Music as Muse

The musical and visual arts respectively are two of the most fulfilling and popular forms of artistic expression practiced today. They are deeply related, and for some artists, they can work in harmony to produce works of art that stimulate both visually and aurally. Iranian-born artist Yashar Nazarian (who now resides in Canada) creates unique pairings of original paintings and piano compositions. The two are intended to be experienced and enjoyed simultaneously, each enhancing the depth and flavour of the other.

Above painting and performance by Yashar Nazarian

Music alone is capable of making a profound impact both consciously and subconsciously upon listeners, who experience correlated emotions, moods, and thoughts. As demonstrated throughout time, an art-muse relationship exists between music and visual art, guided by commonalities in aesthetic, philosophical, and socio-cultural principles. This relationship is evident between work by Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground, Peter Blake and the Beatles, and Rick Griffin and the Grateful Dead.

Above painting and performance by Yashar Nazarian

But how exactly do the aural characteristics of music affect visual art? A recent study conducted by fourth-year Ryerson University student Cassandra Tino examined the influence that musical input has upon the creative output of fashion illustration students. According to her findings, music has the ability to evoke emotional responses which affect concrete creative decisions such as media selection, color choices, and compositional elements. A preference for more fluid mediums such as watercolours applied in many cases, as well as the use of colors with obvious psychological connotations that matched the mood of songs. These creative decisions together lead to the production of art pieces which have been composed with specific stylistic correlations to the music.

A "Colour Field" painting by Mark Rothko. These paintings were attempts to capture the "sublime", an Abstract Expressionist term referring to primal, overwhelmingly powerful emotion.

Yet a broad space for variance and individuality remains, despite these guiding principles. Music creates different moods for different people. What may sound beautifully haunting to one person’s ears may be unbearably sad to someone else’s. A song which causes one individual to feel energized and excited may make someone else feel anxious or annoyed instead. Beyond variations in musical taste and experience, there is also space for variety in the approach to expressing a shared emotion. Certainly we would all choose different colours and shapes to reflect the mood of music we find spine-tinglingly lovely. Or would we instead use the same light colours, soft shapes, and open spaces?  To reflect heavier emotions such as despair, loss, or regret, would we all choose the same palette of dark and muted colours? There is no single formula for expression, nor is there one for experience, and these compose the very foundation of artistic creation. They are subjective, elusive, transient – experiences can be distorted and forgotten, and expressions misunderstood. Herein lies the beauty of artistic creation, which strives to capture that which is too elusive and transient to ever be captured, but in so doing generates wondrously new emotional experiences for those who behold it.