Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Cello and The Pencil

I enjoy sketching musicians, partly because I'm in such awe of what they do. This cello student from the Bard Conservatory Orchestra put tremendous skill and feeling into his playing of Dvorak and Schumann.

I'm fascinated by the way musicians collaborate with dead composers to bring centuries-old creations back to life at each performance. Doing so requires a level of skill and depth that we artists can only regard with wonder.

There's really no parallel in art for this act of sympathy with past masters. When we go to art school, we don't make a group practice of copying the Sistine ceiling or the Night Watch. Imagine if Michelangelo or Rembrandt depended on our technical skills as the vehicle for realizing their creative ideas.

As artists we don't have a shared repertoire that we must all master. We simply glance back at the vast sweep of art history, taking sips of inspiration here and there, and then try to find our own way alone.


Steve said...

Ah, James. It is thought-provoking posts such as this that make yours my favorite stop on the web each day. Three thoughts it provoked:

Music and visual arts share a strong common language -- composition, harmony, chords, color...

Many of us do much better work in the studio when we have music playing. The choice of music often strengthens what's drawn or painted. The emotional quality of the music can seep into the painting. With Bach, the endless, mathematical variations can impart more structure.

Musicians of classical music collaborate ("work in concert") to recreate the music of the "old masters. In that sense, the works are permanent and enduring. Yet music itself is the most transient,intangible art form of all. The sounds occupy a point in time and are instantly replaced by the next sounds, eventually replaced by silence.

Erik Bongers said...

Yes, for illustrators, the 'act' is not part of our public work. (In my case: thank god for that)

Cello (or Gamba) is my favourite musical instrument.
And Dvorak, a cellist himself I believe, wrote the most violent cello music I've ever heard.
His sonata (opus 8) is my favourite music for the instrument.
May buy a cello myself someday. When I'm retired.

jeff jordan said...

I remember reading an interview with Martin Mull, TV personality and very accomplished painter. He said he had a guitar in the studio for when the painting wasn't quite coming together. Maybe he had some dry times, but he said he became a pretty darn good guitar player after awhile.
I have a bass I like to fool around on (electric) and when I have good enough calluses on my fingering hand it's fun to attempt to play along with favorite CDs, but I find that often, when I finally got a good set of calluses going and can play for an hour or so, some important job will come along. For me painting and playing come from the same place, and painting pays the bills, may it continue, and before long my fingertips are once again soft, but hopefully I've made it up with whatever painting came along.
I'm still trying to find a balance between the two. And there's music coming out of the studio 8-10 hours a day.

Dan Gurney said...

Perhaps visual artists are more like jazz musicians: infused with the legacy of past masters, but compelled to interpret music freshly and in the moment.

Will said...

wow. Great post. That last line blew my mind. All of it very true and appreciated.

kev ferrara said...

Some might say nature is the composition, already as well written as can be. We merely improv on its themes as we find them.

I greatly look forward to checking out your Imaginative Realism book, Jim! If its anything like this blog, its bound to be the new "Creative Illustration." :)


Unknown said...

Excellent post & comments.
Kev - what if we don't copy nature? Or do you think every piece of visual derives itself from nature in some way?

António Araújo said...

>As artists we don't have a shared >repertoire that we must all master.

We used to. Remember way back then, we all had to paint a crucifixion or a maddonna and child, or the martyrdom of who knows how many saints. There was a clear verbal prescription of what was expected - the score - and really just as much room to maneuver as when playing a musical piece written by some revered dead composer. I think it was a very similar situation, even down to the fact that "the instructions" for the piece come in a language different from that of the execution proper.

Further, you also had the guidance of all those who had tried their hand at it in the past, up on the gallery walls ,just as musicians can look - well, listen - upon the performances of those who came before as a guide to the real meaning of the sheet music.

Jean Spitzer said...

I think this post and the comments are fascinating. And OMWO is quite right; artists in the past of varying cultures definitely have had schools of art, where students worked with and for their masters.

Angela said...

Interesting post - gives me food for thought.

Cheri said...

I recently started playing the piano. I was stumbling my way through Clementi's Sonatinas hitting wrong notes that could have work when all of a sudden I got the most overwhelming realization that Clementi was telling me who he was as a person through his composition. It was more intense than what I feel when looking at pictures of master's paintings, but I'll bet that if I ever saw them in person it would be just as overwhelming.

Art is a very potent path to immortality.