Art & Aesthetics Art Blog
In the realm of aesthetics, music spans the gap between matter and metaphysics. Music is an aesthetic model for all forms of art.
Music is all math and vibes. It doesn__™t inform us like words or pictures do. Its ___language___ is a balancing act of sound and silence based on syntax not semantics. Tones have no meaning but it__™s their relations to each other - the differences between them __" of which music is made. Music and art aesthetics are independent of the physical world. Beethoven was stone deaf when he wrote his Ninth.
Absolute music doesn__™t tell stories but it evokes feelings. If I__™m moved by a good guitar solo, it__™s not just due to modes and moods, sympathy or empathy, but by the genius of the artist " the sense that he or she has captured lightning in a bottle. Sure, I can relate to simple harmonic structure too; aesthetics are the natural resonant frequency from which one cops a buzz. My life is an Am7 (A minor seventh chord). Books, poems, and films can move me too, but a painting hanging silently on the wall can bowl me over just as well. That™s the kind of power that has made aesthetics a propaganda tool for commercial and political ends. Forget ___branding___ for now. Aesthetics are indifferent to context but not ulterior motives. Of course clich__s exist in music and art, from the ___shave and a haircut, two bits___ musical cadence to that icon of corporate culture - the ubiquitous ___let__™s make a deal___ handshake image. Put 'er there, partner.
Musical tones and colors aren__™t like words, but they could be. The crude melody uttered in ___nuh-uh___ means ___no___ and in ___woo-hoo___ means ___yes!___ Stories are told with voice inflections and facial tics: physiognomy. Visually, red means stop and green means go (or port and starboard) and ___code blue___ means ___step on it.___ O.K., that__™s a metaphor, but verbal language is more nuanced, and eidetic (visual) thinking is more direct in its representations. In music there is no encoded message, just pattern recognition and its appreciation, assuming it__™s played by a musician, not a plumber.
A musical scale is not an alphabet per se. Letters are specific to words but tones are only relative to a melody. If every note of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star is transposed up or down by one musical step, the tune still sounds the same, but if you bumped each letter in the alphabet up a notch, the phrase ___see what I mean?___ would read ___tff xibu J nfbo?___ Then again, the Fauvists painted wildly colorful, if unnatural, portraits to great effect by jazzing up their palettes.
Music represents nothing but itself. It exists in the time and space between its notes, which means it__™s made out of nothing; it is defined by what it is not. This makes it a paradigm for aesthetic value in the arts. Its logical structure - the scales, intervals, and dynamics - have parallels in visual composition. A symphony is like a novel or master painting and a simple tune is a poem or pencil sketch. Birdsongs are something else, but I like them too.
There is beauty in math. A chord built on the fifth tone of the musical scale (called the dominant) has the lowest ratio of 2:3 to the tonic key at 1:1 which makes it pleasant to the ear. The subdominant chord has the next lowest ratio of 4:3. Thus ___three-chord___ rock and blues is basic to orchestral music as well in Western civilization. In art and architecture, the Golden Mean proportion plays a similar role in visual harmony.
I liken musical chord progressions to the figure and ground in painting - the basic configuration. If it__™s easy to discern, the viewer will ___get it.___ Harmony has a sense of gravity while lines and contours are like the melody in a drawing. The dynamic range (pianoforte) makes for dramatic lighting in a painting as well as perspective __" hearing a soft sound is like seeing through the haze. Rhythm suggests pattern and gesture, the bump and grind in a picture whether representational or abstract, cha-cha-cha. Instrumentation and phrasing lend texture and style to the plastic arts. Dissonance in music or art can be comic, tragic, or just plain annoying.
When we hear the four-part counterpoint of a Bach fugue, it is actually a single chord at any given moment in time. In painting, we likewise splice visual cues into a cohesive whole. An artist adjusts each color segment of various flesh tones to convey the streaks of a shadow on face and forms, or combines the reflections of treetops above, and a catfish beneath the surface of the water on which autumn leaves float __" a triple whammy to achieve an illusion of singularity across the picture plane (_ la M. C. Escher).
God is in the details " a grace note or a glint of light. Aesthetics boil particulars down to generalities __" sentiment without referent. The artist makes it look easy, not just convincing, so that the observer might not see the forest for the trees. For ___good___ art, the artist becomes unconscious, guided by an intuition that informs the hand and mind when he or she is in the zone. It™s a coordinated effort for a painter to achieve color, line, and volume like a drummer gets all four limbs to do their separate things to the same beat __" kick, snare, ride, and crash. That reminds me of a funny quip by comedian Stephen Wright:
___I wrote a song, but I can__™t read music, so every time I hear a new song on the radio I think__"___Gee, maybe I wrote that song.__™___
The extrasensory aspect baked into a work of art will elicit empathy from the attuned viewer which affects a reaction in the brain (prefrontal cortex, meet hypothalamus) that feels like a supernatural event. It__™s like learning a foreign language when, for the first time, you hear or speak it without ___doing the math___ in your head __" actually thinking and comprehending directly in that language without interpretation. Vous comprenez?
A human being, like a work of art, is a process and one__™s identity depends on the continuity of that process. Art is a reflection of history and culture of its time and one must account for the conventions of a given period, but just like the abstract properties of music combine to make a whole beyond any objective purpose, a visual image transcends the surface through ___intellectual intuition,___ as Immanuel Kant would say. It__™s phenomenological: creative thinking at its best - really ___out of the box.___ The art aesthetic brings our conscious reflection into harmony with the modern world much like mythology did for the ancients. It__™s the spirituality behind a simulacrum. Art says what can__™t be said..