Sunday, August 11, 2013

On Music and Art

Are there parallel relationships in the way we think about or react to music and art?  One may surmise that because both reside in our creative, imaginative realm, there would be commonality. Perhaps one shared issue is that people who are drawn to serious good music might likely appreciate great art.  The connection being the appeal of emotional depth and sophisticated craft. 

In my own thinking, however, although I enjoy and practice both, Ive found many disparities between the two.  

Playing an instrument well depends on trained and perfectly functioning muscular actions.  Whereas painting skill is more about a headfull of knowledge of how to best accomplish a task.  No matter how well I  memorize, understand, and personally express a Beethoven piano sonata, it will be all be in vain if my fingers, hands, and arms are not up to the task.  It takes constant practice, too, to be ready to perform.  Painting takes practice too, but it seems that once the concepts are acquired, mentally, and experienced technically,  you can usually paint well based on your overall knowledge, moreso than precisely exercised digital control.  

The emotional impact and length of intensity of feeling are different in music and art.  Music seems to carry more of an emotional clout. The effect of art seems more subtle and lingering, although sometimes we are bowled upon seeing a paintng for the first time. 
I have felt foolish sometimes having waves of emotion, to the extent of tears of joy or grief, upon hearing certain music; sometimes live and sometimes recorded. It often seems inexplicable.
Although I can be moved somewhat upon seeing a great painting, it is more of a long thought process.....i.e. how could anyone do such a great representation?, how did they come up with such wonderful colors? how did they show such emotion on a two dimensional surface? and out of pure imagination....etc. There is some intrigue and emotion, but more a feeling of the wonderment of truth and beauty.

However, the intensity of feeling seems to drop off quickly after hearing the music performance. We are enthralled while listening, and momentarily amazed in having been led through a tale, taken on a journey, or felt some undefinable story prompted by the music;  but upon the musics conclusion, the feelings seem to evaporate quickly, as if waking from a dream.  I can experience a thrill while playing a wonderful piano piece, and yet when it ends, other than a momentary peace or relaxation, the experience is immediately concluded.  In fact sometimes its frustrating that music can seem to be taking us somewhere, around corners, if it were, entering us into a mysterious realm of familiarity or discovery, and then disappoints us by slamming the door shut when the last note is over. 
Looking at, or participating in art, you can control somewhat the length of impact. I find that after painting something worthwhile I often enjoy the experience for some time, mentally retracing how it unfolded, and how the results sometimes were more exciting than expected.  And we all have most likely had an experience of staring at a great painting for a long while, lingering on it until we think we have sufficiently discovered what we desired. 

Lastly, i refer to a comment from the late composer Duke Elllington; is a jealous mistress (sic); implying the idea of when a relationship is neglected,  the romance may flee and/or haunt you.  Referring back to my first idea of a difference in skills and practice of art and music, I would say that Ellingtons quote is more true in music. The razor sharp technical skills needed to play well, if neglected, deteriorate quickly; the constant involvement needed for a composer, the same.  Whereas , art skills, because, as mentioned, they are mostly in the realm of acquired knowledge rather than precise hand and finger movements , dont drop off appreciable after a period of neglect. Its more like the old idea of riding a bicycle; once learned, you dont forget. 

I hope this was interesting to you.  But by all means, dont consider one better than the other, or let my trivial commentary cause any confusion in your practice of either. I sometimes think of these comparisons for no particularly reason; just an exercise in trivia, really. Although, maybe, as a painter, it helps to think or plan a bit before I just automatically start putting down paint.

 May your daily activities, experiences and relationships give you much fulfillment, both momentary and lingering. 

John Guernsey

1 comment:

  1. John, I have enjoyed reading your great thoughts on music and art. I really appreciate classical music and am blessed to have a daughter who is continuing music graduate training specializing in violin and piano education. I get to hear her practice and perform a lot. I do think about music and painting analogies a lot, but not at the deep level you have shared. Music is a performing art though a painting once finished has the ability to continue to perform even after the artist passes on because it is straight from the hand of the artist not an interpretation . I think the artist can be the composer, the conductor, and the musician. The paint can be the notes, brushes like instruments, the canvas is the stage, and frame is the music hall. Thanks for sharing John!