I first started thinking on this over a month ago after I saw a tweet from Fungibles
(not only can I thank him for ordering pizza for my daughter and I from half way across the world but some very inspiring tweets).
The tweet was to this amazing section of a speech by Jordan Peterson in which he discusses the sacred essence of what makes music such a powerful medium to the human experience. It was just what I needed to hear having spent the evening before sitting in my lounge for the first time in ages with Led Zeppelin on full blast, head back eyes closed with a glass of whisky just immersing myself in pure sound.
To fully appreciate what I’m about to describe you have to go listen to from 18m33s above but it’s what Jordan Peterson says from about 18m45s that hit home. He describes first the language of music and then leads into something that literally had me welling up with emotion shortly after 21m20s… talking about the ability of a master musician to twist and bend sound to the point of creative imperfections… and it’s these imperfections which touch on the Sacred essence of music and as he says “The sacred nourishes us”.
As he describes this his voice literally begins to crack with emotion… unintentional and raw, and that just hit me so hard. I had to replay this section over a few times like I would my favorite song and then I suddenly realized why these words were so powerful. If I said them out loud like a bad cover song it would not be the same… Jordan Peterson is like a musical virtuoso of words and thinking, and that crack of emotion was exactly the same imperfection which makes magic in music. It so beautifully illustrated everything he had just described.
Often the best songs don’t use intentional imperfections, a great musician just knows how to allow imperfections to remain and work with them. Those imperfections are what really speak to our soul, they literally tug on our heart strings as if our chests are the cavity of an acoustic guitar. So what is the equivalent expression in visual art?
I’ve spent a fair amount of time in conversations this year about both music and art and a common questions raised is ‘how can visual art achieve the same degree of emotive response as music?’. Some people feel that it can’t be achieved through digital representation and only the tactile and visceral experience of art in person make this possible. But I don’t think that’s always the case, I don’t have to go to a concert live to feel great emotion from music and sometimes the lack of other stimulation helps me focus on the art itself. That’s not to say the shared human experience of art in the physical world is not important. Last year after months of lockdown I went to the Van Gogh Live show… a space filled with other humans experiencing the art of a master from centuries ago projected onto huge walls to classical music. It truly moved me and it wasn’t just the art itself but the combined stimuli surged together that had me welling up with emotion. Being amongst other people for the first time in months certainly heightened it! So the combination of visual art and music is certainly one way to achieve this but how can visual art in itself capture this essence of the sacred human experience Jordan Peterson has described?
No doubt plenty of people DO feel that way standing before a work of visual art but I suspect it’s far fewer than are affected by music in the same way. Is it simply because we’re conditioned that way, because so many of us grow up with music and the emotive response is that much deeper? I also would hazard a guess that hundreds of years ago when we weren’t so over-stimulated by various visual mediums that the average public would be far more overwhelmed standing before a painting than we are today.
I’m an intensely nostalgic person and as you can tell happy to admit to feeling strong emotions… but I also have to admit I have rarely, if ever felt a surge of emotion to the same degree standing in a white wall gallery looking at art. Perhaps to some degree standing before the work of great masters but it’s in part the rush of historic significance that strikes a chord in me. No matter how much I love the work on a purely aesthetic level I’ve never welled up looking at a painting or even a photograph for that matter unless it was something deeply personal.
If anything it’s the otherworldly escape that draws me to art, it’s the story it tells through symbolism and metaphor or the simple pleasure of colour and lines in a pleasing arrangement which appeals to my love of balance between perfection and chaos. It’s not because of a lack of emotional intelligence or awareness so if others struggle to connect with art in this way how do we take that experience to the next level.
Does the answer lie in harnessing these subtle imperfections in art and if this already exists in art how do we find those threads and weave them into something bigger that can touch the heart of the masses?
So I’ll leave it with more questions than answers… for now.