This paper was published for my MFA Graduate Seminar. Also available in a PDF: Color and Music
“Why do we still think of music simply as note-structures in empty space, instead of beginning with a homogeneously filled acoustical space and hollowing out the music − rubbing out, as it were, the musical figures and forms”1
pg 277 Riley, Charles A. Color Codes: Modern Theories of Color in Philosophy, Painting and Architecture, Literature, Music, and Psychology. Hanover: University of New England, 1995. Print.
Art, in many of its forms, has always possessed this isolated quality. Many artists and most if its audience have viewed art as an independent entity separated from the rest of the world by the walls of the museum, the walls of the gallery, the knowledge barrier between art-connaisseur and non-art-connaisseur and many social barriers that limit the audience for art. Also, and more importantly, great works of art are seen as entities in themselves, meant to be read independently of each other, isolated. The same can be said of cinema, literature, theatre and music. There are, of course, exceptions to this. We find art that is meant to be set on the street, on a building, on a wall. Architecture as a discipline is a lot more conscious of the how the relationship of the work to the environment it is set upon, considering the city, nearby buildings and natural elements that are close to it. Fallingwater, the house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright is a good example of this, in which the house wasn’t designed in vacuum, but rather as a structure that relates to the environment around it.
Isn’t this the same way we think about color? Color is often seen as this independent, isolated entity. We think of red, blue and yellow as if they could live of by themselves (as represented by all hue maps and color theories) while, rather, they are always competing with something else in the perceptual world. They can never be in empty space. This alternative way to look at color changes the way in which we think of color. For example, the question “What is your favorite color?” turns meaningless against this because, there is no such thing as an independent color. Color cannot be an independent entity and hence asking this question is like asking ‘what is your favorite type of light in complete darkness?’.
In an era of hyper-stimulation, where you are trying to be engaged by absolutely everything around you, the idea of isolated art, music and color renders obsolete, useless and counter productive. Rather, maybe these cultural practices should take on the attitude of advertising where part of the purpose is to get that initial reaction from the viewer and part of the intent is to do something that will ‘fit’ and reference the world, rather than the institution of art itself or the walls of the museum. How do we view art in the age of the Internet, where we can just quickly browse it through Google images and see the work of 200 artists, from all over the world, a couple of hours. Almost any work of art by any artist is visually available to anyone at any moment. Do artists consider this in their work?
The same thing can be said of music. How does music change in an era were every song ever made is available to anyone instantly. How does music change when were are constantly bombarded by all types of sounds at the same moment. This changes call for different ways of doing music. Music has to be made to be heard with other music, or to be heard only for five seconds, or to be recognized immediately by anyone (in an age of millions of different music artist and the accessibility of home music production).
In the era of hyper-stimulation, it will not be the great artists who will be recognized, it will only be those who could be remembered.