Music of a Painting
It was once said by painter James McNeill Whistler that “As music is the poetry of sound, so is painting the poetry of sight.” In viewing a painting, it is always striking to me how visual the art experience is. It can be overwhelming, subtle, organic, geometric, bright or dull. Again, however, the experience as a general rule is altogether visual. It is rare when a painting depicts images of other sense perceptions.
Yet here in “Sound of a Forest Brook” music and paint converge into a single form of poetry. At first glance, the piece is cluttered. One must take a few steps back to compose and conceive of the whole in the mind’s eye from the individual parts of line, color, and shape. There is a smear of black paint here, a swash of blue there. Every part of the piece catches the eye. It is “noisy.”
Take a moment. Take another step back, and behold the whole. Listen. Is that the sound of water flowing over brook stones? The lapping of waves against the wood makeshift bridge? The tangled ripples of black paint flow across the etching scattered, interrupted by the “sound” the waters create running over rocks, branches, silt, and against the pillars supporting the bridge. Like light fingers dancing across piano keys, the water and lines dance across the piece. Color and shape merge into harmonies creating trees, the bridge, and grasses – things intelligible as identifiable objects to the viewer. Then receding back into the depths of the piece, the lines break apart, drifting from intelligible to supposed forms. Perhaps the scattering of negative space between the trees represent the twittering of birds concealed behind leaves.
Can you hear the music of the forest? The sound of the forest brook?
After a while, the “noise” and clutter of the piece fades away. The parts fall into place. The whole is both composed of the visual and heard experience. Depth is created not only from its name, “Sound of a Forest Brook,” but more significantly, from every intently placed drop of paint. Like first entering the forest, it is an overwhelming experience. One’s senses catch every bird’s song, rustle of leaves, flight of a young doe, snap of twig underfoot, the breath of the wind… yet soon the myriad of stimulations fade away. The experience becomes not overwhelming but peaceful and still.
Hear with your eyes. Listen to the “Sound of the Forest Brook.”
Holly Huey – St. John’s College student
Photo credit: Karl Schrag, Sound of the Forest Brook, six color etching and aquatint on wove paper, 1986 SUAC 1990.087