Seeing as Listening
The Musicality of the Eye is always at play.
By Cecil Touchon
“Seeing in an attentive, conscious way is actually kind of difficult like listening in an attentive, conscious way. We hear everything but are rarely actually listening with attention.”
One thing I think about is, that between artists thinking about musicality in a visual way and composers thinking about music in a graphical way but with the intention of their graphics being performed as sound works, there seems to me a certain inhibition on the part of the graphical composer because he/she is thinking of the graphical score as an intermediary between his own thoughts and the interpretations of the performers for its realization or performance.
As an visual artist, there is not that concern exactly but there is the conflict between representing music in a literal way and being musical or you might say, following compositional ideals heard in musical compositions. Not to make literal representations but to think of the movement of the eye. To understand that the focal point acquires an image through thousands of focal moments and hence is reading the painting that is unfolding in the mind across time.
We don’t usually think of visual art having a time element as in music. But it really does. Since our peripheral vision is out of focus yet picks up color and general form we think we are seeing a work of art in an instant and yes, in a way we are but we don’t actually see it in a focused way until we actually move our focal point across every inch. Most of the time we just skip over most of an image because we are pretty sure what is between the gaps from one spot to another. But this is lazy viewing kind of like how we listen to elevator music, without attention or focus.
So in my experiments with visual musicality it is all about studying how the eye gathers an image together and to try to short circuit the assumptions of having seen the work long before you actually have looked at it with adequate attention. But even I, looking at my own work, often suffer from the same laziness of skipping through the image. Seeing in an attentive, conscious way is actually kind of difficult like listening in an attentive, conscious way. We hear everything but are rarely actually listening with attention.
The gouaches on paper below from 1982 are, in essence graphic scores. They are composed in three or four lines of multi-colored linear progressions suggesting multiple instruments.
I really do not know how musicians might play them or how they would sound. However these works are intended to be seen in a musical way and were made with a sense of improvisation and gestural movement.
These are early experiments, that developed out of the idea of what we now call asemic writing or abstract gestural mark making, slowly shifted from the idea of abstract language to abstract musicality thinking of the marks as visual sounds.
My work over the years has shifted back and forth between the two ideas of asemic writing and visual musicality. In the final analysis perhaps a lot of my work in these areas has been about seeing as reading. The musically based works seem to me to be the most effective in long lines tht encourage the idea of reading from left to right as we do with language.