Aha!” moment for the reader.

Maryanska has curated other shows, including a May, 2008 international exhibit of Emotionalism in Beacon, NY that proved so popular it was extended for an additional month. At this and other openings there poetry readings and music—emotionalism is not only for the visual arts. Poet Robert Reidy reads while Mietek Glinkowski plays an electric violin, providing another apt expression of energy in art.

Helen Adler, granddaughter of Felix Adler, founder of the Ethical Culture movement, loves and writes poetry. When we spoke of  some poems in literary magazines,  she said, “I get so tired of all this stream of consciousness and obscure poetic writing that comes out of Academia—poets writing for themselves, from their own subconscious, that doesn’t move people unless they are exactly at that point.”  After listing poets we liked, Adler continued, “Great poets evoke a resonance, a response; they touch each person.”

Her last statement might be the goal of Emotionalist writers. At present, however, it’s carried largely by visual artists such as Maryanska, Tomaszewski, and their enthusiastic colleagues. Earlier, in Poland, Maryanska carried out an emotional action during Solidarity, when Communist guns were trained on the Gdansk shipyards.  When she and other artists were photographed placing flowers in gun muzzles, her secret work for Solidarity became known. To escape prison she was spirited out of Poland, and eventually came to upstate New York.

Tomaszewski, Emotionalist’s chief founder, now lives in Connecticut. Earlier he participated in the Warsaw uprising during World War 11. Perhaps heartfelt engagement in the struggles of difficult and terrible times equipped Tomaszewski and many of his colleagues to engage now with a movement called Emotionalism.

(Jeanne Heiberg lives in Athens, NY: