Music-art connections

See principles of nature website for an in-depth exploration of this topic by the artist

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The idea of the 'group' is fundamental to the idea of 'style' and 'genre': one way we make sense of the world is to catalogue and group like-things together, for instance, 'representation' vs. 'abstraction' in art.

But we can group things in many different ways, we can make sense of apparent differences under one system of logic by finding some other system or 'logic' which unites them.

Since music informs much of my own thinking and practice as an artist, I see obvious parallels between the genres of music and the visual arts. For instance, in music, we can talk about the 'art of performance' and the 'art of composition'. Performance in music can be artful and compelling, but so too can composition in music. They're just different sorts of artfulness. In performance, an instrumentalist or performer reads the notes on the musical score, translating this fluently and expressively into audible music. Now, a computer can play a musical score in absolutely precise timing but when you listen to it, it sounds rather sterile or soulless,'s too mechanical: all the i's are dotted and all the t's are crossed. An artful performance, on the other hand, involves some elasticising of the whole process,... the performer artfully inflects the stream of music, subtly changing the tempo and dynamics here and there, adding their own particular nuance of expression to the notes on the score.

Representational visual art is allied to this 'performance-type' of artfulness, in my view. That's because in representation, nature itself serves as a virtual 'score' which the artist 'reads', interprets and expresses in a visual medium. Just as in music, the 'score' (the subject) is once again elasticised, stretched, simplified, modulated: interpreted through the eyes of the artist. But the artfulness that is required is of a subtle kind: one which must pay a certain respect to the original score, to the composer's intent, to the composer's own creative work. The artfulness here involves a simultaneous satisfaction of both the composer's intent and the creative desire and needs of the artist-performer (otherwise a Beethoven concerto for example, ceases to be "Beethoven's concerto") It is not only the interpretation that is involved in the 'art of performance' but also the facility with which the medium ('instrument') is handled. For example, watercolour is a rather difficult 'instrument' to learn, not unlike the violin. It takes many years of practice to be able to paint (perform) a wide range of subjects (compositions/'scores') in an artful and 'fluid' way. So 'how you handle the instrument' whether it be violin, watercolour, or something else) has a large part to do with the art of performance both in music and in painting.

Visual abstract composition on the other other hand is more allied to the 'art of composition' in music. Here there is a concern to create a picture de novo using colours, textures, lines, points, shapes, in 'music-like ways', arranging these elements on the canvas or paper just as a composer might arrange notes on a musical score.

Some composers are also instrumentalists of one kind or other (the composer J. S. Bach was brilliant on harpsichord and pipe organ and could play a number of other instruments besides; Liszt was not only a composer but also an exceptional pianist). Likewise, some visual artists may not only be interested in abstraction ('creating a score', 'composing') but also the art of expression, the art of performance (which may concern not only the handling of various media or 'instruments', but also the interpretation of 'other scores' such as naturalistic scenes, portraits, and the like, and which we may broadly group under the heading of 'representation')

And so by considering representation and abstraction in this 'musical' way, each can be seen to be rather complementary aspects of a broader concern. They are intimately related, and as visual artists we should not feel restricted to either one. In fact, the study and practice of one may benefit the study and practice of the other.

There are many other ways we might use to draw parallels or differences between elements or perceived entities within the spectrum of visual communication. But the simple analogy outlined here unifies aspects of visual art which have tended to precipitate out as distinct and 'contrary' entities within what is in reality a complex nexus of 'connectedness'. This nexus of which we speak is rather more non-linear than linear. It concerns the human quest to find connected or resonant means of expression and understanding, and effective information-rich ways of communicating with others distant in space and time.

w roberts, 2000

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