Saturday, August 14, 2010

Painting With Sound, Playing With Color

It's Music/Open Thread Saturday, but no particular topic or direction comes to mind. I was flipping through a few books, and found this little nugget of Schuon. He points out that some forms of art are static and objective, others dynamic and subjective.

For example, painting, architecture, and sculpture are both static and objective: "these are above all forms; their universality is an objective symbolism of of these forms."

I don't remember much of the art classes I took in college, but I do remember analyzing various masterpieces for the balance and harmony of elemental forms beneath the image. If I'm not mistaken, abstract expressionists such as Kandinsky were aiming at revealing the "form of form," or pure form, so to speak.

Better look it up: Kandinsky "developed an intricate theory of geometric figures and their relationships, claiming, for example, that the circle is the most peaceful shape and represents the human soul" (wiki).

But in Kandinsky's case -- and contrary to Schuon -- he was specifically aiming at an art that was dynamic, subjective, and musical. According to the wiki article, he related the act of painting to creating music, writing that "Colour is the keyboard, the eyes are the harmonies, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul." Indeed, "music is the ultimate teacher."

The article goes on to say that the influence of music was very important to "the birth of abstract art, as [music] is abstract by nature -- it does not try to represent the exterior world but rather to express in an immediate way the inner feelings of the human soul. Kandinsky sometimes used musical terms to designate his works; he called many of his most spontaneous paintings 'improvisations,' while he entitled more elaborated works 'compositions.'"

If there are visual artists who compose music, are there musicians who paint in sound? Miles Davis comes to mind. He really uses the trumpet like a paintbrush.

Now, this is interesting: "Kandinsky felt that an authentic artist creating art from 'an internal necessity' inhabits the tip of an upwards moving triangle. This progressing triangle is penetrating and proceeding into tomorrow." Or, one might say, into the vertical.

The artist/prophet "stands lonely at the tip of this triangle making new discoveries and ushering in tomorrow's reality. Kandinsky had become aware of recent developments in sciences, as well as the advances of modern artists who had contributed to radically new ways of seeing and experiencing the world."

More generally, Kandinsky "compares the spiritual life of humanity to a large triangle.... The point of the triangle is constituted only by some individuals who bring the sublime bread to other people. It is a spiritual triangle which moves forward and rises slowly, even if it sometimes remains immobile. During decadent periods, souls fall to the bottom of the Triangle and men only search for external success and ignore purely spiritual force."

Sounds to me like what we call (↑), which is the spiritual aspiration that penetrates O and is met by (↓). In fact, I used a quote from Kandinsky on p. 94, which was just perfect for what I was trying to say about genetically human animals evolving into the transcendent and nonlocal space of true humanness. He is talking about the development of his art:

"I was like a monkey in a net.... only with great pain, effort, and struggle [↑] did I break through these 'walls around art,' which like that of nature, science, political forms, etc., is a realm unto itself, is governed by its own laws proper to it alone, and which together with the other realms ultimately forms the great realm [O] which we can only dimly divine."

This (↑) is the "inner necessity" of the striving artist. It is is for Kandinsky the principle which facilitates "contact of the form with the human soul." "This inner necessity is the right of the artist to an unlimited freedom, but this freedom becomes a crime if it is not founded on such a necessity. The artwork is born from the inner necessity of the artist in a mysterious, enigmatic and mystic way, and then it acquires an autonomous life; it becomes an independent subject animated by a spiritual breath." It is the fruit of what we call (↑↓) or O→(¶).

Recursive Cosmic Fractal or Great Attractor? O generating ʘ reflecting O attracting ʘ:


Jack said...

I've always loved Kandinsky (what I've seen anyway). I have read a little (not much really) about his intent to create a "spiritual art". I'd like to know more.

Mikal said...

First musical link of the day: an obscure but lovely fairy-tale song from the "high white summer of '67" (HS Thompson) that evokes Syd Barrett, Donovan, and the Incredible String Band.

ge said...

--funny, was just listening to the ISB as i read your post---sure i'm a a fan of both the Brit and American K's and there is a mexican one too!
a band that is a current ISB-clonesque group!

Jack said...

Started reading a book entitled "The Culture of Spontaneity: Improvisation and the Arts in Post-War America" Which is a topic I am very interested in--particularly the various approaches to musical improvisation developed since WWII.

I am only one chapter in, but so far I am already wary of all the wackademia-speak. The need to present--ofen in monotonous, mind-numbing detail-- one's "methodology" may be necessary for scholars, but it's usually when my eyes start to glaze over and I put the book down (as well as being quite the opposite of spontaneous, ironically enough).

But I am going to keep pushing through...even if the author's assumptions are much different than mine, there may still be some nuggets of insight there anyway (cross your fingers).

He starts off with the notion (now kind of humdrum) that improvisation in the arts was a reaction to the increasing rationalization of work and leisure. Still, I immediately thought of the foundational Raccoon tome "Leisure: The Basis of Culture". That's what got me to thinking.

The thought hit me that a whole different idea of what improvisation means and what purpose it serves i.e. slack could be fleshed out. Rather than the contradictory notion of "freedom" championed on the left (which I'd rather call "license" as it is an attempt to deny and destroy the ontological basis of true freedom) there is an improvisation that moves towards true freedom in O.

They may sometimes look the same--at least superficial, and often an artist can attain true freedom at times *in spite* of their own theory of why they do what they do.

I know a lot of this has been covered here at OC before...but it just kind of struck me a bit more deeply. As the various attempts Top-down Statist control (for "our own good" of course. Happy Fascism!)becomes more "assumed" by those in power, the more the need for an art of true ontological freedom.

That is something of a ramble, but I hope it makes some kind of sense.

Retriever said...

Love the picture, tho I don't usually like abstract art. It makes me think of a dance.; Perhaps because a painting gives one a chance to look longer and take in more of the details of those rare moments of truly seeing. The point in a ballet when the dancers are perfectly aligned. In real life it is over in an instant, yet it's beautiful, geometry, the music, the story, the emotion, all of a piece. And a painting like this gives one the chance to take it in.

God sends us visions, or we hunt for them, and they always seem out of reach, or cloudy (for now, we see through a glass darkly, or the shadows on the wall of the cave). It always seems a bit of a miracle when someone lassoes one in a photograph, or more painstakingly paints one.

Jack said...

"music is the ultimate teacher"


ge said...

the writer most oft associated w/ improv.* is perhaps: Kerouac.
I became a devotee of his in my mid 30s, stumbling into the realisation of an uncanny amount of similarity in our piscean lives

* entailing his 'sketching', and honoring of first-thought or gesture = best one even to the inclusion of his typos into finished works, which editor-publishers are now willing & able to deliver...[funny, our Jack here is the oppo. way!]

i am reading his new LETTERS to-fro Ginsberg [basically skipping the Ginzies]

but JK is a much a jazz nut as Bob, whereas I am hooked on poppier-hookier whiter shades of short sweet studio masterworks, curiously enough. If it must be vocal-less, I'd opt for Classical Music usually

Jack said...

"If there are visual artists who compose music, are there musicians who paint in sound? Miles Davis comes to mind. He really uses the trumpet like a paintbrush."

Interestingly both Modal Jazz and Impressionism (a la Debussy) were far more radical than they may have sounded to the ear. Both did away with *functional* harmony (a certain sense of harmonic gravitation from one chord to another) to using harmonies as *colors*.

This was a huge shift in Western music and made way for a lot of music that followed.

Verdiales said...


Modal music is as old as the oldest sacred chant. In fact, it's not a stretch to say that some kinds of Carolingian/Gregorian chant (Graduals and Offertories, for example) are kind of like modal jazz melodies. Some of the more haunting chants are in modes 3 and 4 (phyrgian and its plagal version). To my ear, these sound haunting because they sound like they are going to be dorian (mode 1) melodies, but stop short of being them -- that lack of resolution creates a sense of receptive incompleteness.

Jack said...


Yes, you are right...historically MOST music is modal or even pentatonic, but generally in a more purely melodic sense. Western music largely since the Baroque developed a very sophisticated harmonic system that was the default for "high culture" for centuries i.e...The Tonal System.

I would categorize various folk musics as pre-tonal modal and what Debussy and Modal Jazz did as post-tonal modal. In that the latter had the resources of tonality but also able to go beyond it. So the pre- and post- tonal are similar in certain ways but very different in others.

N. Indian classical, for example, is a virtual encyclopedia of different modes/scales organized in specific ways as raga. The little I've seen of it is absolutely staggering in it's sophistication and depth. But it has been primarily in Western Europe (and The West in general) that harmony was developed in the most rigorous and significant way.

But your point is well taken.