Rich, vibrant, flat, warm, mellow, dark, heavy, bright, light.
What do these words have in common? They could be used to describe color or sound. In fact, timbre could be defined as tonal color. How about the fact that composition can refer to a piece of music or a piece of art? Or, pieces of art may be said to have harmony? And there they are, places where visual art and music naturally overlap.
There is an exhibit ending soon at the San Diego Museum of Art that is entitled:”The Art of Music.” I was so excited to hear about it from a friend, that I had to check it out myself before it was gone. While I enjoyed the “Musician as Motif” and “Social Intersections of Art and Music” portions of the exhibit, my favorite part was the “Formal Connections of Art and Music.” I marveled at Henri Matisse’s Jazz, and “Red Azaleas Singing and Dancing Rock and Roll Music” by Alma Woodsey Thomas.
I found myself mesmerized by the abstract films created by Oskar Fischinger in the 1930s. They were made in stop motion fashion using geometric cutouts synchronized to famous classical pieces (like Kriese set to Wagner’s “Overture to Tannhauser”). The 32 minute video “Looking for Love” by Christian Marclay left me quite intrigued. The video revealed a turntable with records, whose grooves reflected a golden light as they spun. The records changed and the multi-colored arm dropped down randomly as the player searched for the needle to find the word “love” in the various songs. Quite jarring for someone like me who loves a good melody, but an interesting concept nonetheless.
It was fascinating to learn the relationships that formed between artists. The way that their work influenced pieces they did independently, and work they did together. Merce Cunningham choreographed modern dances to music by John Cage. Roubert Rauschenberg created set pieces, costumes and lighting for the dances in the early 1960s. In the late 60s and 70s, Jasper Johns became involved with Cunningham and Cage.
They were said to have inspired Johns’ work titled “Dancers on a Plane”, which depicts artistic repetition to reflect repetition in music and dance. Then, there were the psychedelic album covers and rock posters. The San Diego Museum of Art wrote in their description “the visual effects of the shapes and colors in the posters mimic the mind-altering experiences that often people had while listening to the music.”
Just recently, I introduced some third graders to rhythm in visual art and music, and I started with rhythm and beat in music. We clapped beats, we danced, we sang rhythms and then we looked at what that means in visual art and music. It was such a rich and motivating way to introduce these youngsters to a difficult concept. I was even more pleased to see it appeared to be a great access point for them. As I have said before, the more connections we can build for our students, the more they may start to make those connections on their own. This results in their understand of the concept to be much richer. To quote two great visual art and music artists:
“You put down one color, and it calls for an answer. You have to look at it like a melody.” Romare Bearden
“To draw you must close your eyes and sing!”
Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.