art for the eyes and ears

by     /    April 03, 2008   

In my last post, I ranted a bit about how artists are expected to be “deep”, while musicians are allowed to just play. Zak commented that he thought this could be because of a key difference between visual art and music:

“…music takes place over time where visual art is static. That makes it much easier for, say, two people to look at the same photo at the same time and discuss it ad nauseum, taking it in all at once.”

In other words, the visual arts expect “deepness” because deepness is possible. Unlike music, you can simultaneously observe and comment on a work of art. Interesting idea.

This got me thinking more about the differences between visual art and music. Not only are they different in form, the senses that process art and music function very differently. By nature, our vision is easily distracted. It is a multi-threaded process, constantly moving, simultaneously taking in new data. When you look at a piece of art, it’s hard to keep your eye from wandering off. One way to fix your sight is to analyze it, discuss it. This is different from our aural senses, which are more of a singular process. They quickly get absorbed by the loudest, most full sound nearby. Listening to music, it takes a lot to distract you away from it, making it harder to talk about.

It is interesting how these characteristics of our senses influence the way an artist creates their art to capture the attention of the viewer. In the visual arts, we use composition, line, contrast, and other “shiny objects” to catch the eye as it wanders, and keep it focused on our art. Strategic placement of areas of focus can encourage the eye to wander about the artwork. Some of us paint huge canvases that give the eye plenty room to move, while others make tiny pieces that force the eye to focus in close, minimizing distractions. In a sense, all art is an attempt to trick the eye, to make it change its normally fickle nature and behave a little more like our ears: absorbed and focused.

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Comments on 'art for the eyes and ears'

Paul Grecian  (April 3rd, 2008):

I think part of it is also that humans are visually oriented. We need to really understand what we are looking at and so try to make sense of things we see in a way that we may not with sounds. I think this is the reason that abstract art has a harder time of acceptance than realism. However, abstract art may also allow for more interpretation. It is also the case that the human mind is geared to move on visually once it has gleened any important information it can from a scene. Otherwise we would become fixated and more prone to miss possible dangers.

Daniel Sroka  (April 3rd, 2008):

Paul, for a really good discussion about abstract vs representational art, I recommend Scott McCloud’s book Understanding Comics. Although technically about comics, it contains the best discussions of art, perception and creativity.

cynthia  (April 5th, 2008):

Interesting, I depend on music to make my work and it often moves me in an expansive mind altering way. Granted, I make what most people label craft and am often not trying to say anything. Rather, I’m trying to make a connection with a person who might be moved to integrate my work into their daily lives. That’s a huge motivation for me.

As I look around my home I’m thinking about what motivated me to actually buy some of the work hanging on my walls. It’s emotional for sure.