Art and negative affect

Philosophy Compass 4 (1):39-55 (2009)
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Abstract

Why do people seemingly want to be scared by movies and feel pity for fictional characters when they avoid situations in real life that arouse these same negative emotions? Although the domain of relevant artworks encompasses far more than just tragedy, the general problem is typically called the paradox of tragedy. The paradox boils down to a simple question: If people avoid pain then why do people want to experience art that is painful? I discuss six popular solutions to the paradox: conversion, control, compensatory, meta-response, catharsis, and rich experience theories.

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Aaron Smuts
Rhode Island College

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