Rhythm to me implies resonance. It is the force that drives a piece of music forward and gives it pace, and it is one of the elements that allows the listener to engage and follow. Engaging with art rhythmically would be to, in a sense, nod along with it and follow it and get it stuck in your head. Visual art brings a unique quality to this effect because it really never ends until the viewer looks away. Schoenberg made the point to Kandinsky that “when the artist reaches the point at which he desires only the expression of inner events and inner scenes in his rhythms and words, then the ‘object in painting’ has ceased to belong to the reproducing eye” (Albright 170). The process of expressing shape creates form. It moves through creation and recreation of the reproducing eye. Schoenberg is remarking on the subjectivity of art that gives it rhythm and words by his statement about what turns art into something objective, separate, stagnant.
I was looking at Kandinsky’s painting trying to apply some sort of understanding of rhythm or harmony in visual art, and I guess it frustrated me until I read the correspondence between him and Schoenberg. It seemed to me that both Schoenberg and Kandinsky understood the constructs of modern art and music working as and through each others’ terms, and then simultaneously both of them intentionally work against these things and within these things in order to create new form. “I am certain that our own modern harmony is not to be found in the ‘geometric’ way, but rather in the anti-geometric, anti logical way” (Albright 169) wrote Kandinsky to Schoenberg. This makes way more sense when looking at his work. Everything in the painting in the Butler reading looks like its moving up and criss-cross. Schoenberg responded by commenting on the “elimination of the conscious will in art”. Instead of having a geometric, conscious form, the painting moves in an original, stream of conscious way which creates new form. It’s organic and natural. It’s anti-rhythmical, or at least sort of syncopated. But, in its own way, it is continuous because every viewer then recreates the form by following its lines and blotches of color. The painting doesn’t have harmony, but dissonance in the way it is never “complete” or “finished”, like a triad with a random augmented or diminished 7th that leads it forward.
I really liked what Kandinsky had to say (and how he said it) about the two-sidedness of construction. He commented on the relationship between obtrusive geometry and dissonant expression in art and music. They seem to be opposing: one is self-conscious and purposeful, the other is free and expressive. He compares it to anarchy, which gives a sense of working against the rules, but always in relation to the rules. Even rejection to a subject inherently implies an engaging with that subject. I could be wrong about this, but it seems to me that Kandinsky seems to approach this in the sequence of construct first, then rejection of such construct afterwards. On the other hand, I felt that Schoenberg approached it in the sequence of the creation of expression first, and then comes the deciphering of those “puzzles” which are created. Either way, one cannot attempt to authentically express originality because those expressions are actually conscious and therefore calculated. It is conscious of its subconscious, which seems paradoxical and is certainly inauthentic. It brings into question whether there is such thing as pure art. That constant anxiety over originality and push-and-pull of conflict is part of what is expressed in modern art and music. It’s what I think keeps it going and keeps it continuous.
Really, the practice of engaging with these art and music and literary forms is continuous, as well. Butler addresses the process of the reader/listener/viewer passing down the relevance of their experience with the subject to their “successors”, who then go through that same process except different, and on and on. This is what prompted me to want to learn how to approach modernism in the first place: it is a form that continually challenges whoever engages with it to produce a new and unique outcome. Its forever interactive.