Please Help Me Focus On Empathy


The image above is from a large mural drawing I created in 2007 called Empathy, designed in a Cybernetics class with Paul Ryan, during my studies for a media arts MA at the New School. I thought I would like to design a cybernetic system for empathy, as an antidote to all the negative systems in our society: racism, sexism, etc. I decided to use sense connected memories to highlight our commonalities, rather than our differences.

I asked my classmates to send me their sense memories, and the drawing was my artistic interpretation of them. In the wake of the terrible events in Charleston, I would like to return to this idea, and create something new.

I would love your involvement. If you would like to participate, please use the comments form on this blog to answer the questions below. I won’t publish your name with this work unless you specifically ask me to, and you can identify your answers by question number, please.

1. What sounds like love?

2. What tastes like joy?

3. What looks like indifference?

4. What smells like home?

5. What feels like despair?

{please answer whatever comes to your mind, nothing is right or wrong}



According to the Encyclopedia of Communication Theory, Empathy means to feel into another person’s biological processes, perceptions, emotional states, and their kinds and forms of consciousness in order to assess their feelings. Further, empathy means not only assessing another’s affective communication, but using one’s assessments in order to be eventually helpful to another person’s communication development. Empathy also means having a purpose to help others with their struggles, their problems, their goals, etc.*

In considering creating this art, I also found interesting the words of Gregory Bateson, who said: “…the question to be asked of the given work of art becomes: ‘What sorts of correction in the direction of wisdom would be achieved by creating or viewing this work of art?”**

We all perceive our world through five senses; taste, touch, sight, smell and hearing. (There are, of course, those who are impaired in one or more of those senses; this exercise allows for differing sense ratios.) The input we receive from our senses is the information that we store about our world; we create memories through them. I hope that my aesthetic interpretation of sense memories might cross over the gaps that exist between people, bypassing the artificial barriers that can be created through language based, so-called “rational” forms of communication. And in the process, perhaps create some empathy.

This project is only a one small idea in a very large world. I am not naive enough to believe it will solve our problems, but I hope it might open up a conversation. And maybe that’s enough.

À coeur vaillant rien d’impossible. – Nothing is impossible for a willing heart.

(French proverb.)


*(In Press, 2009). Empathy. In Littlejohn, S. & K. Foss, Encyclopedia of Communication Theory. Sage Publ.

**Gregory Bateson, Steps to An Ecology of Mind (University of Chicago Press, 1972) p. 147.


[It may take me a little time to process the answers I receive, and come up with a visual interpretation, but I will post it here when I do!]

 Thanks to everyone who has already responded!




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