Art and Emotion

Mondrian_No 9

Piet Mondrian, Composition No. III, c. 1921/repainted 1925. Oil on canvas, 19 3/8 x 19 3/8 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, Acquired 1946

When I first saw a Mondrian painting, I got angry. Hands-curled-up-into-fists, eyes-bulging, frowny-faced angry. “What even is this!?,” I mentally shouted to nobody in particular. “Give me some graph paper and I could do it.” (Full disclaimer: I am a terrible artist. Even if I did have graph paper, I could not come close to emulating the precision of one of Mondrian’s works.) I wandered—stomped—away from the painting, seeking some other work of art that could cool me down.

This reaction was probably about ten years ago. I don’t remember where I was, or the precise details of the painting itself, but I do remember my bodily reaction to it. I’ve created a memory of myself as reactor more than passive observer, and that is the memory which has stuck with me through the years. A painting by Mondrian is currently on display at the Phillips, and when I walk by it, the memory of my initial and totally irrational rage floods in—despite the fact that intellectually, I understand the artistry of the painting in front of me.

Why did a piece of canvas on a wall inspire such an emotional and physical reaction? What is it about certain works of art that makes us actively respond rather than merely see? This is one of the questions on hand in art theorist Fré Ilgen’s latest book, ARTIST? The Hypothesis of Bodiness, which investigates “the involvement of the (mind/)body in everything we do, think or experience.” Ilgen will discuss his book in a panel moderated by Phillips Director Dorothy Kosinski on October 15 at American University.

Have you ever experienced a reaction like this to a work of art, positive or negative? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Emily Hurwitz, Marketing and Communications Intern

For The Birds (Of Prey)

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Gjon Mili, Sparrow Hawk about to Land on Gloved Hand of Young Boy, ca. 1942. Gelatin silver print overall: 10 in x 8 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC. Gift of Adam and Susan Finn, 2012.

Our neighbors at the Smithsonian American Art Museum are holding an #ArtBirds Social Media Scavenger Hunt during September and October, and if there’s one animal that you’ll see over and over again in works at The Phillips Collection, it’s birds. We have a lot of them. We thought it only fitting to jump in on the fun! This week’s theme is “Birds of Prey,” so we’re submitting this photo of an oddly cheerful boy who’s about to come into direct contact with a hawk roughly the size of his head. Happy #ArtBird-watching!

Phillips Natitude

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Phillips employees Sandy Lee and Lydia O’Connor showing their Natitude with jerseys, caps, bobbleheads, and baseball artwork.

To celebrate the Washington Nationals’s clinching the NL East with a win in Atlanta, the Phillips is showing off its Natitude with bobbleheads, artist jerseys, Nats caps, and even our very own Night Baseball artwork by Marjorie Phillips in the galleries. GO NATS!

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(left) Chief Operating Officer Sue Nichols brought in her precious bobblehead collection for the occasion (right) Phillips employee Caroline Paganussi shows off her Natitude

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Tryst at the Phillips employees sport Winslow Homer and Robert Motherwell jerseys to share their Natitude.