Kepler's Dream and the Language of Matisse
acrylic on paper, 56 x 76cm Collection D & L Gallagher
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The Pythagoreans, around two and half thousand years ago, discovered a connection between music and numbers in that if you divide a vibrating string in half the resultant note sounds the same, except higher - we call it an octave. Their interest in rational numbers (those which can be expressed as the ratio of two whole numbers, eg 2/3) led them to experiment with divisions of a vibrating string reflecting these whole-number ratios. To their amazement, the resulting intervals of sound seemed 'naturalistic' and pleasing to the ear. Furthermore, they could be combined in various ways to produce interesting 'harmonious chords'. They had already discovered incredibly rich patterns amongst numbers themselves, and many others between numbers and geometric shapes (viz. Pythagoras' Theorem). These facts drew them to conclude that 'All is Number', that numbers themselves must somehow underpin the cosmos. This, combined with their discovery of a numerical basis for music, led them to the famous poetic encapsulation of these ideas expressed so succinctly and enigmatically in the phrase, 'Music of the Spheres'.
This idea of a numerical, and, more particularly, a musical basis to Universal organisation, inspired countless other greats down through the centuries. Johannes Kepler was one such, and his searching for patterns in the planetary orbits was inspired by these ideas. For instance, one such approach led him to look for a connection between the five Platonic solids of Classical geometry and the relative distances of planets from the sun.
Matisse, although not Pythagorean as such, was nevertheless inspired by the musical idiom, and his work shows a concern for and an awareness of the 'resonance' that could be achieved between and among lines, and spaces, colours and tones. His division of colour into flat areas and shapes allowed him to intuitively arrange these as if composing a new visual language comparable to that of music. Even his subject matter reflected his concern for rhythm, and for music more generally, such as the major works, La Danse, and La Musique.
In the painting, stars, like Matissean dancers, cavort across the vibrant red sky. A white line weaves its own melodic way, echoing but also inflecting the dance of stars. Perhaps a light-ray itself, perhaps an electron 'superstring', perhaps part of Einstein's cosmic trampoline in which light itself bends and twists under the 'weight' of matter. The meaning is relational, the music emerges not in the individual note but in the symphony of the whole: everything given over to the spell of the cosmic dance, the Music of the Spheres.
wayne roberts, 2000
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A new art theory linking science, art, music, and math was published by the author to the web in 2004. [Book form published 2003]