Art & music: linked through the ages

Image Description: Ronnie Wood in 1988 in Malmö sat at a table at a vernissage of his art at Hotel Cramer. 

Art and music, out of all creative forms, seem the most inextricably linked. Something about the arresting qualities of the two strikes the spectator instantaneously. They seem to have a marmite quality detectable that instant quicker than, say, fiction or theatre. In a split second, they are deemed mind-blowing or unoriginal. It seems that they are equally as linked for the creator as for the viewer in many cases. This link has been demonstrated over the last 150 years. 

First, there was Kandinsky. The Russian painter believed strongly in the association between colour and emotion. To him, replicating nature through art stifled the imagination’s capacity to express the internal world. He realised his creative capacity – that of replicating our inner feelings – for the first time when he heard Wagner’s opera Lohengrin. Here the connection between art and music begins to arise: music triggered Kandinsky’s discovery of his artistic purpose. Many believe that this was down to the fact that during the performance Kandinsky experienced synesthesia. Synesthesia is a condition whereby the experiencer has two sensations at once, originating from only one stimulus.

He realised his creative capacity – that of replicating our inner feeling.

A number or certain letter may trigger the perception of colour, sound, or smell. For Kandinsky, the layers of voice and instrumentation found in Wagner’s work built vivid images in front of his eyes, spilling out from the orchestra pit. Despite relatively few people experiencing this condition, we can all get a sense of what this overstimulation of his may have felt like by looking at Kandinsky’s paintings, many of which are named after musical terminology. 

Not only artists but musicians, too, have made the link between the two art forms in the past. Kandinsky’s contemporary, Alexander Scriabin, believed that each musical note denoted a colour. At the end of his Poem Of Ecstasy, a twenty-minute long symphonic poem finished in 1908, he believed that all the colours emitting from each note would flood out of the organ played at the climax of the composition, in a moment of pure ecstasy, after which the world would end.

Certainly, his synesthetic ideas must be taken with a pinch of salt (for he also declared himself God in a notebook since discovered), however, it is interesting to see how the acknowledgement of interaction between music and art marked a move towards self expressionism in all forms of art and culture. At the time, art began to replicate other forms of expression: the inner, rather than outer, world. 

At the time, art began to replicate other forms of expression: the inner, rather than outer, world. 

Some well-known creatives from the latter half of the 20th Century took longer to harbour their creative power to any particular form, instead choosing to drift between music and art. Firstly, we can take the numerous rock and roll icons who chose, aged 18, upon leaving school, to go to art school as a first step in their creative lives: to be around creativity, soaking it in, rather than to pursue the reclusive life of a traditional artist. Most of these musicians cemented their musical calling during their college years: John Lennon and Stuart Sutcliffe; Roger Waters; Pete Townshend; Keith Richards; Mick Jones; David Bowie; Florence Welch; and Kanye West all come under this umbrella. Ronnie Wood continues to hand paint each Rolling Stones setlist, and paint his bandmates, with the colours swirling out of each guitar-laden figure similarly to Kandinsky’s imagined cacophony of shapes and colours rising from the stage.

This suggests that art is perhaps the more tangible, rapid and bodily form of expression for the wandering creative: the quickest way in which creativity can escape the body, with music taking that little more time and skill to execute. We are more accepting, too, of the different guises of art: something can be appreciated for being ‘simplistic’ and ‘primitive’ in the world of fine art far quicker than a basic, or unmusical, an assortment of sounds can be appreciated as a successful composition. 

The ultimate example of how a creative’s capability doesn’t have to be harboured to one outlet is Patti Smith.

The ultimate example of how a creative’s capability is not limited to one outlet is Patti Smith. She roamed the streets of New York in the 1970s and 1980s, observing everything around her. She absorbed every inch of what she saw and heard: the artwork of her close friend Robert Mapplethorpe: the encounters with Jimi Hendrix and his music on the steps of the Chelsea Hotel; the revelry of the clubs and bars where one would occasionally glimpse Andy Warhol and his entourage in an exclusive back room.

From the outside Patti Smith may have appeared a spectator: someone famously once asked her what she thought she was doing in New York if neither shooting up nor being lesbian. However, patiently, Patti was waiting for her creativity to come to her, in its many forms: grating spoken-word poetry, Schieleesque sketches, compositions like those of Mapplethorpe or Rauschenberg’s Combines. Then, haunting punk renditions of British Mod records, culminating in the much-celebrated White Horses, and more recently, elegant, wistful memoirs of her journey to creativity, found in Woolgathering or Just Kids. 

For just over a century now, music and art have attracted a range of creatives through their connected nature. Most probably, this link is down to the arresting, inherently emotional quality of the two. As new technologies elicit new ways of creating and sharing, it will be interesting to see how art and music interact in the future. Perhaps, to follow on from Patti Smith, the creatives of the future won’t need to attach themselves to as little as two art forms, but through the use of digital tools, can combine an infinite number.

Image Credit: Jonn Leffmann