An exploration of awe
As a viewer of art I have always been amazed by how inspired, calm and collected I always feel after spending time in front of new or familiar amazing art. As a space geek I have been fascinated by astronauts description of the feeling of interconnectedness and preciousness of Earth when viewing earth for the first time from space something. And as an artist science has filled me with wonder and captured my imagination and allows me a philosophical view of life.
It is only recently when exploring my art practise did I connect this feeling of amazement, fascination and wonder can in fact be described as ‘feeling awe’.
The concepts of awe and wonder occupy an important place in the history of ideas, often associated with the beginnings of philosophy and with religious experience. The designers of cathedrals and temples in the past used various techniques to evoke this feeling in the faithful.
It is only now in the contemporary times, that we are attempting to understand the psychology and the physiology of awe. We have been able to explore more and more corners of the physical and intellectual universe using technology and advanced science, and our capacity for representing the results of such explorations in art, film and various mass media. Therefore we should expect that experiences of awe and wonder are more common.
Experiencing something awe-inspiring — whether it’s the milky way on a clear night sky, a soaring cathedral, or Beethoven’s fifth — can expand perceptions of time, enhancing quality of life. It is towards understanding this aspect of awe that a study by Melanie Rudd of Stanford, Kathleen D. Vohs, from the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management and Jennifer Aaker — conducted a series of experiments.
The study published in the journal Psychological Science, defines awe as something that is both vast (in size, scope, number, ability, or importance) and capable of altering one’s view of the world. The key, says Jennifer Aaker is that awe makes us feel small, not larger than life, the way happiness can. “When you feel small, there’s a reapportioning of what’s out there,” she says. “Time is reapportioned also.”
The results of the three experiments proved more conclusive than the researchers had anticipated.
“The power of the [awe] effect was surprising,” says Aaker. “It was quite robust.” Awe is more of a mindset than we think,” says Aaker. “This research suggests you can cultivate it in similar ways, as you do gratefulness or happiness. Yet, when it is present, awe can transform people and reorient their lives, goals, and values.”