Art and Music by Jeannine Cook

I had been missing music in my life recently.  Then, oh joy, our hi fi system was repaired, and all of a sudden, music flows over and around me again like balm, like electricity, like sustenance.

Ludwig van Beethoven told us, "Music is the mediator between spiritual and sensual life." How right he was! For everyone, but, I suspect, especially for artists.  I cannot count how many times I have read of artists or heard artists saying that they always create art to the sound of music. I find that the type of art I am trying to do dictates to some degree the music to which I listen.  Gregorian chants or early choral music go beautifully with silverpoint drawing, while watercolours are far more eclectic! Life drawing too works marvellously to world music with a driving beat.

Different kinds of music, different rhythms.  Think of two wonderful artists who depicted music-making but who themselves made art that pulsed with rhythm - Romare Bearden and Jacob Lawrence.

Romare Bearden,  Out Chorus,  1979-80, etching and aquatint (Image courtesy of the Romare Bearden Estate)

Romare Bearden, Out Chorus, 1979-80, etching and aquatint (Image courtesy of the Romare Bearden Estate)

#55 Saxophone Improvisation - 1986, Romare Bearden

#55 Saxophone Improvisation - 1986, Romare Bearden

Jacob Lawrence (1917-2000),  The Seamstress,  1946 (Image courtesy of the University of Rochester Memorial Art Gallery)

Jacob Lawrence (1917-2000), The Seamstress, 1946 (Image courtesy of the University of Rochester Memorial Art Gallery)

Jacob Lawrence,  Play  (1999); silk screen(Image courtesy of the Lawrence Jacob Estate)

Jacob Lawrence, Play (1999); silk screen(Image courtesy of the Lawrence Jacob Estate)

Each of these amazing artists leaves an impression that they were marrying the music they heard with the images they saw in their mind's eye. Just as Alton S. Tobey described as he wrote, "There is a kinship between music and painting - with the same words used to describe both, as when a musical composition is said to have colour and a painting to have rhythm."  

Indeed, for me, music is art in real time, art is music in real time - but oh, it is nice to have the opportunity  to marry both together again.

Metalpoint's Voices by Jeannine Cook

Sometimes, when I am working in silverpoint - or metalpoint, when I include gold or copper in the drawings - I find that there is a wonderful parallel to music and musical instruments in these shimmering lines.  Perhaps my imagination runs away with me - who knows!

I find that the pure, simple line produced by silver being passed over a surface prepared with ground reminds me of the ineffable beauty of a boy's soprano voice as it floats out into Gothic vaults and dies away to a whisper.

Solitaire, Wild Acres,  silverpoint, Jeannine Cook artist

Solitaire, Wild Acres, silverpoint, Jeannine Cook artist

Perhaps  a drawing like Solitaire, Wild Acres could illustrate what I mean for the silver lines are essentially simple.  As I drew this image, the mountain air was crisp and thin, again a suitable parallel to a soprano voice.

Balsam Mountain Beech , silverpoint, Jeannine Cook artist

Balsam Mountain Beech, silverpoint, Jeannine Cook artist

When the silver lines are more sustained and yet their delicacy is evident, silverpoint reminds me of violins. The range and subtlety of this instrument is echoed in silverpoint's capabilities.  This drawing, Balsam Mountain Beech, shows some of these characteristics and was great fun to "orchestrate" as the leaves curled more and more as they dried out during the time I drew them.

A Day at Manassas Bog.  silverpoint, Jeannine Cook artist

A Day at Manassas Bog. silverpoint, Jeannine Cook artist

Silverpoint allows for deeper, complex tones, such as those of a violoncello.  Sometimes the choice of ground for the paper surface will allow these darker, more sonorous voices to emerge from the silver lines, just as the cello sings in that wonderful lower register.  A Day at Manassas Bog allowed me to explore this aspect of silverpoint, for the subject matter, all dried plants, seemed to resonate with deep memories of past seasons.

Mist on the River,  silverpoint, silver, Jeannine Cook artist

Mist on the River, silverpoint, silver, Jeannine Cook artist

Even the sound of a human whisper has a parallel, I feel, in some ways of using silverpoint.  Often whispers go from soft to loud, or vice versa. They seem staccato, truncated, random, muffled at times. This  drawing, Mist on the River, made me think of whispered voices carrying on the river Edisto as I sat quietly on the bank, early one fresh spring morning.

Grevillea,  silverpoint, Jeannine Cook artist

Grevillea, silverpoint, Jeannine Cook artist

Perhaps I am being more fanciful than ever, but a drawing like Grevillea makes me think of a piano playing.  The Grevillea tree is so wonderful in its silver-white to dark green-black and its pulsating energy sets up rhythms and harmonies that seem to echo those one hears so often, with delight, from a piano being skilfully played.  The leaves are sturdy, yet light, and the branches tough and resistant - similar to aspects of the piano, an instrument of such versatility. 

Fallen Palmetto,  silverpoint, Jeannine Cook artist

Fallen Palmetto, silverpoint, Jeannine Cook artist

My last "interpretation" of silverpoint's voices: when all the lines are working, some light, some dark, some deep, some quiet, but all in miraculous harmony, then one can perhaps think of the drawing as paralleling an orchestra playing.  Rhythms, pauses, simple passages and complex moments – a drawing can have those aspects that one finds also in an orchestra.  Fallen Palmetto, while I was drawing this complicated pattern, made me think of such an orchestral performance.

Sometimes, drawing can become even more fun to do when one imagines other aspects of the medium.  I love listening to all the voices that silver, gold and copper can produce.  It enriches the whole experience of drawing in metalpoint.

Celebrating Art in the Teeth of "the Crisis" by Jeannine Cook

In Spain, everyone knows exactly what you mean when you talk of "la crisis". Town halls, autonomous governments, the national government - they are all pretty well broke and red ink drips in all directions. One of the first areas of government expenditure in the Balearics to feel the effects of this fiscal crisis was the cultural scene. The sixteen years of autumn-winter internationally celebrated ballet company visits - gone. The opera season - decimated. The theatre season - hacked. And so it goes at present.

Nonetheless, there are wonderful bright stars in the cultural scene - private groups fighting back and ensuring that there are events that uplift and delight. Last week, there was a week of celebrating the visual arts and music in a small, jewel-like town, Santanyi, in Mallorca. The first weekend showed off the many local artists, while the second week's musical offerings ranged from popular to zarzuela to the single, wonderful performance of Mozart's Le Nozze de Figaro. Under a full moon, a huge courteous crowd of all nationalities sat in the open to be delighted by a beautifully presented and sung version of this delicious opera. It was so clever - the Teatro Principal's stage gets "reversed" for these outdoor performances so that everyone can sit in the open air; the orchestra is at the back of the stage and the singers' stage projects out against the glowing golden stone walls of the theatre. The quality of the singing was impressive and the whole performance was a reaffirmation of what can be done, in spite of "the crisis".

Yesterday showed the same spirit of joy and defiance for the reigning pessimism. In Palma de Mallorca, thirty-one galleries and museums opened their doors at seven p.m. for a wonderful Nit de l'Art. This annual event is sponsored by the Independent Association of Art Galleries in the Baleares (AIGAB) and the Art Palma Contemporani Association of Galleries, in conjunction with the museums and non-profit art spaces in town.

There was art for all tastes - from late 19th and early 20th century painters famed for their depictions of the natural beauty of the Balearics to the most allusive and fleeting performance art, with all manner of art in between. Interesting techniques, challenging concepts, humour and joie de vivre - it was all there to enjoy as you strolled through the historic narrow streets of Palma on a warm summer evening. Restored 17th, 18th or 19th century buildings, high-ceilinged and quirkily elegant, imaginatively adapted as permanent or temporary art galleries, floodlit golden monuments, strains of music floating down the streets beneath the tree canopy, smartly dressed people of all ages strolling, laughing, studying art intently.

It was a kalidescope of scenes that reaffirmed that the arts need to be part of all our lives, no matter what the economic situation.

Inate Artistry by Jeannine Cook

We have just been to a most beautiful concert at the Telfair Museum, in the Savannah Music Festival series of chamber music concerts with Daniel Hope and Friends, Accompanied and punctuated by huge claps of thunder from a dramatic storm, the musicians, playing Mendelssohn, Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms, created beauty and elegance that was soul-moving.

Yet, in the midst of all their amazing skill and the thrumming on the roof of the pelting rain, I could not help but marvel at their obvious delight and seriousness of enjoyment of making beautiful music. I was reminded of Picasso's statement that "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up." Whether in visual arts, ballet, music, singing, or whatever art form, the hallmark of a successful artist, it seems, is that the person remains childlike at some level. That sense of delight, of inquiry, of inquisitiveness and openness seems so necessary. It goes along with a sense of humour and an ability not to take oneself too seriously. Picasso, of course, embodied the impish and playful aspects of art amongst his many characteristics. Certainly his art bespeaks a childlike delight in the simple, the direct and the playful aspects of life.

The quiet camaraderie and sense of humourous enjoyment that showed in flashes between the musicians we heard today spoke to the same ability. Patrick Messina, the wonderful French clarinetist, or the cellist, Eric Kim, Daniel Hope with his extraordinary ability on the violin, or pianist Sebastian Knauer... all combine musicality with an obvious delight that Picasso would approve of. They have remained artists from childhood onwards. We all, in today's audience, were the richer for such artistry.

Art and Music by Jeannine Cook

I think that every artist is very aware of how necessary music is to his or creativity. Listening to music, classical, jazz or anything else, can help get the juices flowing, inspire and mesh with painting, drawing or any other creative activity. Most life drawing groups, for instance, that I have ever been part of have music playing in the background as a helpful adjunct to the drawing process.

It was thus with no surprise but considerable fascination that I read recently in the August 14th, 2010 edition of Science News about the latest research about "A Mind for Music", an entire section devoted to music, its effects on the human brain and thus its role in societies. One of the most interesting aspects was how far back our connections with music have been tangibly shown to reach. Vulture bone flutes, dating from 35,000-40,000 years ago, have been found in the famous HohleFels cave, near Ulm, Germany.

35,000 year old bone flutes from Hohle Fels

35,000 year old bone flutes from Hohle Fels

Nine thousand years ago, wing bones from red-crowned cranes in Jiahu, China, were fashioned into flutes with five to eight finger holes. Five thousand years ago, harps were played in ancient Mesopotamia. Before all these instruments, there were most probably percussive stones, bones or sticks being played. How many of the early musical sounds were inspired by nature is of course open to speculation, but it puts me in mind of Lord Byron's verse: "There's music in the in the sighing of a reed;/There's music in the gushing of a rill;/ There's music in all things, if men had ears:/ Their earth is but an echo of the spheres."

The noted neuroscientist, Daniel J. Levitin, who is a specialist in matters neuro-musical as well as being a consultant in the music industry, once remarked, " Music may be the activity that prepared our pre-human ancestors for speech communication and for the very cognitive representational flexibility necessary to become human." Since we now know that almost all the areas of the brain are affected in some fashion when we listen to music, his theory makes eminent sense. It is also interesting that visual art also shows up so early in the early records of human beings, as another form of communication and celebration of life. (See my earlier blog about evidence of art-making 164,000 years ago.) Vital roots that enrich us all today, so many thousands of years later.

There are countless examples of artists who weave music into their creative lives - not only in paintings and drawing, but in videos, installation art, and beyond. One interesting example of the role of music in art is Edgar Degas: his paintings and drawings not only address the playing of music but the movement of dancers to music and opera scenes. He apparently was friends with many of his contemporary French composers and musicians, and had had a musical childhood with family members singing and playing the organ. The close links between his art and music were explored in an 2009 exhibition, Degas and Music, at the Hyde Collection in New York's Lake George region. A good description of the exhibition and Degas' deep love for music which ran through all his art can be gleaned from David Brickman's blog. It makes one regret not having seen the exhibition.

Other artists use the music itself as inspiration for art. Paul Klee and Kandinsky come readily to mind, but many of the early 20th century artists turned to jazz and other current forms of music to act as a springboard to art creation - Gino Severini in Italy, August Mackeand fellow German Abstract Expressionist Franz Marc, and Russian KazimirMalevich.

I find myself sometimes moved to create a piece inspired by music. This silverpoint, Spem in Allium, is inspired by Thomas Tallis' music of the same name.

Spem in Allium , silverpoint and acrylic, Jeannine Cook artist. Private collection

Spem in Allium, silverpoint and acrylic, Jeannine Cook artist. Private collection

We are all heirs of those early flute and harp players who knew that "music is the poetry of the air", as Jean Paul Richter observed some two centuries ago.

The Power of Art by Jeannine Cook

One of the most eloquent reminders I have met recently of the power of art to overcome even the most appalling of situations and experiences is the 1963 novel by the Czech writer, Josef Bor, entitled The Terezin Requiem. I found this slender book, republished in 2006 in French in the Livre de Poche edition, at Barcelona airport; it was a fortunate purchase. If you are lucky, I think it can be found in English, sometimes with the title, The Theresienstadt Requiem.

Although this is a novel, it is based on a true story. Josef Bor, a legal expert, was sent to Terezin, "the antichamber to Auschwitz", in June, 1942. Most of his family was killed in Poland, Terezin or Auschwitz. He was eventually liberated from Buchenwald in 1945, and in 1963, he published this book. It is about the Czech pianist and orchestra director, Raphael Schächter, who spent from November 1941 until October 1944 in Terezin; he was then transported to Auschwitz. During his time at Terezin, after eighteen months of the most determined and heroic work, he managed to put on a concert of Giuseppe Verdi's Requiem, with four soloists, a choir of one hundred and fifty singers and two pianos en lieu of an orchestra. To achieve that, he had to teach and rehearse with at least five hundred prisoners, because the Nazis kept sending off the singers to Auschwitz to be exterminated.

Image of deceased Czech composer Rafael Schächter

Image of deceased Czech composer Rafael Schächter

The book is a most beautiful and moving paean to the power of art to advocate for liberty and justice. Verdi's Requiem becomes the vehicle to assert the essence of human dignity, the absolute rejection of Nazi barbarism. Bor writes superbly, moving one through the incredible labours and odyssey of Schächter rehearsing and achieving the performance of the Requiem, which, as in real life, was ultimately produced - by a quirk of fate - with Eichmann, Moese and fellow SS high command in the audience.

Verdi's music is used to tell the story of the emotions, the suffering, the deeply shared empathies of the musicians. Aria by aria, the words, written by an Italian and rooted in the Catholic faith, are sung by Jewish prisoners as the ultimate resistance to their Nazi oppressors. Bor makes one understand just why this musical art can be so potent, so universal.

I don't think I will ever listen to Verdi's Requiem again without having in mind this beautiful account of music's redemptive, triumphant power in the name of freedom.

The Arts and Young People by Jeannine Cook

On Sundays, I frequently listen with fascination and pleasure to the NPR programme, "From the Top", hosted by Christopher O'Riley, during which amazingly talented young people play classical music and talk with Christopher. This past Sunday, a delicious young woman, aged nine, was interviewed and then played Franz Liszt's Gromenreigen (Dance of the Gnomes). Her name is Umi Garrett and she is garnering prizes and kudos both in the United States and Europe for her mastery of the piano. What interested me and resonated especially was that her early talent for music was also accompanied, from 2 1/2 years old, by classical ballet. She also loves to paint and is good at maths, science and a host of other things.

In other words, she is a stellar example of what can happen when a young person is exposed to the best in what the arts can offer. It is not just in school that children need to be exposed to the arts, it is in everyday life, in every imaginable sphere. This is one area where it becomes so serious that the Georgia Legislature envisages elimination of the Georgia Council for the Arts, the central state funding mechanism that fosters the arts. When possibilities for young people to attend performances of music, ballet or theatre, to visit art museums, galleries or festivals or learn of new forms of art in the public arena dry up, the general level of culture is diminished.

I know personally how memorable live performances can be to a child. Growing up on a farm in Tanzania, there were few such opportunities. It was thus all the more special that on my first trip to England, my mother made a special effort to ensure that I was able to see the Royal Ballet dancing Swan Lake. I was five years old - it was magical - and I have loved ballet ever since. In the same way, a year or so later, the legendary pianist, Paul Badura-Skoda, came to our nearby town, Arusha, to visit his brother. He was persuaded to give a piano recital, in a small theatre with a tin roof ... it rained during his performance and the din above seemed only to underline the exquisiteness of his interpretations of Chopin or Mozart pieces. That evening was one of the most memorable moments of my life - I was so excited that I was soon learning to play the piano myself, not at all well, I hasten to add. But the whole experience helped make me forever a lover of music.

This  recording was made about the time I firstheard Paul Badure Skoda play the piano.

This  recording was made about the time I firstheard Paul Badure Skoda play the piano.

I was lucky - my family made the effort to give me such opportunities. But in Georgia, if opportunities for young people dry up, then we are all the poorer.

Art and the Mystery of Personal Taste by Jeannine Cook

I am always fascinated by the mysterious forces that impel each of us to make choices, in all sorts of realms, but especially in music and visual arts. For instance, you arrive as a visitor in a new city, and in deciding what to do and what to see, there is frequently the choice first of which museum to visit, and then, within that museum, which type of art to see. It is often an easy series of decisions if you are used to doing it, but even then, the way one chooses is often a subliminal, almost instinctive affair.

Experience helps. The more one visits museums and other places where art, two or three-dimensional, is displayed, the more one refines one's choices. The decisions often boil down to seeking to widen one's knowledge or wanting to see types of art which are already generally known and appreciated. I personally find that I will always head for an exhibition of drawings, if possible, because I am utterly enthralled by the directness of the dialogue with an artist who uses a drawing medium. There is nowhere to hide when you draw - you show yourself as an artist, warts and all, particularly when you are using a medium like silverpoint which precludes any erasures. Most drawing media - graphite, charcoal, ink, silverpoint, etc. - allow a subtlety of expression and depiction that one seldom finds in painting. There is also a wonderful expansion of the definition of drawing today, with many novel uses of paper, media, even attitude. The result is a continuous challenge to any preconceived notions of what one personally likes or even defines in terms of draughtsmanship. These are just a small smaple of drawings that I consider totally sublime and memorable.

Head of a Young Man (?)   by Michelangelo , ca. 1516, red chalk, 8 x 6 1/2. Collection Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, England.

Head of a Young Man (?) by Michelangelo, ca. 1516, red chalk, 8 x 6 1/2. Collection Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, England.

Young Woman Looking Down (Study for the Head of St. Apollonia)   by Peter Paul Rubens , 1628, black and red chalk heightened with white, retouched with pen and brown ink, 16 5/16 x 11 1/4. Collection Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy.

Young Woman Looking Down (Study for the Head of St. Apollonia) by Peter Paul Rubens, 1628, black and red chalk heightened with white, retouched with pen and brown ink, 16 5/16 x 11 1/4. Collection Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy.

Woman Carrying a Child Down Stairs by Rembrandt , ca. 1636, pen and brown ink with brown wash, 7 3/8 x 5 3/16. Collection Morgan Library, New York, New York. “

Woman Carrying a Child Down Stairs by Rembrandt, ca. 1636, pen and brown ink with brown wash, 7 3/8 x 5 3/16. Collection Morgan Library, New York, New York. “

Yesterday I was marvelling at the mysterious delights of personal taste in music as well. It was during another of the wonderful Savannah Music Festival concerts, the second in the Sensations series of chamber music recitals held in the acoustic delight of the Telfair Museum of Art's main gallery. The programme was again the result of skilled personal tastes in selecting the concert's music and then my personal choice of that particular performance versus another being offered last night. Violinist Daniel Hope , violist Philip Dukes , pianist Gabriel Montero and friends played Dvorak's Piano Quartet in E-flat Major,Opus 87, in the first half of the concert. Brahms' String Sextet No. 2 in G Major Opus 36 was played after the intermission. Both pieces were ineffably beautiful and wonderfully played. I personally preferred - if one could prefer one or the other in truth - the Dvorak because I loved the lilting melodies that he had incorporated from Bohemian folk songs and the wonderful subtle treatment of strings and piano dialogues. Yet all around me, I heard differing opinions - some loved the first piece, others preferred the Brahms. As in art, every person brought their own experiences to the choice of music.

In the end, it is a miracle that so many of us like the same music, the same art. It underlines that there are universal attributes to works of art that resonate with most people, often subtle, mysterious attributes, but nonetheless very powerful ones.

Artistic Individualism by Jeannine Cook

Last night, the 2010 Savannah Music Festival opened with a wonderful celebration. The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, directed by Robert Spano, played Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5 - lifting hearts and expanding minds. The second half of the programme opened with a flutter of anticipation because Lang Lang, slender and youthful, came out on stage to play Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor.

Portrait of Frédéric Chopin   (originally part of a larger painting showing Chopin and Georges Sand), 1838, oil on canvas, Eugene Delacroix (Image courtesy of the Louvre, Paris)

Portrait of Frédéric Chopin (originally part of a larger painting showing Chopin and Georges Sand), 1838, oil on canvas, Eugene Delacroix (Image courtesy of the Louvre, Paris)

As he played, I was fascinated at his butterfly approach to the delicacy and complexity of Chopin's ravishingly beautiful music. His lightness of touch and sensitivity to the nuances in the music made me think back to other pianists whom I have heard interpret this Concerto. Lang Lang has a very different approach, I decided, and his individualistic approach made me feel that Chopin would be very gratified at this interpretation. Essentially music suitable for a younger pianist, I would argue, this Concerto allowed Lang Lang to show his own understanding of Chopin's musical record of his infatuation for a fellow student at the Warsaw Conservatory, Constantia Gladkowska.

As I listened with delight to the music, I could not help thinking about the aspects of any artist's individualism, in any discipline. A musician has to hew to the notes written by the composer, but the interpretation is his or her own in terms of emotion infused into those notes, in conjunction with the other musicians and orchestra director. A visual artist has another task in terms of defining individualism: first the concept and execution of an artwork has to come from within that artist. Only after creation of the piece of art can a viewer appreciate the individuality of that piece and hence the hallmark of the artist. Perhaps, in fact, the visual artist has the easier task, for the musician has to work within much narrower confines to define his or her essential artistry.

Lang Lang's wonderful technical and interpretive skills, complemented by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra's superb playing, allowed Savannah to glory in great musical beauty last night.

"Seeing with new eyes" by Jeannine Cook

I am still immersed in drawing spring flowers and was thus thinking further about looking at things as if it were for the first time. Change the light that is shining, for instance, on a white azalea, and it instantly becomes a new entity. That is an aspect of working from real life, particularly en plein air, which makes for perpetual challenges and interest. You have to decide to "freeze" light at one stage or another and then try and keep to that consistent light play. Otherwise, your drawing or painting can become rather incoherent if you are hewing to realism. On the other hand, it also means that you can do a completely new work, a new "landscape", without moving from your chosen site.

It is not only in visual art that seeing things in an active way brings rewards. I came upon a statement Professor Alison Richard, Vice Chancellor of Cambridge University (, made in a newsletter about fundraising for Cambridge's 800th Anniversary Campaign. In it, she quoted Marcel Proust saying, " the real voyage of discovery lies not in seeking new landscapes but in seeing with new eyes" and celebrated that the Campaign had brought new eyes to Cambridge. Fresh appraisals of all and everything are often worthwhile - from how the US Government is run, thanks to the Obama Administration's new eyes, to an interpretation by Ian Bostridge ( at the Savannah Music Festival ( of Schubert's songs, that I have not heard since I listened to a long-ago recital by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. If one is open and curious, new landscapes abound.

Listening to the Schubert songs, I reverted to thinking visually, seeing colours in Ian Bostridge's beautiful sounds and interpretations. Somehow, in some of the Lieder, there were effects that Sonia or Robert Delaunay would have loved to paint, I felt. A capricious thought, possibly, but one I would not have had without metaphorical "new eyes".

Sonia Delaunay, 1914, Prismes électriques, oil on canvas, (Image courtesy of Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris)

Sonia Delaunay, 1914, Prismes électriques, oil on canvas, (Image courtesy of Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris)