Amber Lee: Blog 1

When I read the first prompt (which I will be writing about), one of the first things I thought about was what rhythm means. I looked online the Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary and found that the first definition given was “a regular, repeated pattern of sounds or movements” (Merriam-Webster) which lead me to the conclusion that “rhythm” isn’t necessarily predominantly a musical term because of its ties with movement. This makes perfect sense to me, the two ideas of sound and movement should be intertwined because music so often causes people to move. We learned in class that some music caused people to stand up and riot. In a less violent function music is what causes to dance. Music causes people to sway and move naturally. Painting in a basic sense also falls in line with the definition of rhythm: a painter moves their brushes repeatedly in some sort of pattern in order to create what they want on their canvas. With all of those things tying together it doesn’t seem as strange to describe paintings in the terms of rhythm. Something much like music, which inspires dance, must inspire a painter to pick up their brushes and create. Where it fails to meet the definition exactly is where rhythm is described as being “regular” which many paintings are not, nor should they always be. Yet there is some regularity to some of the paintings in the Butler reading like the Piet Mondrian. All of the shapes painted are regular squares and rectangles. Not blobs or faces or stars. The painting is brought together in a way that not one of the shapes overwhelms the painting. The viewers’ eyes can move from shape to shape as we are drawn to the large red square. Still, not a thing seems out of place perhaps because the shapes are regular enough that our eyes can move from one to another without confusion. This painting is not difficult to look at and take in. It is not traditional or what we see in nature, but looking at different colored squares is easy to take. The message and purpose is the more difficult task.

This then brought me to the idea of a painting having rhythm. Like a dance, shouldn’t a painting move from one place to the next with grace a purpose? If it does not have grace, it should at the very least have purpose. A painting should draw a view’s eyes from one place to the next with some sense of intent, unless this is not the artist’s intention. Like many dances, two or more things must work together in order for something to move in unity to create something worth looking at and not just a mess of tripping limbs. Butler says that for the Piet Mondrain painting, “our feel for harmony and balance” (Butler, 24-25) is much may determine if the viewer likes the painting of not. Harmony and balance are also essential parts of dance also, though they mean slightly different things in that application. For the painting things like color and shape must have harmony that is either pleasing or aggravating depending on what is being portrayed. Balance is important to a painting because if one side of the painting is too busy or heavy in color, the view may feel like they are falling into one side and completely ignore the other. Space is important to art, but the space must be there to counterbalance a weight somewhere else. All art, not just aural, require some finesse and attention to what is happening and what the piece is doing.

With so many tools for artists to work with, taking those that seem to belong to other parts of art can create a new connected feeling where the painting has more life than the one on the wall. By combining the techniques and ideas connected to music and art the viewer may move and sway with the painting as much as they would when listening to music. If we try to bring language into this it may become even more complex. Yet, isn’t that what many musical productions are? Musicals are a combination of visual art, music, and language used to portray something about life whether it is a lesson, story, or just an emotion. Although the visual aspect was less important, for a long time, this was one of the highest and most entertaining versions of art. Visuals have become more important in things like sets and costumes and movie magic, but still, it is the playing of all these things together that can be the most emotional and do the most for people. It can inspire people to laugh, to cry, and to riot, and all that coming from one piece of art is amazing.

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2 thoughts on “Amber Lee: Blog 1

  1. It seems that the biggest issue or the biggest gap between rhythm in music/motion and rhythm in painting is the scope of time. In music, to convey a sense of rhythm, you need only some kind of noise in a discernible pattern. There are exceptions to that rule, and blatant intentional deviation from it for the sake of artistic quality, but the idea of establishing continuity with sound makes sense for music. Likewise, with dance, the passage of time is where you run into the pattern. If the movements that are being made have a recognizable pattern as time passes, the observer has a sense of the rhythm or flow that is occurring. Paintings, when they’re completed, are frozen in time. You mention that “a painter moves their brushes repeatedly in some sort of pattern,” but there is still a disconnect between rhythm and repetition. The best way to represent rhythm in a static piece of art would be, it would seem, to have brushstrokes and images that present in a continuous way. Representational art doesn’t seem to be conducive to rhythm, and realist art seems to be concerned with capturing a single moment in time, rather than a series of motions.
    You pretty much address this by saying that a painting should draw a “view’s eyes” (sic) from one place to the next with some intent, but I’m curious about if that’s true at all. A painter can’t control how his painting is viewed, at least in the sense of the progression of one’s eyes. That said, I do agree with the quote that you offered that says “our feel for harmony and balance” influences how we receive a piece of visual art. It just seems that, as far as rhythm is concerned with visual art, the only way to convey a sense of rhythm would be to deviate completely from the realist perspective, and paint in a way that displays a passage of time as accurately as is possible given the parameters of the field.

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  2. A lot of the first round of blogs discussed the rhythm of painting—an idea that suggests the visual arts of the early 1900s was able to take part in the Modernist project of representing motion, time, and change. The music and essays of Antheil (and the poetry and criticism of Pound) seem heavily influenced by the futurist movements, and looking at Modernist paintings can be helpful in appreciating what “the Modernist” strive to achieve through art. Despite Pound’s snide remarks about painting, modernist paintings often contain a rhythm analogous to Antheil’s Ballet Mecanique.

    Pound’s reference to the Vorticist Manifestos and his favorable criticism of Antheil’s music make the Futurist influence on Pound explicit enough, but his preference for music downplays the achievements of Modernist painters who also participated in the Modernist explorations of new ways to represent modern life (I’m thinking specifically of his retrospect on Antheil here). When Pound theorized that machines are already a kind of work of art, and therefore, “a painting of a machine is like a painting of a painting” (52), he fails to appreciate the way visual artists are able to also represent a fluid and mechanical society. It may be interesting to think of machines as already a piece of art, an idea I think that has a lot of merit, but to suggest that pictorial and sculptural art is insufficient because it reduces machines to stasis (51, last full paragraph) fails to see how Modernist painters also created new form in order to capture movement and energy.

    The way you discuss the rhythm and harmony of a painting I think challenges Pound’s depiction of visual art as static. The way Modern paintings were able to move the viewer from one focus point to another, the dance analogy you use (and for the futurist, this is probably a violent dance), is similar to the horizontal development of Music that Pound and Antheil favor. There is a weird kind of temporal unfolding of Futurist paintings that is both static and not.

    An example of such paintings is Umberto Boccioni’s “Dynamism of a Soccer Player”. There are a series of his paintings that depict different objects and their “dynamism” (a cyclist, a male and female head), and they all kind of look a like. There is no clear soccer player in the painting, but there is a lot of motion. The painting represents speed and motion through abstraction. The overlapping shapes reflect the cubist influence and enables Boccioni to challenge the static nature of painting. Just like Antheil’s fourth dimension of music, the colors of the painting move from one to another and only have meaning within relation to the other colors present. The overlapping abstract images have a similar unfolding relationship where the different moments of the soccer player’s movement are layered to create a sense of the motion. If you try and look at the painting as if it were static, there is no hope of seeing the soccer player. If you let your eyes move, and the quicker and more sporadic the better, there is a sense of a soccer player in motion. It’s like those pictures of someone swinging a golf club or baseball bat that use multiple exposures to break down the motion of the swing but in a cubist form.

    Other visual arts also expressed motion and energy, but because we’ve been reading Pound and listening to Antheil the futurist painters seemed to have the most appropriate “rhythm”. They were loud and rowdy, their manifestos were opinionated, they celebrated every aspect of modern life including (for some) the experience of modern war, they at times were fascist and unapologetic for this, but they also created some cool looking paintings.

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