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ragingloli's avatar

Speculation time: Why do you think there is such a fundamental difference between visual art, and music?

Asked by ragingloli (35474 points ) January 22nd, 2013

When you look at the visual art that is most popular, they are almost exclusively depictions of objects known in the real world, or objects that resemble real life counterparts or combinations thereof. Even the most recent pinnacle of visuals, Avatar, is an example of that. Trees, animals, tall blue people, people, machines.

When you look at music however, it is mostly an arrangement of sounds that are not found in nature, and humans invented instruments to produce these sounds, from violins and pianos to modern electronic music where these sounds are further distorted.
If music where like visual art, it would be an arrangement of sounds found in the real world, like dog barks, bird song, thunder, wind, water, car engines, gun shots, wolf howls, etc, but instead they are all sounds that have been invented by humans.
Conversely, if popular visual art were like music, it would be abstract art, and Avatar would have been animated abstract art, abstract colours and shapes that have no connection to the real world moving around and morphing into different shapes.

Why do you think there is this obvious fundamental difference in the natures of visual art and music?

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7 Answers

tom_g's avatar

Great question. The best I can do is guess. Could it be that our musical instruments do in fact stimulate a response similar to things in nature? For example, might certain notes and frequencies stimulate areas of the brain that are activated during the cries of a baby or thunder or the roar of a predator? If so, it might not be that music and visual arts are so different. Rather, maybe music’s route to the stimulation of pleasure, fear, etc is more direct and less apparent to us.

When we hear a baby’s cry, we often associate the strong physiological response to the sound, but only as it relates to the visual baby. In other words, we don’t say “that 1500 Hz frequency at 60 dB is creating a feeling of extreme discomfort in me, and I want to act in a way that will make it stop.” Instead, it seems that we hear the sound, feel the discomfort, and are focused on fixing things in our “visual world”. But your question leads me to ask why if I am to create art expressing the discomfort of parenthood, will a painting likely feature a baby, while a piece of music might contain violins or guitar (and no baby). Again, I’m just speculating, but I would imagine that we are using violins and guitars to stimulate the same area of the brain (or attempting to), while the only visual tools we know of involve painting/drawing/sculpting visual models of the object.

Of course, this is excluding all other areas of modern visual art. I imagine that much of this work is designed to elicit the emotional response that a visual representation of the object has traditionally done. I suspect that there are people who view this art (say, a canvas with a red dot on it) and have it go straight to those areas that we get while we listen to music. So, to summarize – my complete guess on all of this is that music is a more abstract form of art in general and a more direct route to the emotional centers in our brain, and the instruments that create this music are likely to create frequencies that we associate subconsciously with things in nature. The result of this direct path is that we are likely to miss what it is that is causing us to feel a certain way. But with visual art, most of us are “on to it”. That is, we feel we can see the path that a piece will take as it makes its way into our experience of it.

Shippy's avatar

Aside from the obvious, that certain sound frequencies are more appealing to the brain, perhaps more sounds are taken from nature than we know. Rippling water, rainfall, thunder etc., all have their own rhythm. It’s a great question I have no flipping idea! (Perhaps a dog bark is enjoyable, and so it is repeated in music and abstracted?).

burntbonez's avatar

I think music does use the fundamentals found in nature. The relationships between the notes are found in nature. The rhythms are found in nature. You mention the howls of dogs, among other things (car engines and gun shots are not found in nature), and you find that rise and fall of pitches and the relative pitches at various points in a howl are things that humans imitate constantly. You may not recognize it out of context. Interesting fact: many animal pitches are in the key of D minor.

Anyway, since I can’t agree with your premise, I can’t answer your question.

zenvelo's avatar

It is said the violin is the closest man can come to replicating the human voice. But rather than be representational, much of music is emotional. Yet something like Vivaldi’s “Storm” is both.

And I am not sure there is quite the difference offered as the basis for the question. “Avatar” is junk, a cartoon. But what is classical art as anything more than emotional representation? The Venus of Willendorf is not exactly representational but an ideal and a fetish, Nude Descending a Staircase is like no nude I have ever had the pleasure of seeing.

flutherother's avatar

Great question. I think vision is the primary sense we rely on to construct a mental representation of the world. Those bits of the brain that process visual information are (I’m guessing) much more developed and sophisticated than the bits that process auditory, and other information. What we hear is important but secondary and only adds detail to the existing model of the world created by our eyes.

That being the case visual art has the richness to create the illusion of something real in our minds in a way that the representation of natural sounds can’t do.

Music is different, it isn’t natural but it has something of the richness of the visual experience. Why this should be is a mystery.

Unbroken's avatar

I see your point but I felt your portrayal of music left these aspects out.

When I am needing relaxation or to work on mental states I largely go to new wave or sounds of nature with underlying frequencies which aid in my entering that desired state of mind.

There are people people with perfect pitch that can tell you exactly what note a specific sound is and there is a website that where everyone records sounds from their corner of the world and people can listen to the “music.”

Also instruments like drums can mimic a heart beat or running feet pounding on anything from hardened turf to wobbly floors or crisp cement. Rain and percussion are startlingly similar and the list goes on. There is a particular artist that comes to mind Marian Call that uses things like a typewriter as instruments, but really the idea is old.. washboards, spoons, glasses, bottles, chimes, bells, some artists have had their children do background “vocals” or use telephones, pink floyd, or have used animals and laugh tracks to emphasize their music. The list goes on.

To me the visual experience is fundamentally different from the musical in that it is much harder to fully immerse oneself in. The art has to either capture you so you focus or it has to fully surround you. For me a musical experience of being carried away by the music can simply be in a car or a room with good speakers, a concert hall, or simply earbuds/headphones.

mattbrowne's avatar

Humans are visual creatures. Of all the brain’s resources dedicated to processing sensory input, about 80% is allocated to handling visual input.

Yet to our brain, only music is as enjoyable as sex. Visual art can’t do that.

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