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Arts are connected - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Arts are connected
The other day, I was thinking about that quote: "Talking about music is like dancing about architecture."

I get the point--enjoy the music, already!

But where did my mind go? "Hmm... I wonder how you could dance about architecture." You can sort of see troupes of modern dancers, some doing harsh, large moves to represent concrete brutalism, while others flitted around in complicated patterns to show baroque...

In fact, I have used architecture in a creative writing class--go from an old, neo-classical building to a newer brutalist building. What story does that tell you? How does it feel? What changed? And I think I even asked how it would sound if it were music--like, if you had a movie soundtrack--but that might have just been something I thought but didn't say when I realized I was getting baffled looks from the kiddos.

This summer, instead of abandoning the approach like a sane person, I'm going to take what was just a whim and see if I can actually structure some writing classes around it. I was doing it more or less instinctively--visual prompts and so on--but the truth is, I think that all arts (and humanities, for that matter, and actually more or less everything else) are connected, and they all find different ways to express things... but that the things they express can be "translated" from one medium to another, and commented on in other media as well. Some things are better said on one medium than another, and direct translation is kind of silly, as all of the spoofs of interpretive dance show ("Miranda is dancing the motion of the Model T Ford... hear her sputter! See her stall!"). But the different media each have ways of expressing things that are uniquely their own, and therefore, they all have value.

Maybe it's because I'm a writer, but I think the place where they all link up is in the concept of story--what story does this image/music/building/sculpture evoke in the viewer/listener? So, while a dance about a building isn't going to shelter anyone during a blizzard, it could show the story of the neighborhood as the new building appears in it. Is it an ugly change? A beautiful one? What does the building say about the world it was built into? A dance could say the same, using the architectural imagery to accomplish it.

Of course, we've all seen the interaction between art and writing--both the illustrations of stories and the stories inspired by art. And they feed each other. A good mix of arts is like sourdough. Add some feeder now and then, and it grows on its own. I think I'm going to start with concrete narrative art when I teach--we have a mural depicting a story (one which they should know, as it's foundational folklore of the western world we all live in, but in my experience, too often don't), then move on to slight symbolism, heavier symbolism, then finally surrealism and abstraction (not because I think the latter two are the pinnacle of artistic achievement, but because the connection to the story becomes less literal and more intuitive for the writer taking inspiration from it). And yes, also portraits and landscapes and so on.

I don't know if I have a point. I'm just sort of interested in the subject of how arts connect to each other. And having scary visions of architectural dance, which I felt the need to inflict on everyone else. ;p
18 comments or Leave a comment
lareinenoire From: lareinenoire Date: May 2nd, 2006 03:52 pm (UTC) (Link)
For me, writing, music, and image have always been connected. Everything I write appears in my head almost cinematically even before I write it, usually with accompanying soundtrack. Makes it somewhat difficult to put down on paper, most of the time, given that. This happens just as often when I'm reading someone else's work; I don't know if other people work this way, but when I read something, it's as if I'm watching it on a screen inside my head.

I also remember trying to write a paper once, on the transposition of art forms from a painting by Watteau, through a poem by Verlaine, and ending in a piano piece by Debussy. While it makes perfect sense, explaining it (especially in French) is just not easy. I'm still trying to figure out the best way to give someone else an idea of how it works, so if none of the above paragraph made any sense, I apologise.
From: anatomiste Date: May 2nd, 2006 03:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
I hadn't realized there was a form of architecture called "brutalism," but when I looked it up on wikipedia I realized that two of my favorite buildings are in that style! Greenlaw Hall (the English department building) and Davis Library (the eight-story main campus library) are the most hideous buildings on central campus, but their function, if not their form, makes me so happy that I know I have danced inside them many times.

On the other hand, I hardly know what they keep in Wilson Library, but the few times I've gone in I've been immediately struck by the solemn and reverential mood of that old building.

I don't know if I could really dance architecture, but I can certainly think of writing it.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 2nd, 2006 04:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
A lot of libraries (including mine) were built in the brutalist style; it was a big fad that happened to coincide with the timing of the building of a lot of libraries. Which unfortunately means that we have a lot of ugly buildings that we couldn't, in a million years, live without. But they are hideous. This is your architecture on (cheap) drugs, man.

I love solemn old libraries. They're beautiful.
eselgeist From: eselgeist Date: May 2nd, 2006 04:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
"phantom" indeed ^_^ you deleted your comment!

i'm not sure what you were referring to about "telling the library" but if it was about licking the walls, that was just metaphor ^_^ my friend Justin is a big fan of art from that time period and he would love to see those murals, i'm sure.

if it was about submitting a piece of Joan related artwork, let me know because i'm interested!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 2nd, 2006 04:53 pm (UTC) (Link)
Realized that if I did send a link to your very complimentary post about the Joan collection, it would involve my Sooper-Seekrit LJ name showing up on something shown to my bosses. Not that I use the journal to say anything bad about the libe, but you know... there's work thing, and the LJ thing. :)

Mostly, I think it's that they don't realize that the place is impressive and people do get psyched to see it! I know they'd realize the metaphor. I did! But like anyone else, they like to see nice things said.
eselgeist From: eselgeist Date: May 2nd, 2006 04:57 pm (UTC) (Link)
hah! well, in such case direct me to the right email address/etc. and i'll happily give them direct feedback on my own. i love going to the library and finding these kinds of gem shows going on.

plus, i understand fully the divide between WORK and PLAY LJ ...

(librarian authority is wonderful: SHHHHHHHH!)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 2nd, 2006 08:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
They have a comments and suggestions form on this page.

And, btw, the volunteers do art and architecture tours for free, if you or your wall-licking friend want to know more about the stuff that's here. Lotsa neat tidbits. :)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 2nd, 2006 04:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
(P.S.--didn't mean to make it look like I was "telling on you"! I was delighted to find your post. I love McKim, too, and love seeing other people dig it.)
(Deleted comment)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 2nd, 2006 08:47 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, honestly, I think stories have a huge weight in the human brain. Other animals make tools, but as far as I know, we're the only ones who tell stories. Homo narrativus. It's probably been a big evolutionary advantage, in terms of being able to pass things on from generation to generation. The stories stick.
matril From: matril Date: May 2nd, 2006 08:24 pm (UTC) (Link)
I certainly feel that all art is connected, and I often associate certain music with certain stories and so on. But my brother, my eccentric brilliant brother who composes classical-style pieces and eschews just about every other kind of music, absolutely hates it when we try to associate his work with a story or an image. If we comment, "Hmm..that reminds me of a thunderstorm...a walk on the beach...a sunrise..." he replies angrily, "It's not supposed to remind you of anything! It's music; it's not a story!" To him, the musical conflicts and resolutions, the tonal climaxes and finales are powerful and meaningful on their own merit, wihtout interposing any other cross-artform interpretation. Pure, abstract music. It's not that he doesn't like stories or any other field of art; he just sees them as entirely separate from his work. I have the feeling he's pretty unique in this mindset. I, for one, find the idea of architectural dance intriguing, if largely for its scary-amusing value.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 2nd, 2006 08:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well, looking at sjepstein's quoted material above, I sense a little bit of the old, "You're colonizing my territory!" response in that. The different arts express things differently, in languages of their own. But they live on allusions and evocations--that's why movies have soundtracks and visual effects. Modern artists have a thing about paintings that tell stories, too. It reminds me vaguely of language purists (rarely English speakers, by nature) resisting adding English words to a language. English, of course, is the Storytelling of language--it just grabs all the others and happily uses them as it sees fit. But languages also have underlying structures, even when they're wildly different.
matril From: matril Date: May 2nd, 2006 08:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, don't get me started on language purists....
keestone From: keestone Date: May 3rd, 2006 02:05 am (UTC) (Link)

"Art is a symbol, because Man is a symbol." -- Oscar Wilde

All art is connected. That feels right. I don't think I can buy story as the connecting factor though. It doesn't feel right to me. Maybe story is a progression of expressions, and expression would be the basic word. When I saw The Nutcracker for the first time, it wasn't the story that captured my passion, it was the beauty. I was upset because I was too short to see the dancers' feet. Ballet can have a story, but for me, it's not the story that sends chills up my spine when I see video footage of Baryshnikov. It's the expression of passion in the culmination of spatial, musical, and physical art. It's the existance that is excellence. Maybe it's a Keatsian " 'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,'—that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know".

(There's a part of me that's really rebelling at taking Keats as an answer here. But then, I am quoting a poetic meditation on ceramics. And perhaps, it's as glib as it seems to me right now.)
atropos87 From: atropos87 Date: May 3rd, 2006 12:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
I've been thinking about this recently in terms of my own writing and musical progress, and how the two influence the other. For me it all seems to link up around creation and communication. I have a powerful urge to make things, and so I knit, sing, write, cook and so on. But what makes those things really satisfying is when then reach out and say something to someone else. Maybe nothing so concrete as a story, particularly with the music, maybe just an emotion or a simple idea. But it's the act of communicating that to others in a compelling way that makes me happy with my work.
verdenia From: verdenia Date: May 13th, 2006 11:39 am (UTC) (Link)

Yes--communication through arts!

One of my favorite modern singer/songwriters, Poe [most famous for 1995's "Angry Johnny"], on her second album, Haunted [2000], has a bit that I am totally reminded of by this thread.
She had recently found a ton of tapes from when she was growing up, and used many bits of these in her album. Some of it was her as a little girl, and some was her filmmaker father, Tad Danielewski (1962’s No Exit, 1965’s The Guide). One of his quotes says:
"Communication is more than just words, communication is architecture,
because of course it is quite obvious that a house which would be built without that will, that desire to communicate, would not look the way your house looks today"

I think that as a cross-medium unifier, I would have to go with communication rather than story--many pieces of music and paintings and such communicate feelings or ideas to me, but don't tell stories.

Also, I highly recommend both Poe albums. Gorgeous voice, lyrics that run from fun to profound, interesting and catchy music...

cheers, cool discussion.
aeterna13 From: aeterna13 Date: May 3rd, 2006 04:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
This whole discussion is very interesting to me as a creative person who had a lot "when I grow up" options as a child--I could have been anything from an author to a beaded-jewelery-kiosk-owner--who ultimately settled on composing music. I think that, unlike matril's brother, I simply must tell a story when I write a piece of music. That's why practically all of my music, whether vocal or instrumental, has a text. I wrote a woodwind quintet based on Poe's "The Raven", which I've set syllable-for-syllable with the poem, even though it has no sung or spoken part. I did it that way because of the importance of rhyme, meter, alliteration, and repeated phrases in the poem, which I wanted to transliterate directly into the music.

I kinda like the idea of "dancing architecture", but it's hard for me to visualize how that would work, I think mostly because of all the arts, dancing is the one at which I'm least adept, to put it lightly. I could probably connect more to making music about architecture. Debussy's "Sunken Cathedral" comes to mind.
erised1810 From: erised1810 Date: May 5th, 2006 12:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
Haha. yo umake me want to write the autobiography of a house. :)
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