The Art/Music Connection


I have devoted a lifetime to trying to understand why I see images when I hear music. I am not sure what this means, but I love the feeling, and I count on it… although I have no idea how it works in my mind's eye and ear.  You can imagine my curiosity (and relief) when scientists began to talk about synesthesia, giving some sort of identity to what I thought for many years was a strange, scary and sometimes exhilarating cognitive quirk.

Like most aficionados I was trained in the arts conventionally, (re)making recognizable objects.  I taught and practised traditional realistic techniques like drawing the still life, sculpting the figure, etc.  At some point, when students of the field realizes that they have this capability, they get itchy to take it a step or two further.  Not only do the depictions look like aunt Clara, but they also give us a feeling about her.  The discovery of this emotional component of art adds a powerful new dimension to the nature of the process, and often leads us happily astray (and into abstraction).

The same is true in music, and it is no surprise that most jazz musicians come from a traditional musical background, and are well-versed in the fundamentals of their craft.  They understand the theory of musical structure in order to expand beyond it… to play beyond the score.  This playful desire to take things further is something we humans are designed to do, and to do well.  Great improvisers are also great musicians, and we might say that improvisation is improve-isation.  I revel in the discovery of a musical arrangement that is better than the original.

Jazz improvisers draw from many genres and combine a variety of approaches and techniques. Going to new places, geographically, musically or artistically, is compelling, intoxicating and life-affirming.  We can harness our perceptions so that old ideas continue to generate new ones.  I view the making of art as a integration process that is limitless and profound, and a wider range of thinking leads to a broader, deeper and more far-reaching assimilation.  

For me, painting and sculpture come from the same places in my mind, and overlap in their praxis and execution.  These visual art forms are all about cognitive patterns and relationships, which are naturally abstract, until we interpret them.  The human compositional fields of painting, sculpture, photography, music, dance, design and poetry, for example, all share interrelated languages of abstract impression and expression.  We simply add the idiom to give these compositional ideas shape… to make them real.

As such, music can be readily re-interpreted as art, and vice-versa — just as English can be re-interpreted as Spanish, or even Chinese.  For me, and for many other artists, sculpture is music, and painting is poetry.  Ideally viewers will enjoy this same interpretive process, and a beautiful painting will evoke exquisite senses of rhyming color, thematic soundscapes and lyrical movement.

Here are illustrative examples of variations on a creative theme — five artful arrangements of the same moving musical composition (Trois Gymnopedies, No 1 by Eric Satie… about 3 minutes long) that could become a suite of related paintings.  This piece has been a profound influence on my artwork for many years:

© David Chamberlain Studios 2012           Extraordinary sculptures since 1981;  Chamberlain Method paintings since 1994