The Jazz Age: Music and the Visual Arts Essay

The Jazz Age: Music and the Visual Arts

            Jazz music and the visual arts have always had an intertwined and complementary relationship with one another.  Following the line of thought that creativity breeds creativity, this brief essay will highlight the stylistic impulses and influences that helped to shape and change the worlds of jazz music and visual art through the musical examples of Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker and Duck Baker, with the visual artists Wassily Kandinsky, Jackson Pollock, and Pablo Picasso.  This paper argues that the accomplishments of these artists were due in large part to their shared artistic ideals that sought to change the way our lives can be interpreted and expressed.

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            One common thread that all of these artists were helping to articulate was a direct reaction to the conventional wisdom of the preceding era.  For example, Pablo Picasso spearheaded a whirlwind change in the painting medium through his Cubist mode of expression.  His artwork was a response to the classicism and formalism of the early Twentieth Century.  Along with George Braque, Picasso and Cubism broke down the whole in to its intersecting parts in a way that called into question the modern human’s condition.

            In a similar vein, Wassily Kandinsky’s artwork eschewed strict adherence to a particular style.  His philosophy and his painting tended to interpret the world through a set of changing lenses.  Kandinsky was also a practicing musician and the combined influence and inspiration between the two creative lifestyles could not be separated.  In his view, “Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the harmonies, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul.  He was one of the first major painters to develop and perfect forms of pure abstraction that call on the viewers subjective experience to mix with the visual elements of the painting in order to create a new interpretation of both painting and the world at large.

            In another visual art revolution, the American painter Jackson Pollock completely changed the way ‘painting’ can be imagined.  His splash work and drip method created a new visual aesthetic that took into account the physical realms of movement, density, gravity, and force.  His paintings are very large in scale and they confront the viewer in their pure physicality and energy.  Pollock was at the forefront of the avant-garde painting scene in the middle of the Twentieth Century and his improvisational and expressionistic artwork translated the similar ideas being furthered in the avant-garde jazz music scene.

            Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker was to jazz music what all of these painters were to the visual arts medium, which is to say he was a groundbreaking and innovative master.  In one of his most famous quotes and one that illustrates his philosophy on art, Charlie Parker said, “They teach you there’s a boundary line to music. But, man, there’s no boundary line to art.”  His improvisational and expressionistic alto saxophone playing relied on rhythm and harmonic elements that were interpreted in a highly emotional and personal style that was unmistakable.

            Duck Baker as an artist and a musician represents the face of avant-garde improvisational music today.  He is fluent in a vast diversity of musical styles, from rag to blues, country, gospel, and jazz.  He mastered the finger style approach that has given rise to a whole new generation of guitar players that emulate his style.  His musical style and philosophy all draw heavily from traditional styles in a way that changes them to fit his current state of mind which parallels the impulses of the abstract and Cubist painters.

            All of these artists share an affinity for innovation and creativity.  Their styles and influences overlap in both form and content and their creative approaches all draw from history with the idea of (re)appropriating what art is and what art can become.  All of these artists are landmark figures in the history of art and their impact on all future artists cannot be underestimated.

[Source: WebMuseum of Paris. (2009). Retrieved 23 March 2009, from http://www.ibiblio.org/index.html]