I was scrolling through the daily deals on the Amazon site when I saw something new. It doesn’t matter what it was, just that it had options I didn’t know existed. It was faster. It was better. It was newer. And I knew instantly that I needed it. How can I justify the purchase? How can I change my budget to afford it? What will I have to give up? In the end practicality won out, but the need was still a physical force to be reckoned with.
What is it that makes us so need an object we didn’t know existed 2 minutes before? Why is this need so overwhelming, so physical?
Wouldn’t it be great to know how to harness this? I don’t just mean clever marketing, I mean to be able to cause a physical reaction just by having somebody see or read about your product. On the other hand, in many ways that is what Art is all about.
An artist needs to be able to create an impression, the more physical the better. Of course a musician has a head start since music, the most abstract of mediums, is also the medium that elicits the most physical response. We can’t help tapping our foot to the beat or whistling the catchy tune. Our heart soar when we listen to the Eroica while good blues can cause a powerful longing. Schoenberg’s “A Survivor from Warsaw” has a brutal, physical power as great as its subject matter is dark. It’s impossible to listen to “Good Vibrations” without a smile on your face.
The visual arts can also convey powerful reactions. If you’ve never experienced the jaw-dropping awe of seeing the Sistine Chapel in person, add it to your bucket list. Even a Pollock is visceral.
A writer’s job is to manipulate the emotions of the reader. The horror of “The Shining” and the anxiety of the black riders chasing Frodo across the Shire in “The Lord of the Rings” can be physical. We feel it. Our hair stands on end. Steinbeck runs the gambit of emotion in books as varied as “The Grapes of Wrath” and “Cannery Row”. When we are lost in a good book, transported to the world created by its author, it goes beyond simple emotion. We can feel pain, knot in the stomach fear, glowing radiance from a great kindness and shivers of joy at an unexpected ending. It’s magic.
To be an artist is to cause an emotional response. To be a great artist is to make that response physical.
Even so, all artists must have at least some jealousy of the engineer who creates that “must-have” product. The product that makes you go from ignorance to painful longing in a fraction of a second. The one you are willing to eat only Ramon noodles for the next 6 months to have. Oh, that happy engineer that created such a product. To be an artist in technology, to create pure, physical emotion from cold, dead circuits.
I have no explanation how this works, why I have such a strong desire to have the latest and greatest. The only thing that comes to mind is that Invention is the mother of Necessity….