Time: Art and Music

Time: Music and Art                       

My sculpture (or, three-dimensional drawings) from the late 1960's through the 1980's is inspired by the idea of music, of time, itself.

Music, unlike painting, takes place in time. Paintings are read, left to right, or, right to left, without any loss of meaning. Music goes from past to future through time, in one direction, only: forward. Even in a Sonata, with its Exposition-Development-Recapitulation form (with sometimes more complex forms), the return to the original theme has some surprises in store for us before it returns "home."

However, not all visual art has the constraint of a "side-to-side," "up-down," 2-dimensional movement. (We're not considering video or performance art, which obviously track movement through time and space.) In my three-dimensional works from the late 1960's through the 1980's, visually, a progression of time similar to music takes place. Transparent panels with drawings engraved upon them, arranged into a continuum, present a transition from one plane to another, seen, simultaneously: all time is "now." When one looks from the "back" of the piece (actually, there is no front or back) to the "front," the work looks different.  Also, you can "see" the transitions (or what you would hear in music: modulations) from the sides of the works, and as you move around the work, the work keeps "changing."

Music, supposedly, might be written so that it sounded the same, beginning to end and back, but it would not be so interesting to listen to, except as a theoretical exercise, perhaps. According to Charles Rosen, in his excellent book, The Classical Style: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, W.W. Norton & Company, 1997, Rosen implies that music is not a spacial art, because the "..order, intensity and..direction of the relations between the motifs.." is important. In a criticism of much music analysis, "..There must be a coherent interaction between the individual motif and the direction of the piece---the intensity and the proportions of its gradual unfolding." (pp. 40-41) But, to the notion that music is not spacial, I disagree. I believe that music is spacial, because time, itself, is spacial. What we would agree about is that in the space of time, the journey through the music unfolds, but not necessarily in a linear fashion.

Bach wrote fugues that inverted a theme, so that it sounded quite acceptable "upside down" as it did "right-side up." He also reversed themes and changed them in many directions, but, to my knowledge, did not "walk backward" through the music. Music seeks a resolution, and this comes through changes, as in the sonata form: from the tonic to the dominant, as it moves through time. And, then, the movement back towards the tonic to "home."

Time and The Process of Art Appreciation

There is no exactly repeated experience for the audience of any work of art, music or visual, even for the experts. The architecture remains the same in each discipline, but the perception of it will grow and change with each encounter: that is, in a successful work. There are, of course, works which just don't have enough content to hold our attention for long, especially, if it's a popular ditty, or visually, has a commercially decorative application. Then, fashion takes over, and everyone, eventually, moves on to the "next new thing" from boredom.

Art, on the other hand, does not degrade to the status of fashion, although, in the present age, it is hard to convince the art institution, e.g.,
media, galleries, up and coming curators, art schools, and, alas, many new money" collectors. The world of music composition doesn't succumb so often to this shallowness, although it can suffer the woes of overly intellectual theories in some university music departments, as well as music venues searching for a way to engage new, frequently younger, audiences. This has been referred to as, "new wave," or "cutting edge." (It's difficult to erase the image of a pair of scissors, with a question: which "side" of the "edge" matters more.) I'm reminded of the highly successful, "Next Wave" series at the Brooklyn Academy, featuring "the latest" in all the arts, or the Venice Biennale.

Having signed up, recently, for a free (!) online course on Beethoven's Piano Sonatas, emanating from Curtis Institute and taught by the young pianist, Jonathan Bis, I am rediscovering music which I have heard in concert many times over the past 30-40 years. My sister, Anne Koscielny, performed all 32 of these Sonatas in a series which she presented in several venues over a 30 year period. She says she is still learning things about them, as can be noted in recordings of her early series compared to those 20 years later.

Great art never loses its fascination. It changes as we change: as we become more perceptive based on our life experiences and greater knowledge of art. Thus, time: spacial time, time in visual art, and, music carries us on great journeys.

Beethoven, two centuries later, is, by the way, still "cutting edge."His time is our time.

                                      Beethoven, 1818, by August von Klüber