Audio Criticism & Ideasthesia
My project was inspired by an experiment assigned by Professor David Gilbert of Marymount Manhattan College for a Communication Arts class. He assigned his students to do walking tours of museums and explain artwork to laymen.
Word got around, and the Museum of Modern Art invited his next class to do audio tours for them. The second time around, the idea was expanded to include music. Original songs and music inspired by the MOMA’s great masterpieces were nestled alongside student’s critiques of paintings.
Normally I’m the kind of person who likes a narrative. In fact, I love stories. To me, anything can be made into an engaging story. But when it comes to art, and really, only art, I prefer a non-narrative work. I have a bachelor’s in art history, with an emphasis in Modern and Contemporary Art. If I could’ve made that Contemporary only, I would have. I prefer abstract art above all other types painting. My favorite artist is Georges Mathieu, of the Tachisme movement in France.
Marriage de Marie Blois, Georges Mathieu, Oil on Canvas, 1960.
Which isn’t to say that I don’t appreciate other types of art, because that’s not the case. I do have a great love and genuine affection for a lot of it. But to me, abstract art is narrowly passionate or intellectual, and rarely both. In most cases the difference is made clear by the nature of the line. Kandinsky’s lines are lyrical, Franz Kline’s lines have a kind of fury behind them. In contrast, Mondrian’s lines are controlled and Barnum’s are precise.
Composition IV, Wassily Kandinsky, Oil on Canvas, 1911.
Crow Dancer, Franz Kline, Oil on Canvas, 1958.
Broadway Boogie Woogie, Piet Mondrian, Oil on Canvas, 1942-1943
Be I (second version), Barnett Newman, Acrylic on Canvas, 1970.
Intellect and passion presented without characters or setting enable Ideasthesia to take place. Ideasthesia is considered a rare occurrence that activates concepts and results in sensory perceptions.
I look at him puzzled and ask for him to read it aloud.
Visually, his penmanship leaves enough ambiguity for me to associate the “Os” with zeros and zeros with “Os”. That ambiguity is where Ideasthesia lays. It is association where context (background) and character (foreground) have equality with the absence of clarity. It births concepts linked to an idea of what is presented through one of the 5 senses and bridges it to a receiver's knowledge through one or more senses.
This idea manifests in the second video where ideas generated by Julian Schnabel’s Portrait of Andy Warhol spark visual and audio concepts to be generated in a receiver's mind, my mind. I created this after looking at the painting, after being in its presence, and all that comes with standing before a piece of art.
The difficulty in creating it is that there are obvious semiotics at work in the painting. It is more than a likeness of Warhol, it is in such an abstract setting that there can be deduction and inference. The first video, which is really audio, gives my inference to what the painter did in the act of painting the portrait. The second video, gives inference and deduction with no association to the painting. In fact, if I didn’t tell you what the project is, in all likelihood you would never in a lifetime be able to guess what it is or what inspired it.
Getting back to the conception behind these videos, what they do is create a way in which to democratize the institution of the museum (or gallery) and create a bridge of engagement between the viewer and the art.
Remember that this was an assignment related more to communication than art. The idea is that many people (the lay public) are too intimidated to go to museums is the problem identified by Gilbert. The thought is that a peer-to-peer walking-tour will make the experience of navigating a museum more intellectually accessible. These tour guides explain their perceptions of a piece of art clearly and carefully, without the use of jargon or abundant historical context. Because these tours are able to be downloaded a patron can go at his/her own pace, fast-forward or rewind as much as he/she would like, and have someone speak to him/her without the threat of pandering or elitism.
The freeing part behind this idea is that anyone is allowed to do it. Anyone can go in and create an entry, to be uploaded to a site, if not the museums, for any tour, or even any one artwork. This encourages patrons to engage more fully with the work because it begs for their to be a discussion or more serious thought to a visitor’s experience.
It’s kind of like the assignment I got from my asian studies teacher: go home and watch an entire episode of a television program and come back tomorrow. Now answer the question, what were the first three commercials in the first break advertising? Further, what were any of the advertisements?
Essentially this type of consumption is what is to be feared. Are patrons really getting anything out of visiting a museum? Could an audio commentary be a good measure for what is being learned, what is being enjoyed, what artwork is being focused upon? Being able to measure the value behind each patron’s visit to the museum can be a way for the public to let the museum administrators know what they think is important, where to add more emphasis, or how to add more emphasis. Statistics like these can give more public say in what happens in a space meant for a general populace.
The other way of keeping an engaged viewer is to have him/her come to a museum looking for inspiration. I mentioned earlier that anything can be made into a story. It is a point that I think many would concede. Music is no stranger to narrative, even classical music.
“It is the power of music to carry a rod directly to the mental state of the composer. The listener has no choice; it is like hypnotism. So, now, what was in my mind when I wrote this? [no answer is given, van Beethoven continues] A man is trying to reach his lover, his carriage has broken down in the rain, its wheel stuck in the mud. She will only wait so long. This [referring to the rehearsal behind him] is the sound of agitation. ‘This is how it is’ the music is saying, ‘not how you are used to being, not how you are used to thinking, but like this.’”
Inherently, van Beethoven, or the screenwriter, has stated that music can only give you a sense of a composer’s mindset. A narrative is created by the composer to gain (or offer) the insight. The result, in this case, agitation.
And you’re probably saying, “what’s this have to do with museums?” During the second cycle of Gilbert’s assignment, the concept was expanded to include music as a means for setting the tone for an exhibit or even a single piece of artwork. Music is a universal language. Every culture on earth creates music. It is an experience afforded to many from inside the womb until death. Therefore creating an original musical work for an audio-tour guide serves a way to draw inspiration from an already inspired work. It gives new opportunity to experience art in a way not many are used to. It also encourages musicians, singers, and songwriters to create work for many to hear and think about. It has the possibility of helping a patron create a narrative in his/her own mind by using the visual and the audio components together to help himself get a better understanding or increased comfort-level around work that has a high amount of ambiguity or abstraction. Modern and contemporary museums often-times have less foot-traffic because the works in the museum are viewed as esoteric. A great way for humans to make sense of things is to create order or narrative to what it is we are learning or have learned. Music can aid deciphering a narrative and can also result in the creation of a sensory response. Just like how someone not trained in music can understand the difference between major and minor scales when told, “major means happy, minor means sad”. When, in actuality scales are created based on assonance and dissonance. The ability to create an emotional response to an artwork good or bad can create a lasting effect of wanting to see more, or learn more about a piece. You may be questioning how a bad feeling may want one to indulge further into a movement or style. But the same can be said for many Greek Tragedies, Operas, Ballets, Symphonies, or even Horror movies. Yet, a following exists and converts are made. A patron feeling something sullen is better than a patron feeling nothing. Emotions are remembered, too.
That really is what it comes down to. Creating a sensory reaction as a result of a different sense being stimulated. This is, once again, in the simplest possible form, is the theory of Ideasthesia. But, only in the case where the solicitor of such a reaction is semantic. The idea of the music as an aid to a semantic artpiece (where passion is unclear and intellect has precedence) can act as a catalyst for Ideasthesia between the viewer and artwork. But, the introduction of music would work in a Synesthetic way (sensory invokes a sensory concurrent), bolstering the experience of the viewer.