Catharsis in Art

"Catharsis" is a term used in literature to describe the arousal of pity and fear in it's audience. The use of catharsis often makes for an empathetic audience who relates more deeply to the story. This feeling can also be aroused when looking at works of art. In this gallery I will use different artistic examples to display catharsis both in paintings and photography. I will also display an artwork that although it doesn't arouse the empathy felt in catharsis, it can still be enjoyed as a beautiful piece of art. 

The Virgin Mary and her seven sorrows is the cause for much catharsis among Christians. The mother of Christ stood at the side of her son and watched his suffering and death. This artwork by Simon Bening displays the seven swords that pierced Mary's heart. An excellent feature in this artwork is how time is captured. We can look at each sorrow and as the sword pierced the Blessed Virgin's heart, they also pierce ours.
The sixth sorrow of Mary is when Jesus was taken down from the cross. Anyone who has had to watch a friend or family member suffer can relate to the pain that Mary must have felt as she cradled her son. This depiction of the Pieta by Gustave Moreau beautifully stirs up empathy in the heart of viewers.
Dorothea Lange is famous for her photography depicting the lives of those in the great depression. Migrant Mother, Nipomo is one of her most famous works. While viewers might not immediately relate to the pain of this migrant mother, the emotions depicted on her face as her children cower behind her is easily understood. While the images are clearly much different, the pity felt while gazing upon this photo is similar to that which is felt while gazing upon the Pieta.
Lange captures another migrant in the time of the great depression with this photo. Certainly the stress and anxiety on the face of this young woman has a much different cause than what we students feel, but I know that looking at this photo causes me to feel as though I share in her pain--especially as finals are approaching.
The Scream by Edvard Munch is another great example of an artwork that inspires catharsis. The motion of the brushstroke, the dramatic colors, and the expression of the screaming figure all contribute to the emotion felt by the viewer of this artwork.
Van Gogh's Starry Night is a painting that has moved many people over the years. The motion in the sky seems to stir the emotions of viewers. While the painting itself is cathartic, it is especially moving when accompanied by the song "Vincent" by Don McLean, which tells the story of van Gogh's life and death, and what he must have been feeling throughout his career.
This painting by Morillo is not one that evokes the emotions of pity and fear, though it is extremely pleasant to the eye. Truly it is a beautiful painting done in Rococo style, but it does not inspire catharsis in the heart of the viewers.
Credits: All media
This user gallery has been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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