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Art basics from Herbie Hancock's album "Sunlight"

Updated on June 12, 2017

About Herbie Hancock

Herbie Hancock is one of the most prominent jazz authors of all time. Recording numerous albums with jazz legends such as Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea and Freddie Hubbard, Herbie Hancock is an impressive musician. His work features different styles and themes which makes him an outstanding source of inspiration for authors of all generations. It’s always great to learn from the masters of the craft. Therefore, in this article will be shown 4 basic art principles that can be found on Herbie’s album “Sunlight”.

The album

“Sunlight” is a great album. It’s one of Hancock’s smoother, radio friendly albums. It features the track “I thought it was you” as it’s single and most prominent track of the album. The album has a smooth theme and a tender approach to the listener. All music components are really mellow, which allows the listener to completely enjoy the repertoire of the album. Although it didn’t meet much of a critical acclaim, it is still a great album nonetheless. It will be used as an example to demonstrate the qualities every work of art should posses. The timelessness of art resides within it, and therefore, here is the list of 4 things you can learn about art from Hancock’s album “Sunlight”.

The 4 principles are

  1. The measure
  2. The theme
  3. The style
  4. The art must communicate

The measure

The measure is one of the oldest art principles, dating back to ancient Greece. The great thinkers of the past including Plato, wrote on the topic of measure. However, for the beginner artist it is most important to grasp the concept itself. The principle is best shown if we examine the work of art as a whole and in its segments.

In order to create under this principle the artist has to devote himself to constant work in order to achieve the principle. On Herbie’s example, you may note how enjoyable is to just listen the album and then again how great is each track by itself. This comes from the fact that by following the principle of measure, the author is capable of creating the segments which are great standalones, but also a great whole at a same time. The whole should be well composed from the segments.

The problem of whole and segments can be most easily seen in the work of beginner authors. The authors tend to express too much, and therefore their work lack essential balance that can be seen in master artist's work. The album "Sunlight" is a perfect example of measure as a principle. Every song on the album is a beautiful standalone. While the songs are great, they sound even greater as a whole. The listener is probed by insatiable enjoyment in every moment he spared for listening to the album.

To create under this principle, the beginner artists should find a way to compose a whole that can express the theme of their work efficiently, expose their style and communicate with consumer. Therefore, the artist accomplished the basics if he managed to compose artwork in such manner. However, it only counts if all these segments can easily flow within the artwork as a whole. This is rather hard to grasp, exceptionally for a beginner artist, and so the “Sunlight” album is a great example of the principle of measure.


However, a more detailed and advanced explanation is that every part you create should benefit the whole. The worth of the whole is determined by the worth of its parts. So, whatever you create, you should always strive to find the balance between the segments of the work itself, the theme and style. However, the whole should be made in such manner to captivate the enjoyer of your art. If you fail to comply to the mentioned elements, your work will surely suffer. So, its always good to stick to the basics.

The master at work
The master at work

The theme

The theme is the idea your work is based around. The purpose of theme is to ensure that the work of art has a message or an idea that is trying to explore. The strongly the theme is explored, the better the work is.

For the art beginners, its best to explore a certain theme that they are comfortable with. Once again, the theme is an exploration of an idea behind the work of art. In a way, the theme is to be explored and shown, you have to explore it deeply enough. By no means, the theme isn't something that just runs in the background of the art. It's much more than that. The exploration of the theme should be the starting point, since understanding the principle of measure and creating a style are much harder to achieve.

On Hancock's example, the title of the album is sunlight, and therefore the whole album resembles sunlight. It's warm, friendly, touching and smooth. You easily slide within it's layers, uncovering the secret depth, bringing the shining pearl of imagination from the shell that is your ear. The theme should be sought first, it's the root of the arwork.

The style

Style is one's own way of expression. Every author has his individual style, and it's defined by the author himself. The style itself is probably the hardest element to develop, As artist progresses, he needs an impeccable style to stand out from his contemporaries. However, the beginner artist should be more concerned about the work itself, than the style. The style will come as long as an artist is true to himself and devoted to work.

What a beginner shoulnd't do, is that he by any means should copy other artists. Herbie Hancock created under the myriad of styles, always staying devoted to his own spirit and originality. The "Sunlight" is an example of an outstanding style, that captivates the listener. However, his other albums are also amazing, always different in style.

The importance of constant work can't be emphasized enough. The birth of style comes only from the realization of the artist himself, and his work. The artist will never progress if he doesn't work. Therefore, of a prime necessity is to work on your art. Following the example of master musician, you have to work hard in order to achieve the mark of such greatness.

Therefore the cradle of style is work. Always keep that in mind.

A stylistic marvel

The art must communicate

The created art must communicate with the public. If this isn't the case, then the
artist is in a difficult position. While many authors create because of their personal needs,
somebody has to examine their art. The arts aren't made to confessions, they are what their
name states. They are arts. Therofere, the art is made to be enjoyed by both artist and
the public. And even so, the point of art is to create a situation of communication between
the artist and the enjoyer of art.

The example again, is the "Sunlight" album. You don't even have to be a jazz enthusiast in
order to like the album. You can just listen to it. Even so, it's better to know even a little
about the music and the origins of the authors style. Then, you can enjoy it even more.
However, the fact remains that this album is made in such manner that both tradional
jazz listeners and non-jazz listeners can both enjoy the album. This is the high point
art-wise, and that is something that every artist should have as a goal.

Even so, the beginner artist should put his efforts toward the clearness of the work
he is producing. Because, for a beginner it doesn't really matter what are you trying to
express. If the beginner is honest, he will understand he's limitations. What's important
is how you express it. And you should express it so that everyone can understand it.


True artist has no boundaries
True artist has no boundaries

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Tips

It's really hard to live up to the principles mentioned here. But, as you work
and progress, you'll notice that slowly, you are becoming better. The beginners
should take this path one step at the time.

After all, it's one of the hardest road a man can take.

You can also check out

You can cop the album here

Buy it


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