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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.

Art Can Stir More than Just the Soul

by Susan Leem, associate producer

Museum visitor looks at art of museum visitors looking at art.A visitor looks at the work of German photographer Thomas Struth. The subject of the photograph are themselves visitors looking at famous works of art in the world’s great museums. (photo: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images)

Viewing and experiencing art in a museum can actually affect you physically.

As Tom Jacobs reports in Miller-McCuneresearchers outfitted visitors with an electronic glove while viewing an exhibit of contemporary art at the Kunstmuseum St. Gallen in Switzerland. The special glove measured the viewer’s heart rate, skin conductivity, and movement from one place to another. 

"Researchers tracked participants as they strolled through the gallery, allowing them to record physiological reactions to specific artworks. Afterward, each participant was asked his or her response to six of the pieces — the three they spent the most time viewing, as well as three others chosen in advance."

The research team then surveyed the 373 participants, all adults, asking them to evaluate some of the art and describe their emotional response.

The Swiss researchers compared the respondents’ scores with the physical response data and found some intriguing correlations, which scored answers for each artwork based on five categories: Aesthetic Quality, Surprise/Humor, Negative Emotion, Dominance, and Curative Quality. The conclusion: an aesthetic appreciation of artwork creates a physical as well as an emotional reaction.

To be truly impactful, does art need to elicit a whole body experience? How does great art achieve this?


The Divine Art Appreciation of Another Nun

by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer

How we deal with the things, people, and ideas that push our disagreement and irritation buttons is at the heart of this week’s show with Evangelical thought leader and educator Richard Mouw. In the audio above (download mp3, 2:49), Mouw shares a story of Thérèse of Lisieux, a late 19th-century French Carmelite nun who couldn’t stand another nun in her convent. Lisieux found solace in the idea that the nun who irked her was God’s creation and should be appreciated as a divine work of art.

In her spiritual journal The Story of a Soul, published posthumously in 1989, Lisieux wrote these lines:

"I felt that this was very pleasing to Our Lord, for there is no artist who is not gratified when his works are praised…"

Mouw’s story about her reminds me of Krista’s conversations with Columba Stewart and Shane Claiborne, two monastics who speak to the real irritations pious people experience in daily communal living. Take these lines from Fr. Stewart, for example, about finding Christ in all things — even those things that might repel or rub us the wrong way:

"And if, as Benedict says, everyone we meet conveys Christ to us — so the guest, the sick, the pilgrim, our fellow monks whom we meet on a daily basis, as challenging as it can sometimes be to recognize Christ in someone with whom I disagree.

I must confess that these ideas about divine “art appreciation” and finding Christ in all things are pretty foreign to me. I grew up in a mostly secular Jewish family that was highly practiced in the art of complaint. When I listen to Mouw express awelike admiration for Thérèse of Lisieux, I imagine my father smirking, shaking his head, and cracking a sarcastic joke about the virtues of embracing one’s inner curmudgeon. In a twist on Mouw’s ideas, it’s the very strangeness of his perspective that captivates rather than repels me.