Painting and Music

3 Music as a Model for the Arts

Musical aesthetics had a stronger influence on painters around 1800 than on individual composers or musical works. Arthur Schopenhauer was not alone in believing that all art aspires to the condition of music.[4] Schopenhauer credited music alone among the arts with the capacity to directly depict the will and to exist independent of — and even in the absence of — the world.

On the one hand, music was fascinating as an art form that was free of the obligation to imitate nature. On the other, romantic musical aesthetics celebrated musical art as a metalanguage that not only had a direct effect on emotion but also enabled a metaphysical dialogue with the distant realm of spirits (E.T.A. Hoffmann).[5] Music was therefore often seen as a potential role model for the other arts. Philipp Otto Runge was one of the first to attempt to portray structural associations between music and painting. The composition of the individual drawings in his graphic cycle Die Zeiten (The Times of the Day), conceived as early as 1803, corresponds to the characters of the four movements of a symphony. Had Runge completed the cycle in oil, as he had intended, he would also have portrayed the notion of the unity of color and sound.

Painters who reflected on the reciprocal influence of music and painting were not necessarily well versed in the rules of composition and harmony. Most of them sought inspiration at the abstract level of general art theory. Even Eugène Delacroix, who was a friend of Chopin’s, did not carry out a systematic comparison of music and painting.[6] The purpose of his reflections on music was to achieve clarity about his own artistic concerns. He was not interested in interminglin 最the arts or combining them in order to obtain some kind of special effect.[7] Mainly the debate revolved around the analogy between music’s and painting’s use of their respective creative means: these, in view of the intrinsic logic of artistic form, were seen to be able to develop their effect independent of the object. Principal representatives of this view were Charles Baudelaire and John Ruskin, with the latter writing in 1853: The arrangement of colors and lines is an art analogous to the composition of music, and entirely independent of the representation of facts.[8]

An anecdote about an ancient artist who arranged for trumpets to ring out behind a painting depicting a war scene in order to intensify the impact on the viewer drew the following sarcastic comment from Delacroix: You can’t create paintings depicting battles anymore without adding gunpowder. Eugène Delacroix, Journales I–III, ed. A. Joubin (Paris: Burty, 1932), 2:439–440.