What explains the need for humans to get scared by art?
The moment you put horror movies under the category of “art”, you’re going to face a lot of resistance.
A lot of people would roll their eyes. A lot of people would point at you and laugh. A lot of people would be all too eager to dismiss you. After all, the whole idea of art is it’s supposed to be sublime.
The idea of sublime art has gone through quite a bit of transition if you haven’t noticed. Back in the day, the idea of sublime art is embodied in the amazing sculpture “The Ecstasy of Saint Therese”. You can tell in the face of Saint Therese along with the flowing garments that she was wearing that this was a heavenly experience she was going through. You can tell by the way her mouth was opened and how her eyes were shut that she was communing with something far and above beyond the normal profane and vulgar human experience.
In other words, she was communing with the transcendence. She was experiencing a part of life that most people never get to experience. This is the experience of God. This is the experience of absolute truth. This is the experience of absolute, totally freed from the chains of a normal human foibles, frailties, pettiness and smallness.
Interestingly enough, the artist who portrayed that seemingly transcendent and mind-blowing state used all too human analogies. In fact, a lot of art critics point out that the way Saint Therese’s mouth and her eyes were positioned was very similar to the face a woman makes when she achieves an orgasm or two. Once a woman achieves a multiple orgasm where one orgasm happens, quickly followed by another orgasm, it creates a massive spasm throughout the body and also sends chemical triggers through the back of the head which really creates an experience that approximates an out of body experience. That is the experience the sculptor used to portray spiritual transcendence.
It’s really quite interesting that the person would readily dig deep into an all too human and all too physical experience. Interesting! That’s our definition of sublime for the longest time. Then, we fast forward to today where there’s an artist who basically took his feces and canned it. That’s right! Canned human manure! And that was art sold for ten thousand dollars. And that’s supposed to be sublime.
Regardless of what you feel about that, my point here is that art is supposed to be sublime. It’s supposed to liberate us from our everyday all too common obsessions and preoccupations. It’s supposed to uplift and in this context, horror movies are all over the place. Last time I checked, horror movies are a form of art. But the problem is a lot of people would walk on eggshells when making that claim. There’s a lot of resistance to that. People would say, “Why would you want to be scared? What is so sublime about that?”
Well, it really all boils down to a basic human need. We need to be scared. I know that sounds crazy because human beings have a built –in fight or flight response. And believe me; most people do not look forward to death. There’s nobody who puts up a fight or run away. They’d rather not have to make that decision. But interestingly enough, it is a form of psychological practice because we know deep down inside that the world is messed up. We live in a scary world. There’ a lot of chaotic things that could happen. Accidents do happen all the time and it would be very beneficial to at least be ready for that. This really deep psychological need is lodged in the back of our brains and this is exactly the kind of mental center that we tease or confront when we watch horror movies. That’s why people feel “need” to be scared.