I should avoid being unduly pedantic or literal about the analogy between viewing an image and listening to music (see previous post). It is, after all, a metaphor and not a direct correspondence. I can readily accept that there's something similar, which may be enough to make the comparison worth playing with.
However, to unpack the formal 'relationships' seen in images surely requires some understanding of the terms used to describe the elements that they're said to contain. Machotka talks about relationships of size, colour, distance, balance and movement, plus patterns of tension and resolution.
There's much talk about music in Peter Khoroche's discussion of Hitchens' paintings (some of it taken from Hitchens' own writing). The vocabulary here includes Machotka's terms but is far broader and includes counterpoint, rhythm, echo, harmony (linear, tonal and colour harmony, in fact), and melody. There's talk of 'progress' and 'time' (analogous to features in music). More prosaically: form, shape, tone, contour, light/shade, solidity, flat, direction, gesture, weight, dark/light, warm/cool, up/down, in/out, 'large sombre areas' contrasted with 'short quick notes'. (Hitchens set great store by balancing all these pairs of opposites in his paintings.)
A convincing way to demonstrate understanding of the musical analogy would be to deploy some of these terms accurately; to recognise the presence of the various features in specific images, give an account of them and (best of all) explain their function or effect. And, if I can't do this myself yet, to amass examples in others' writings to begin to get the idea. So that's what I mean to do.
This post builds on the last, and picks up a couple of additional 'prior concerns'. Interestingly, the blurb on the back of Machotka's book identifies him as a professor of psychology and art. No surprise then to find discussions about the business of perception.
Two ways of perceiving: '[There are] two ways of looking... [i] mechanisms of identification and [ii] processes of organisation... Organising processes include groupings and segregations of objects, the formation of a coherent sense of space, and the perception of meaning or expression [which] may precede recognition... [for a brief moment] we may register only color, size, tilt, curvature, and other properties...
[Then there are] mechanisms of identification or recognition: of deciding what the thing is that one is looking at. They are schematic and require focused attention... we... need some sort of category or mental template, or schema, against which to judge the visual information available...
Purely abstract paintings may be subject to a different process. Since there are no objects to identify, organisational processes should dominate from the start.' (pp.36-37)
These ways of looking are 'rapid', 'require no specific attention', interpenetrate without our being aware of it', are even 'simultaneous' (p.36). They're certainly 'involuntary'.
I'm puzzled about how to view, how to understand, and ultimately how to make images which are abstracted or abstract. So I think I'm most interested in the 'processes of organisation'. What am I actually doing when I look at a painting, especially an abstract one? Can I get better at it? How?
An analogy: Reflecting on something as abstruse as perception is demanding. It's hard to describe processes that are involuntary, and essentially hidden. In this circumstance it's not unusual to resort to metaphor, to make things more accessible (in my experience gaining understanding is often little more than getting used to an idea, taming it by making it familiar).
Immediately preceding his discussion of perceiving, Machotka compares the experience of looking at a painting to that of listening to music: 'in listening we respond to the formal relationships of its notes - its melody - at the same time as we grasp the words, and the response to the melody is normally the more deeply emotional one of the two. With paintings, the shapes and surfaces that we recognise as objects, come also to be seen... as relationships - of size, color, distance, and above all of balance and movement. Colors will be seen primarily in relation to each other rather than by themselves, and they, too, will create patterns of tension and resolution. Experiencing a painting formally has much the same aesthetic effect as feeling the tensions produced by changes of key, repetitions of themes, changes of instrumental timbres, or resolved and unresolved chords.' (p.36) I suppose it sort of makes sense, but the seductive attraction of the analogy - and also its danger - is the temptation to suppose that because the emotional impact of music is 'understood' (i.e. experienced) this in itself makes the so-called-similar visual experience 'understood' too, simply by virtue of being told that they're quite like each other. But this is not automatic. It's entirely possible to know that one experiences something (an emotional response to a song, say) without knowing how or why it affects you, and - with or without such insight - transference to a different context (e.g. looking at a painting) might be entirely spurious. Surely the differences between the auditory and visual experiences are at least as great as any supposed similarities? And how 'understood' is the musical experience anyway? This probably needs quite a lot of unpacking.
Back in early December I mentioned that I'd got my hands on a book about Cézanne (in a post entitled 'The Sublime', 02/12/18). Well now I've read the book. It's Pavel Machotka's 'Cézanne: Landscape into Art'. In it Machotka places examples of Cézanne's landscapes alongside photographs of the sites that he depicted.
To feel the full force of Machotka's insights you'd need to know more than I do about others' interpretations of Cézanne's paintings, in particular ideas about the dominance of the formal qualities of his work with a consequent down-playing of the importance of the motif that inspired it. Without that preconception some of Machotka's ostensibly re-balancing arguments seem unsurprising. Having naively supposed that Cézanne was depicting real scenes more or less faithfully it can hardly come as a surprise to me to learn that he really was depicting real scenes more or less faithfully. To which fact, Machotka contends, the photos unequivocally attest. To put it bluntly, never having supposed that Cézanne was making stuff up I don't feel shocked to be told that he wasn't. That notwithstanding, it's a tension between 'vision' and 'invention' that lies at the heart of much that's discussed by Machotka, with his principal argument being that Cézanne managed masterfully to balance the two and not, as some have supposed, to lean heavily on invention.
The opening short chapters of the book discuss this and other 'prior concerns'. These chapters are, for me, the best parts because they're the most general and most generative of ideas that might be transferred elsewhere. The 'prior concerns' include:
The link between motif and painting: close or distant? Of landscape paintings that are only tenuously linked to their source Machotka says 'the canvas and the photograph [of the view] are too distant - perhaps just close enough for us to recognise the site - and we then fail to see how the one depended on the other. The site looks only as a pretext for painting, not as an invitation or an incitement. The painting continues to exist as an independent thing, not as the fruit of close observation and analytical thought' (p.9). I'd say by way of a couple of examples that this is true of almost all the works of Ilse D'Hollander and some of Ivon Hitchens. The observation suggests a continuum of images, ordered by the strength of the link between view and painting, from close to distant. Currently, I probably sit uncomfortably near the prosaic opposite, where 'canvas and... photograph appear only as alternative visual records... (where there is) little evidence of the painting as a process of selection, of emphasis, of incorporation into the painter's way of seeing' (p.9). To avoid which I'm tempted, for good or ill, to try to edge towards greater abstraction, albeit emphatically not at the expense of letting go of what's really there. This last is not a criticism Machotka levels at Cézanne: 'Although his treatment of a motif is always more interesting - integrated, whole, passionate - than the motif itself, it is a reconstruction based on attentive analysis' (p.30).