garnering empathy part II

I’ve been thinking about this for a while – ever since this post about empathy. i tried to find some proper academic literature on empathy, to try and understand it in terms of science, but failed to find anything. granted, i didn’t look all that hard, really, just the manchester city library. but i promise i will in the future.

firstly, i’ve been thinking about how empathy with your audience (as an artist, musician, creative, whatever) is even more important than i originally thought, because it’s actually a two way-thing. if you aim for your work to empathise with your audience, your audience will empathise with your work. now, that sounds both obvious and esoteric at the same time. but bear with me.

in spending time in galleries, as i do*, i’ve realised that when i like a work, i empathise with it, the artist, and what the artist is trying to convey. a good piece of art is something i have a relationship with, communication happens (which is more than being visually spat on) and for that to happen, there has to be a reciprocation of understanding, and empathy.

and in trying to figure out a little bit more about how to cultivate that empathetic flow, i’ve been thinking about language as the main conduit of communication. bring on roland barthes, levi-strauss and the other linguist/structuralist/deconstructionist theorists!

lately i’ve been hanging out with a few kids whose first language is not english and on one evening in particular, oehmchen mentioned that he thought that poofter sounded nice, rather than an insult. after our initial quizzical looks and then hilarious laughter, i realised the basis for this was actually because in his german pronunciation, it was spelled puffter, and puff is kind of nice, really.

and the reason i made this connection, was because i studied german in school, have a bit of understanding of their diction, grammar, etc, and could follow seb’s reasoning.

which brings me to a realisation that i had, which may or may not be founded in anything other than bollocks, but i’m interested in the idea anyway. that learning a foreign language is a way to learn empathy. when you learn a language other than your own, you have to learn how to think in that language, using that particular language’s structure, habits and pronunciation (codes, signs, etc). you need to develop a context for the language and in doing that, you begin to understand and empathise with others who speak that language… ‘when in rome, do as the romans do’ – to translate one experience into another.

these skills are all used when you empathise with others, and communicate using empathy – you think about how another may think, you concern yourself with the context they are in, you translate that to your own experience and (hopefully) make a choice based on that understanding.

like i said, it’s based on nothing but a bit of thinking/imagination and trajectory, but i’m going to give it a whirl. please discuss.

*gallery per day is going through some conceptual difficulties at the moment, but i’ll post some reviews here soon

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