A colourful composition | The Open College of the Arts
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A colourful composition

When you are busying your eyes with making an artwork, what are your other senses doing? In particular – do you find that you need to attend to your ears? It may seem an odd question, but many artists recount that they need to have a particular type and amount of noise in their studio; whether that be complete silence or pulsating Wagner.
I have a quite odd relationship to sound in the studio and often wish there was such a thing as a voice activated radio that I could yell at to be quiet without breaking stride. When I am working things through quite openly at the beginning, I like to listen to banal radio dramas like Agatha Christie adaptations so that I have a cheerful sound of human voices and can drop in and out of the narrative without caring if I’ve missed something. As my work develops I move across to French popular radio. This has the same human voice but this time my abilities with French mean that I have only the vaguest idea what they are talking about and so I am freed up to concentrate on my internal monologue. Silence too soon means that I am open to having my concentration broken by a siren or belch from the heating system. At a certain point (when the voice activated radio would come in handy) absolute silence is essential along with no other person in the room. As I work in a shared studio this can be problematic but it has to be said that by that stage my hearing has partially shut down anyway so I what I think is silence may well just be me refusing to acknowledge noise!
My level 3 student Tatiana O’Mahony is currently developing a piece of research on the way artists use music in the studio, not just as a subject matter, but as an element of their process in the broadest sense. As a figurative painter she began with a question about why so much art work which is explicitly about music is completely abstract.  To try to collect data on the less visible uses of music by artist, she has put together a survey which you can access here.  If you are an artist making work about music or using music in the studio in any way, she would love to hear from you.
Sources of quotations used in survey:
‘ The total abstraction of art is music…’ (Hanne Darboven) http://db-artmag.com/en/53/news/obituary-for-hanne-darboven/
‘My work ends in music’ (Hanne Darboven) http://www.e-flux.com/announcements/hanne-darboven/
“Art is a mixture between concept and discipline’ (Hanne Darboven)
‘… the relationship between music and painting is a parallel one, colour and tone affecting and enlivening human feelings’ (Patricia Railing)
‘Every artwork throughout history has to fulfil this primary requirement: to be rhythm, or else it isn’t art’ (Patricia Railing)
‘Abstract painting isn’t Music’ (Patricia Railing)
Image Credit: Kandinsky, Composition VIII, 1923 (140 Kb); Oil on canvas, 140 x 201 cm (55 1/8 x 79 1/8 in); Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

Posted by author: Emma Drye
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One thought on “A colourful composition

  • Interesting! The survey has its limits though, as any reductive yes/no system has, but at least there is the possibility of often adding comments!
    There’re some interesting observations about synesthesia in Ramachandran’s book ‘The Tell-Tale Brain’ (2011, pp102-116) which I feel is relevant to the above points you made. Do you know it? Does Tatiana? Also this reminded me of Oliver Sacks’ book ‘Musicophilia’ (2007), which when I tried to read it years ago, I just couldn’t get into. I read it years later when I was ‘in the RIGHT mood’, which brings up another interesting point in itself: when is the right mood?
    Listening to music while studying/reading I usually find distracting, but that depends on so many factors (including my mood): how much time I have to read/study; the subject I am reading; the volume and type of the music; the time of day; weather, and God knows how many other things that I am unaware of.
    And as you say, silence is never really silence, is it?
    I live in southern Italy where sirens, car horns, and loud hand talkers [sic] are rife – you have to learn to block these sounds out, although I find that is kind of automatically done by the amount of concentration needed and how involved I am by the task I am focusing on!
    Do you see what I mean?
    Or should that be: Do you ‘hear’ what I’m saying?

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