By Peter Dayan
In 1877, Ruskin accused Whistler of 'flinging a pot of paint within the public's face'. was once he correct? in spite of everything, Whistler continually denied that the genuine functionality of paintings used to be to symbolize whatever. If a portray doesn't symbolize, what's it, except mere paint, flung within the public's face? Whistler's resolution used to be basic: portray is track - or it truly is poetry. Georges Braque, part a century later, echoed Whistler's solution. So did Braque's associates Apollinaire and Ponge. They offered their poetry as track, too - and as portray. yet in the meantime, composers equivalent to Satie and Stravinsky have been providing their very own artwork - tune - as though it transposed the values of portray or of poetry. the elemental precept of this intermedial aesthetic, which sure jointly a rare fraternity of artists in all media in Paris, from 1885 to 1945, was once this: we should always take into consideration the price of a piece of paintings, no longer in the good judgment of its personal medium, yet as though it transposed the worth of paintings in one other medium. Peter Dayan lines the historical past of this precept: the way it created our very concept of 'great art', why it declined as a imaginative and prescient from the Sixties, and the way, within the twenty first century, it truly is struggling with again
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In 1877, Ruskin accused Whistler of 'flinging a pot of paint within the public's face'. was once he correct? in the end, Whistler continuously denied that the real functionality of artwork was once to symbolize whatever. If a portray doesn't characterize, what's it, except mere paint, flung within the public's face? Whistler's resolution used to be uncomplicated: portray is tune - or it really is poetry.
Extra info for Art as music, music as poetry, poetry as art, from Whistler to Stravinsky and beyond
As Arabella Teniswood-Harvey demonstrates throughout her remarkable PhD thesis (itself entitled ‘Colour-Music: Musical Modelling in James McNeill Whistler’s Art’),13 colour, for Whistler, ‘became the painter’s most musical tool’;14 and Whistler repeatedly presents that musicality as a harmony. So much is clear enough. But on closer examination, the notion of harmony turns out to be bizarrely unfit for the purpose for which Whistler seems to employ it – as unfit as poetry. For the fact is that harmony is not music; harmony cannot constitute art.
One of Whistler’s earliest mature paintings, At the Piano (YMSM21 24, Plate 1), certainly appears to show music being made by the pianist. ) However, the music stand is folded away. No musical score is visible. Nor are the strings of the piano. And the cases of the cello and violin, under the piano, like the lid of the piano itself, remain closed. What is the pianist playing? Is she playing? Her fingers touch the keys, yet they seem to be brushing, rather than pressing them. Indeed, the weightlessness of the fingers seems to invade the whole painting, as one looks at it.
The ‘Gold Scab’ Eruption in Frilthy Lucre. And on the left, a musical stave, with a single note: an F sharp quaver, in the bass clef. This is, I think, the only legible musical notation in any Whistler painting. But is it really a note of music? It certainly does not fit the definition of pure music; for this note has a clear referential meaning. R. Leyland, who refused to pay Whistler 2,000 guineas for the decoration of the Peacock Room in his house. Whistler, in revenge, gives him but one note to play – a sharp, because Leyland, to Whistler, is nothing but that: a sharp.