Are all arts the same?
I've considered myself an artist for most of my life. I started at art school when I was something like 10yrs old. I spent five years studying art at the University of Cincinnati and ended up getting a college degree in Fine Arts with an emphasis in sculpture. But while in college I got into dance as well. And when I say "got into" it wasn't some passing hobby that I participated in from time to time, it was an instant addiction that had me out dancing 5 nights a week for several years...and it never really disappeared. I still go out 1-3 nights a week and have a large number of friends that I know solely through the dance scene.
One of my dancing friends is also a singer/songwriter. It was through her that I was introduced to a place that I go to almost every Tuesday night now. It's a small bar in Bucktown with an open mic night that is attended by a number of Chicago's singer/songwriters with their guitars, their keyboards and/or a number of accompanists. Because of my regular attendance I've become friends with a number of musicians and they indulge me in discussions about music, about instruments, and my endless stream of queries about everything and anything that intrigues me--which, it seems, is a lot.
When I began dancing I found it natural that my figurative artwork could draw from my dance, and my dance was often viewed through my "artistically trained" eyes. I drew comparisons between movement in dance and visual "movement" or the dynamic flow of a sculpture, a painting, a drawing or other static artwork. The idea that music could be expressed through dance and even enhanced or emphasized; or that the dancer in someway "played" the music as much as another piece of the ensemble might, made as much sense to me as the expression of anything through color, light, form, mass, density, warmth, scale, texture and symbolism might in a sculpture.
As a figurative sculptor I would raise questions about my work and its relationship to real life : Is it a reflection of life, or a comment upon life? does it say something new about an experience, emotion, or belief people/I have? do I want to change my audience's mind, or expose them to something new? do I want to express something that my audience will understand better through my work? Do I want to use recognized symbols/gestures, or abstract forms to express something?
These type of questions were easily translated into questions about my dance: Should I dance to the melody or the rhythm? do I want to mimic the music or add to it? do I want to say something about the music through interpretation, translation, or by symbolic "commentary"? do I want to use recognized gesture or abstract reactions to the music?
So now I find myself a fan of singer/songwriters and I find a new set of questions and I feel as if in someway I should be able to connect them, although in some cases I don't know how.
In someways I've always felt that all art dealt with life and our experience of it. Perhaps this is a poor premise. But my questions like "Does it try to portray life, abstract life, or speak about life?" in art directly translated to "Does it try to imitate the music, or speak about it?" in dance. It seemed to make sense. Art was about art's relationship to life, and dance was about the relationship to music. But in music itself I find I don't know what the artist is dealing with. Surely music is also about life, but as life is not generally set to a score, music seems far removed from it. I tried to believe that music was just an expression of emotion, but that seems far too narrow.
The key to me seems to be abstraction. By taking something and making it in a different medium, all art is an abstraction of something else. A painting of an apple is not an apple. A sculpture of an apple is not an apple. No matter what you make, and how realistic it may appear, you are making a representation of an apple, and because it is not the "real" thing, it is in some form abstracted. Even the most hyper realistic pieces are abstractions because they are taking something and making it in a completely different medium.
So dance as well is a different medium. It is a visual medium representing an auditory medium, just as a painting can be a two-dimensional medium that is representing a three-dimensional item. These are not to say that the imitation is necessarily inferior, as the art often enhances the thing represented, or can make the most boring things spring to life. But none the less they are a shift, a change in mediums that brings a different aspect or view of the original.
So all of this had me questioning: what about music? What is it an abstraction of? The voice and song can be said to be an abstraction of speaking, but of music itself, in all it's nuance and complexity, what does it represent? It does not imitate in the way a painting might. It does not express one physical sense through another as dance may be said to embody music. Although there are rhythms and language that influence it, it does not seem to directly imitate or represent anything. It is in a realm of its own.
So my only thoughts, my only (unsubstantiated) conclusions have been that music DOESN'T imitate one of our senses, or some physical movement or object. But music DOES imitate life; because life is not only physical, as dance or a painting may represent. Life is time and life is cycles and life is balance, and life is emotion and experiences and things that are not static, things that are not physical, things that are not felt externally by one of the 5 senses, but felt internally and processed intellectually and experienced individually...So maybe music can be said to be nothing less than the imitation of our emotion, our experience, our spirit? An expression of the idea, of the feeling, of the thought, of the non-physical? A physical, auditory experience, made up solely of the waves of sound travelling through the air, as insubstantial, as indescribable, and as unique as the feelings and experiences they may portray....and yet another abstraction of life.