Cecil Touchon

There are several ways to think about visual art and musicality. The first way is to attempt to represent a musical composition verbatim into a visual format. This is often disappointing because what music is and how it feels cannot really be captured by any sort of visual representation.

Another way is for a composer to attempt to represent scoring in a visual or graphic way, this is to provide, usually open, non-determinate instruction to performers so that they can use the graphic score as inspiration to intuitively perform the representation by the composer. This has several advantages and could be seen to have certain disadvantages as compared to more traditional notation where the composer can be very specific and clear about the orchestration of his/her musical ideas. In this case the graphic score is not fully conceived as a finished visual work in itself but more as an intermediary between the composer and the performer.

Another way is to make visual works of art that use musical compositional ideas to make a work of art that simulates how a musical work might look if it is worked out using musical laws of construction.  How to work out this idea still does not convey the subtle emotions of a musical composition and many ideas have to be worked out in terms of transparency, harmonics, form, rhythm, repetition, development, progression, and the problems of time and simultaneousness of visual events and how to manage the movement of the eye.

A composer may develop and articulate a form across time through the development of a motif that a painting can show as a single complex synthesized object. Such a musical object is still unpacked over time by the eye even if there is a sense of seeing the visual work in a moment, all at once.

When we observe the surroundings  and the way the eye takes in information, we will see that we are able to see color,  light and shadow, textures and space with our peripheral vision but detail in focus can only be seen with a very small part of our eye: our focal point, which is only the size of a coin.

This part of our vision is the part that has to move around the environment or the surface of a painting in order to see with clarity and sharpness. The focal point has to acquire an image through thousands of focused moments. Hence we see with clarity over time, not all at once, as our peripheral vision does.

This dichotomy of our vision is what gives us the opportunity to consider the concept of visual musicality and how to create musical readings of visual information. In fact, every kind of reading takes into account the movement of the focal point. In reading, the horizontal lines of a book for instance, the focal point is directed along through a progression of lines from left to right, top to bottom in a highly organized way presenting equally sized letters and spaces, each distinct from each other and at a size and spacing that allows the eye to move quickly and smoothly across the page without starts or stops or visual disruptions. All of the letters and words are of a height and length that accounts for the limitations of the focal point.

A writer then arranges the words and punctuation into meaningful clusters that are able to articulate and transfer whole ideas in great detail to the reader. This of course depends on both reader and writer sharing common rules and conventions or in short, literacy of the same language. Lacking this shared understanding, whatever a writer writes, no matter how clear is just so many abstract markings.

Coming to music, where we somehow appreciate the abstract sounds that we hear performed by musicians and do not think of it as mere noise – well, not most of the time anyway – there are certain conventions that we recognize in musical works that let us know we are listening to a musical composition. A musician would be able to articulate what these conventions are a lot better than I can as a visual artist but let’s say such conventions might include recognizable rhythms, harmonies, progressions, etc. It is perhaps a more universal form of language than literature and conveys a different kind of message than literary language is capable of. Organized sound is a powerful form of communication.

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