Painting a symphony

The connection between music and art

The relationship between music and art is not novel at all. It has existed throughout history, bridging the two creative disciplines in a happy marriage, with the links garnering momentum in the late 19th and early 20th Century. It was in this period that Walter Pater coined his famous phrase: ‘All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music’. The examples ever since are endless; Andy Warhol’s banana emblazoning Velvet Underground’s album cover, Jackson Pollock’s citing contemporary jazz music as an influence or James McNeill Whistler’s dreamy lyrical works relating to Chopin’s piano compositions, to name but a few.

Andy Warhol, The Velvet Underground & Nico Album Cover, 1967

A particularly interesting example is Wassily Kandinsky, who both theoretically codified such links and expressed them within his own work. Having learnt the piano and cello at an early age, music played a core part in Kandinsky’s life, echoed in him naming his paintings ‘Compositions’, ‘Impressions’ and ‘Improvisations’. He was one of the first to write about synaesthesia, a condition that confuses the senses, blurring the boundaries between them. The form he experienced, the blending of sounds and colours, was particularly rare and is thought to have had a definitive influence on his own paintings, giving visual form to his experience of ‘hearing colours’. Reading like a symphony, the music cascading across his canvases seem to echo his words that ‘Colour is the keyboard. The eye is the hammer. The soul is the piano with its many strings’. It seems impossible to disconnect the two in the whirlwind composition, which is loud in its bold colours and dramatic shapes. The mix of linear and curved forms creates a clash but equally a harmonious appearance.

Broadway Boogie Woogie, Piet Mondrian, 1943

Mondrian’s Boogie Woogie Broadway presents a contrast in its rectilinear rigidity but nonetheless imbued with rhythmic dynamism. Working in New York, Piet Mondrian immersed himself in the jazz music scene of the time which was rapidly developing. Indeed, one of his favourite records was the album Boogie Woogie which is underpinned by a similar pace and energy as the painting. Reflecting the fast-paced environment of New York, his working method involved rapidly applying plastic and bits of paper to construct new rhythms across the canvas. Jazz music and modern art more generally certainly have many parallels, which seem clearly crystallised within Mondrian’s works. With both highly