Old events

"The Arts and the emotions/ Les arts et les émotions"

Center for Affective Sciences and Department of French


The arts represent, express, suggest, and provoke emotions. Novels, tragedies, comedies, as well as the visual arts, depict human actions, sentiments, and values. Paradoxically, for several decades literary and art critics have not been interested in the most obvious dimension of literature and the arts, that of affectivity. Since the early 1980's, several disciplines have studied the emotions and their role in life and in the arts and, at last, literary and art criticisms have also started to be interested in the emotions and tried to connect with the theoretical and experimental issues brought up by other fields of knowledge.  

In discussing the link between art and affectivity, we might consider the artist’s aims and/or the emotional effects of artistic works on the readers or spectators.

Since the 1980’s, some philosophers have been investigating the emotional response to works of art. How are we moved by characters and situations?  Are the emotions we feel comparable to those we feel in “real” life or do they differ completely (see as-if emotions and pretense theories). Is there a cognitive value in works of art? Is there a moral imagination that can be enhanced by fictional representations? Does art help us to become better human beings, as William Hazlitt said at the beginning of the 19th century, echoing arguments from the Aristotelian tradition and bridging them with the 18th-century debates on sympathy? Some theorists believe today that works of art have definite ethical value; others would say that the gain is minimal.

In the history of literature, theater and all the visual arts, innumerable debates have taken place about the purpose of art, the imagination, and the participation of the audience in the actions, sentiments, emotions, and situations presented by fictions of various kinds. Prolonging the Renaissance rhetorical tradition, it was customary in the 18th century to consider that art can “instruct and amuse” at the same time. In the 19th century for instance, emotional identification seemed most often the best and almost necessary type of aesthetic experience. But at the same time artists rejected the Romantic identification and called for distance; and at the end of the 19th century and in the first decades of the 20th century several artists in various traditions looked for a non-emotional art. What does the rejection of emotions means in artistic terms? In this colloquium we will discuss some of these issues with scholars in philosophy, literature and drama.


Organized by Patrizia Lombardo (patrizia.lombardo(at)unige.ch)


Lectures by Margherita Arcangeli, Gregory Currie, Peter Dayan, Dennis Kennedy, Carole Talon-Hugon, Jean-Marie Schaeffer.