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Sunday, December 8, 2019
The Art of Sounds
When I was young I lived on an island in the Atlantic. While there were not the traditional sounds of the city around me, there were sounds that will always bring back emotion in me. The fog horn going off to warn ships. The sound of the surf on stormy nights. Bombs going off from nearby NoMan's Land, which was a military testing island nearby. All these live in my memories and my emotions.
Here in the city I call home, New Orleans, there are a whole host of new sounds that I wish sometimes I could capture in my art. The sound of the street cars moving up St Charles Avenue at 3 in the morning. The cheering crowds from a passing Mardi Gras parade. The horn going off on the Mississippi River from the Natchez Paddle-wheel Steamer. The clopping of horse-drawn carriage.
These are all sounds captured in my imagination and which try as might I could never convert into art. A painted image of a carriage is not the same thing as the sound that accompanies it.
As I stood working on a piece of art today in my outdoor studio, I could hear a second line coming up Washington Avenue. The crowds were roaring, the bands playing and even though I was all alone in my work space, my mind was out there watching the parade through the sounds I could hear.
And it occurred to me that even though I could not capture those specific sounds in my art, that they were influencing what I was working on. The spirit of those sounds moved with my paintbrush. My mindset was creating and those sounds were flowing through me.
I realized that this happened all the time. Whether I was listening to music while working, or just the sounds of nature. All of these subtly changed the art flowing out of me.
I wonder how this influenced other artists in the past. What did Michelangelo hear while he perched on a scaffolding in the Sistine Chapel? Were their monks singing Gregorian chant below? Were their the whispers of prayers?
What did Da Vinci hear on a fine spring day in Florence? Were the bells tolling in the nearby cathedral? Was there a murmur of people who passed by his studio?
I think, while we appreciate the techniques and imagination of artists, we often overlook that we might be seeing what they were indeed hearing at the time. Our senses are what make us artists. They are also something we should take time to appreciate in the works of the great masters. Its not always about skill, but about perception and our abilities as artists to transpose what we sense into what we create.
Some artists insist on total silence when they work. What might they be missing? What might you be missing? Listen, create.