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The Column icon The Column: Issue 26

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The Column is a monthly feature that explores the world of creativity and aesthetics.

Emotion and Creativity
Mike de Sousa, Director, AbleStable

Emotion is the engine that drives our actions. Being aware of the forces emotions exert is an important part of the toolset the creative person has at their disposal. How we feel, and how others feel about the products of creativity should always be at the forefront of the creative act.
Emotion: from the Latin 'emovere': to move out.

'Emotion: the language of a person's internal state of being, normally based in or tied to their internal (physical) and external (social) sensory feeling. Love, hate, courage, fear, joy, and sadness can all be described in both psychological and physiological terms. Emotion is the realm where thought and physiology are inextricably entwined, and where the 'self' is inseparable from our individual perceptions of value and judgment toward ourselves and others.'

Emotion: A response based in feeling and often accompanied by physiological changes.

The Need to Feel

The need to feel and express emotion is part of our daily experience. We meet, we ask 'how are you?'. We receive the response 'great', 'OK', or 'not so good', which, in a single phrase, gives us the essential information that enables us to judge how best to continue and develop our exchange from that point on.

Some shy clear of communicating their emotional state as doing so may communicate vulnerability, others come right out and say it. Whatever our approach, emotion is key to the way we comprehend the world.


!:-) 'Smilies' are sketchy representations created with a few keystrokes, many of which relate to emotion. On the Internet, a smiley is sometimes defined as an 'emoticon' (an emotive icon).

Communicating wholly through the written word is more difficult than the more complex and subtle aural and visual exchanges we make through face to face contact. Smilies are used in contexts where communication is text based like emails, chats, forums, and other online activities. Smilies can quickly communicate an emotional state in graphical form. I've gathered some of the most popular Smilies that refer to emotional states of one kind or another below.

Smilies tells us that when it comes to interpreting human emotional states, we place tremendous importance on searching the face for the visual clues of mood:





:-) :)

 smile, happy




 wink, jest

:-< forlorn

:- ))

 very happy

{:-{ :-c definitely unhappy
:- ))) ecstatic! (:-( very unhappy
}:-} big grin 8^( %-{ sad
I-) sniggering (:-\ :-< very sad
%-} amused


:-D (-) laughing &-| &-( tearful
%-(|) laughing out loud :,-( :'-( crying
:-):-):-) guffawing :'-C :~-( crying
:'-) :,-) crying with laughter :''') floods of tears
%-<|> %-) drunk with laughter :-... heart-broken


in love


:-I :-/ puzzled / perplexed :-e >:-( disappointed
:-& tongue-tied


not amused
:-[ pouting (:-< (:-( frowning
=(8-0) =:-o hair-raising :-t :-z cross


 shocked (:-& :-@ angry
:-o :-() shocked / awed :-II :-|| angry
( :+( scared %-( >:-< angry and frowning
* :-o alarmed > :-( >:-<< mad
:-[ critical ~ :-( steaming mad
:-] :-> sarcastic >-< absolutely livid





= : O



=) :-o surprised :-c depressed

Strong Emotion

Strong emotion is of profound importance to us all and allows us to place certain experiences at 'the front of the cue'.

Strong emotions like joy and sadness are associated with certain experiences and reside in a different place in our brains than the memory of other less powerful experiences. This allows us to quickly access the memory of our most significant events. We're all familiar with the mechanism that replays those most powerful experiences again and again, perhaps to reaffirm what is most important to us, perhaps to make sense of them, perhaps to warn us off placing ourselves in a similar circumstance again.

Art and Emotion

How we feel about visual art, music, film, or literature defines our judgemental of it. The written notes that may accompany certain artworks may inform and enrich our understanding or experience of it, but notes have little affect on how we feel about art. How we feel is essentially an intuitive, emotional response. We like a thing or we don't, and it is very difficult to convince ourselves otherwise.

Some develop their response as an 'aesthetic' (esthetics) from the Greek word
'greek word for aesthetic', a branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of beauty.

Understanding how to manipulate emotional responses is very important for artists, architects, composers, choreographers, writers, designers, and the like. Those who produce creative products must be in touch with their feelings, as well as being able to empathise easily with others. I use the term 'creative products' instead of 'art', which can often be assumed as excluding creative work produced for commercial contexts. Without empathy, the creative product is often far poorer. Whether it's a painting that emotes strong feelings, or a toothbrush that gives a sense of pleasure as its design fits its use perfectly, the 'emotional value' of the work is key to its success.

Many of the characteristics of creativity, such as intuition, spontaneity, a sense of timelessness and heightened awareness, are not rooted in the intellect but in more fundamental emotional responses. We learn best when we enjoy, we create at our best when we are emotionally charged. Creative products that have little 'creative charge' fail to connect, and quickly fade from view.

Will, Emotion, and Reason

Emotion is a tool that helps us survive, although showing emotion may not always be to our best advantage. As we grow up we learn to curb the outward appearance of our emotions, and we keep more and more of our emotional life a secret from others. This tendency also leads some to mistakenly think of their emotional response to life's experiences as a weakness.

A related view is to see emotion as the antithesis of reason. Emotional responses often produce undesired feelings, which we may wish to control but often cannot. Emotions can produce consequences or thoughts which we may later regret or disagree with. There often seems an entanglement or contradiction between will, emotion, and reason.

Much of art, music, film, and literature connects with these very issues. Without the tension between rational and emotional content we have no drama, without feeling, there is no value.

We can argue a case for something produced within a purely logical framework, but if we have no strong feelings towards the subject, we will likely move on quickly to the next issue that takes our flight of fancy. Those things that are important to us however, always have a strong emotional component.

Feel Good

There are those who will say 'I'm a left brain kind of guy', they mean their response to experiences is analytical, logical, abstracting, sequential, rational, verbal, and digital. Others say they're 'right brained', that is, they have a tendency to think intuitively, nonverbally, without the need for conscious thought, they see relationships, nuances, resonances, relying on unconscious pattern-fitting and recognition as the basis for their understanding of the world.

The truth is we all use both sides of our brain, and emotion is inextricably linked to the very core of our being. Our precocious ability as humans is to learn and create. We are not single dimensional, we all contain the seed with the promise to fulfil a rich multifaceted potential.


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Authors background
Mike de Sousa is the Director of AbleStable®. Mike has been commissioned as an artist, music composer, photographer, print and web site designer, and author. Mike is also a Director of 2BrightSparks, a software company producing award winning backup solutions.

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