Painting and music – a great analogy

Both art forms (music and painting) have effects on our subconscious!

Words like sensuous and passionate, or emotional, stimulating, mood altering, uplifting, depressing… can be applied to both music and painting! An example would be to make a painting too busy. It is equal to listening to music where someone plays solo without stopping. It is tiresome and ultimately not a pleasant experience. It is like looking at a painting that is filled with too much information or no color harmony.

Emotional attributes are equally felt in the use of color in art. A painting has the highest impact when it captures some poetic mood of nature, an impression of strength and power, or an emotion in a portrait. Color sets mood. Just think of the beautiful works of the masters Corot, Whistler or Thayer. Warm colors, by nature, are exciting and stimulating but can also be irritating. Imagine being in room where all the walls have been painted scarlet red! Cool colors have quiet the opposite effect. They are restful in the emotional sense. There is a reason why most people use soft greyish tones when painting walls in their houses.

Going back to music, any music piece is only consecutively played notes between pauses which, when played without emotion, are just that: notes, scales. The actual music is in the interpretation. It is nowhere to be found in the notation. Exactly like in painting: without an emotional connection a painting is just pigment on paper or canvas. It is certainly not found in the color mix. That’s why there is the term ‘artist’ and another one for ‘painter’. When does a painter become an artist?

When a painting is ‘technical’ we may be impressed (or not), but when a painting grabs you by your emotions it becomes art. That’s the painting you keep coming back to, whereas the technical one has your attention for 30 seconds and then you loose interest!

Instead of my paintings, this time I have uploaded some of the Masters.

A good quote by artist Jean-François Millet: ‘Technique should always hide itself modestly behind the thing expressed.’

2 thoughts on “Painting and music – a great analogy

  1. Randolph Nichols

    Having spent most of my life in practice rooms and performance venues, I am familiar with comparisons and connections of music to the visual arts. Music students first learn to classify styles with terms borrowed from painting (classicism, romanticism, impressionism, expressionism, etc.). As one becomes more technically skilled interpretive words like “atmosphere” and “mood” begin to come into play. (I am not surprised that Joseph Zbukvic’s oft quoted book is entitled “Mastering Atmosphere and Mood in Watercolor.”) Some composers, Scriabin and Messiaen come immediately to mind, even visualized their works as having “color.”

    Lately I’ve been immersed in connections with rhythm, something usually thought of as unique to music since that art is manifested in time. As my eye for painting becomes more discerning I notice that paintings to which I’m drawn also have a rhythm, a sense of movement. A contrast of edges – hard, soft, and lost and found – seem to be the key to this feature as well as the artist’s brush strokes. Notice that in each of the examples you have provided there are confident, quick brush strokes that imbue a feeling of motion. There is nothing rigid or static, characteristics of my early attempts at painting, in these visual gems.

    I’m sure you’ve got a lot to add to my observations. Hope you do.

    1. frankeber Post author

      Sorry for the late reply, but that is an excellent comment. JZ’s book title is very fitting although the book contains little about the topic. Maybe because that is something that cannot be taught. He was certainly not the first one to understand the concept, artists hundreds of years before all of us have matured into the concept of painting more than what the eye can see (or is it actually less!) I also think the limitations of watercolor as a medium hinders the personal growth as an artist. Watercolor is a ‘techy’ medium and that is what one mostly sees out there: techy, lifeless paintings.
      The best artists in representational art have painted in more than one medium and I think watercolor painters fall into the trap of only looking at other watercolor painters and their work. Going back to music, I agree with the idea that paintings also have ‘rhythm’ and that is another concept that really cannot be taught. Thanks for your comment!

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