Loneliness is happiness. At least that is what artists say they feel and believe in.

Amid the many papers presented at the international conference on Gross National Happiness (GNH) in Malaysia, one research – image of loneliness through visual art, touched on the correlation of loneliness to happiness.

Lecturer at the Faculty of Art and Design, Universititi Teknologi MARA in Shah Alam, Malaysia, Wan Samiati Andriana WMD (PhD), said artists are more likely to talk about negative emotions such as loneliness.

“Loneliness is a universal phenomenon, inspiring every human soul at home in every culture, every nation, every day and all the time in human life,” she said.

Through visual arts, the artist, she said, will always feel satisfied, anxious and happy in order to produce more artwork to express their feelings and ideas. She said she chose loneliness as the research topic because of the challenges, especially in its transformation into visual art.  “Loneliness has always been misunderstood or misinterpreted,” she said. “There was a surprise when I submitted this paper for the GNH conference.”

She analysed five paintings associated with loneliness for the study.

A painting Menanti Nelayan (waiting for the fishermen, 1961) by Mazli Mat Som shows a young Malay girl wearing a kebaya, a traditional Malaysian dress against the landscape of the sea and boats. “This image expresses patience, calm, alone, desire, hope and sadness,” Wan Samiati said.

Analysing Vincent Van Gogh’s The Bedroom at Arles, which pictures a bright cheerful room where Van Gogh is said to have found an expression of ‘calmness, of great peace,’ Wan Samiati observed that the painting expresses emptiness, relaxation, loneliness and a feeling of as if being blessed with physical and spiritual vitality.  “Note the two chairs, two photo frames and two pillows.”

One of Edvard Munch’s best-known images, The Scream (1893) Wan Samiati said is based on the artist’s own tragic childhood and expresses emotional instability and mental illness.

“To feel lonely is to bind all people in acknowledging that we are basically separated from one another, doomed to speak and have never been fully understood,” she said. “Loneliness is not only widespread, but it has also been associated with a variety of different emotions.”

So do people need to experience loneliness to understand happiness?

“Artists need to express the negative to bring out the best in us,” Wan Samiati said. “Art expresses hope, emptiness and through art, artists are saying – try to be happy.”

Sonam Pelden  | Malaysia