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We're all moved by music. But does art move you too?

Updated on April 9, 2013
Corinna Nicole, "In His Own World," Acrylic on Canvas (2007)
Corinna Nicole, "In His Own World," Acrylic on Canvas (2007)

You never hear of anyone professing their love for someone by sending them an image of a painting that contains the goddess of love. But we've all sent our lovers a link of that one song that says everything we couldn't have said better.

We constantly make plans to see bands or singers perform, but too many people can say they have never stepped foot in an art museum, except for that one field trip in elementary school.

When an artist updates their twitter status, stating, "Been in the studio all day working. Just finished a new piece!," it's no surprise when a follower tweets back "What kind of music do you make?" The artist has to clarify - art studio.

On a beautiful sunny day at the park, we often come across a musician strumming on their guitar - many of us will stop for a few minutes to appreciate his song, and toss a dollar or two in his tip jar. But when there's a painter at the park, painting the scenery around them, most won't bother to stop and watch, much less give a tip.

There's no question here - while both are forms of art, music has a more prominent presence in our lives than fine art does. Many have also stated that they "just don't get art." I have some ideas as to why music seems to be more comforting and play a larger role in our lives, and some pointers on how to enjoy fine art more.


Music is introduced to us before we are even born. Mothers often place headphones on their pregnant belly.
Music is introduced to us before we are even born. Mothers often place headphones on their pregnant belly. | Source

We hear before we see.

Before we're even born, our mothers sing and read to us while we're in the womb. Some mothers even strap headphones around their pregnant bellies and play Mozart tunes for their unborn child. Once we're born and laying in our cribs at night, we can barely make out the shapes of the mobile hanging over our heads - but we're rocked to sleep by the music that comes from those swaying shapes.

On the contrary, most people aren't introduced to fine art until many years later - usually because of a field trip to an art museum during elementary or middle school. We take history classes in middle and high school, but we don't take art history classes until we get to college and only if we are art majors. Unless your parents are art aficionados or artists, it's probable that art isn't instilled in you like music is.

So it's natural that we all find comfort in music. And art, quite frankly, makes many people uncomfortable, especially contemporary art. Long, long ago, art was generally literal. Portraits of the wealthy, scenes of the middle class and the poor, religious interpretations, landscapes and still lifes were the most common images found in art. Today, we see canvases painted in one solid color. We see random dates painted on a black background. We see random scribbles covering a museum wall. Art has become more abstract in thought and increasingly conceptual. The general public doesn't know what to make of this art, so they simply dismiss it.

Here I am examining a Sol LeWitt drawing on a wall at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of Dr. Kelly Wacker
Here I am examining a Sol LeWitt drawing on a wall at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of Dr. Kelly Wacker

Art is harder to understand than music.

Humans are naturally oratory people. Stories are passed from generation to generation. We generally converse through spoken word. With approximately 13% of the United States population being deaf or hard of hearing, that means 87% of the population relies on speaking verbally to communicate.

People connect with the words in songs. They understand the words and the sentences those words form. They understand the emotion that's being portrayed because of the definition of the words. But even if we don't understand the words, the beat of the music moves us.

Art, on the other hand, even if it moves (a video projection for example), usually elicits a static response from the viewer. We stand still and look. Art requires us to rely on our visual interpretation to understand it. With the exception of artist statements that occasionally accompany a series of works or a brief title next to the art, it is almost entirely up to the viewer to decide what a specific work of art is about.

And while a song often is understood the same by the masses, if fifty people were asked to interpret the same painting, there would likely be fifty varying responses. To many, the fact that there is no one interpretation for a work of art, makes them question whether they are right or wrong.

A man contemplating paintings. Photo and paintings by Corinna Nicole.
A man contemplating paintings. Photo and paintings by Corinna Nicole.

Art requires you to think.

I won't speak for all music with words, but generally, you don't have to think much to understand (or think with confidence that you understand)what the song is about. You can spend 1-3 minutes listening and can immediately relay what the song is about to one of your friends. Not much dialogue happens afterwards, other than "I love the song!" or "That song is stupid." More and more, songs lyrics are becoming a slew of repetitious words or phrases, making it easier to memorize an entire song after hearing it just two times.

Visual art asks more from the viewer. Art wants you to stand with it for a while. It wants to evoke your memories and bring your experiences to the table. Art wants to challenge you. It will ask you to acknowledge what certain colors mean to you or why the dark shadow coming from the corner takes you back to the fear you had of monsters in your closet when you were a little kid.

Art does not spell things out for you like a song does. Art requires you to think - to dig deeper within yourself. Most importantly, art asks you to have confidence in your interpretation, while also accepting the interpretation of the next viewer.

Sound versus silence.

For some reason, silence is awkward for many people. Isn't one of the most uncomfortable feelings when we get on an elevator with a bunch of strangers? Or when we're on a first date, and neither of us knows what to say - those ten seconds of silence feel like eternity! Even when there's a room full of people and suddenly everyone is quiet at the same time - everyone looks around to see who will start off a conversation as someone awkwardly clears their throat.

Silence makes us uncomfortable, and an easy solution is often for someone to say, "Hey, turn up that song!"

So it's no surprise that people feel uncomfortable visiting an art museum, where quiet is encouraged. I kid you not, while visiting a museum once, a small group of us were talking excitedly about a painting we happened upon, and twenty seconds later, a guard comes around the corner and asks us to quiet down! At the same time, it's understandable that silence accompanies art, as we should be able to listen to our thoughts and feelings.

Art isn't always a painting or sculpture. Video art is another form of art you might find at a gallery or museum. Photo of myself watching a video by artist Chris Vargas.
Art isn't always a painting or sculpture. Video art is another form of art you might find at a gallery or museum. Photo of myself watching a video by artist Chris Vargas.

Some reasons to make art more present in your life.

• Your friends and love interests will be impressed. While art may not be popular among most, everyone believes that art is a form of high culture. It's rare to hear someone talking about a work of art they enjoyed, so to hear you talking about it, will have your friends bragging how educated and classy you are.

• We all agree that music can take us to an emotional place, but so can art. If you just take a moment to spend time with a work of art, you'll find that you are recalling things that you have seen in real life or experiences you have lived through. Once you allow yourself to be affected by art, you'll be impressed with yourself.

• Not all art is a painting, drawing or sculpture. While some of you reading might say you already knew this, there's a surprisingly large number of people who don't know what land art, installation art, conceptual art, video art, or performance art are...just to name a few. Trust me people - there's more to art than you might think.

• It's usually free!!! That's right folks - galleries are typically free. All you have to do is walk into one and take a look around. Art museums can be a little trickier. Some museums have their collection on view free to the public, but they will likely charge if you want to see a visiting exhibition. This means you are allowed to see everything the museum owns and has on display, but they may have a gallery or two blocked off and will only allow you entrance if you pay to see that specific exhibition. Other museums may choose to charge admission every day, but most of them will have a free day once a month! Simply visit the museums website before visiting and find out the details.

Art galleries usually provide wine and snacks for opening receptions. Photo featuring art by Corinna Nicole, courtesy of Tai Rockett.
Art galleries usually provide wine and snacks for opening receptions. Photo featuring art by Corinna Nicole, courtesy of Tai Rockett.

How to be more comfortable with art.

If you think of art as being stuffy, here are a few ways to make art more enjoyable for you:

1.) Go to art galleries during opening receptions. Opening receptions are usually held the first day of a new show - sometimes this date is pushed back a little to work with the gallery's or the artist's schedule. But whenever it is, it's usually equipped with wine and beer, crackers and cheese, sweets and treats, AND, guess what? Music! It's also when most people will go to the gallery, so you're guaranteed to be surrounded by lots of talking and laughter. And art people are almost always quirky and "weird" (in a good way), so there is absolutely no chance of boredom for you!

2.) Drink wine. Now, I'm not saying to see art while intoxicated, but drinking some wine while checking art out will certainly relax you and make you feel more free to express your opinions and ideas about the art you see. You'll worry less about "saying the right thing" and feel more confident about your interpretations.

3.) Go to art walks or go gallery hopping. When events like these are organized in your city, you should definitely take the opportunity to go. They bring out lots of people of different ages, races and backgrounds. There will be the art collectors and those who simply go to be around people. Usually, there will also be live bands and other performances happening, along with food trucks or food tents. You'll find vendors selling jewelry, coasters and so much more. And often, these events are free.

4.) Go to a museum with someone else that "doesn't really get art" or is uncomfortable with it. This way, neither of you will be intimidated by the other's interpretations and you can both find comfort in not knowing what a particular work of art is about. You won't feel pressured to find the right words, or to use art terms to describe what you see; instead you'll just be hanging out with a friend.

5.) Find out when artists give talks about their art. The best way to understand art, is to hear about it from the artists themselves. Museums (and galleries) often arrange for artists to give a talk about their work. Browse the museum's schedule of upcoming events and go on the day that the artist will be there. There is always a question and answer portion after the artist finishes speaking, so this is a great time to inquire about anything you'd like clarification on.

Artists often give talks about their work. Check art museums' schedule of events to find out when you should go. Photo of Corinna Nicole giving an artist talk at the Berkeley Museum of Art. Courtesy of Sandie Yi.
Artists often give talks about their work. Check art museums' schedule of events to find out when you should go. Photo of Corinna Nicole giving an artist talk at the Berkeley Museum of Art. Courtesy of Sandie Yi.

"...you have to educate yourself as a viewer by seeing more and more. The more you see, the more you understand." - Jennifer Bartlett, artist

How present is art in your life?

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    • Life of an Artist profile image
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      Corinna Nicole 22 months ago from Huntsville, AL

      Admittedly, the comparison between music and art here is a bit of a stretch, as it all really depends on the person and the type of music and type of art. But I am truly enjoying the comments and insight from all different perspectives! Thank you to everyone that continues to read and comment.

    • profile image

      Sara 22 months ago

      I think the reason why people are generally moved more by music is because sounds are more abstract than images. Whenever people look at say, a painting, the first thing they try and figure out is what it is. If they don't see a "thing," or the "thing" is confusing, they are frustrated. But you can't do that with music, because it is less tangible. I think people should look at art and not be quick to name what it is, but how it makes them feel. At least that's what I'm trying to do in art school... it's hard but fun lol. I don't think the issue is that art is harder to understand than music per se...rather it's the fact that people try to understand art whereas they don't try to understand music... you don't listen to a song and say "what am I hearing? Ok, a hand clapping, a whistle, what could that mean, hmm.." and for some reason people do that with visual art, "why is there a person holding a balloon next to a giant plant, whaatt??"

    • profile image

      Bernd Willimek 3 years ago

      Music and Emotions

      The most difficult problem in answering the question of how music creates emotions is likely to be the fact that assignments of musical elements and emotions can never be defined clearly. The solution of this problem is the Theory of Musical Equilibration. It says that music can't convey any emotion at all, but merely volitional processes, the music listener identifies with. Then in the process of identifying the volitional processes are colored with emotions. The same happens when we watch an exciting film and identify with the volitional processes of our favorite figures. Here, too, just the process of identification generates emotions.

      An example: If you perceive a major chord, you normally identify with the will "Yes, I want to...". If you perceive a minor chord, you identify normally with the will "I don't want any more...". If you play the minor chord softly, you connect the will "I don't want any more..." with a feeling of sadness. If you play the minor chord loudly, you connect the same will with a feeling of rage. You distinguish in the same way as you would distinguish, if someone would say the words "I don't want anymore..." the first time softly and the second time loudly.

      Because this detour of emotions via volitional processes was not detected, also all music psychological and neurological experiments, to answer the question of the origin of the emotions in the music, failed.

      But how music can convey volitional processes? These volitional processes have something to do with the phenomena which early music theorists called "lead", "leading tone" or "striving effects". If we reverse this musical phenomena in imagination into its opposite (not the sound wants to change - but the listener identifies with a will not to change the sound) we have found the contents of will, the music listener identifies with. In practice, everything becomes a bit more complicated, so that even more sophisticated volitional processes can be represented musically.

      Further information is available via the free download of the e-book "Music and Emotion - Research on the Theory of Musical Equilibration:

      www.willimekmusic.de/music-and-emotions.pdf

      or on the online journal EUNOMIOS:

      www.eunomios.org

      Enjoy reading

      Bernd Willimek, music theorist

    • Life of an Artist profile image
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      Corinna Nicole 4 years ago from Huntsville, AL

      Thank you KrisL! You're right, there are many genres of music that have a reputation of being "hard to understand" or "get into," but I think in general, most people have music in their life, far more than fine art. ;)

    • KrisL profile image

      KrisL 4 years ago from S. Florida

      Interesting . . . I'm not sure that your comparison between art and music is quite accurate though, because many people have the same kind of wariness about music that is unfamiliar, requires attention, and has a reputation for being "high brow," including classical, and even some jazz.

      Voted up!

    • Boots Iacono profile image

      Boots Iacono 4 years ago from Northern New Jersey

      I wish I could have gone more in-depth with my last reply, because I actually dug quite a few layers due to curiosity after I found that article... I'm a bit strapped for time though...

      By the way... please, call me Boots.

    • Boots Iacono profile image

      Boots Iacono 4 years ago from Northern New Jersey

      well, they used to play tones over short wave radio to create pictures (spectrographic)... i looked up a few things on youtube... (originally I found the content in an article on cracked.com...) here they are:

      Look at number six in the list in this cracked article:

      http://www.cracked.com/article_18896_10-mind-blowi...

      and in this youtube video (start the video at about 5:27)

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u-KMFxzA_Lk

      after you see that part, watch the whole video as you can hear the sounds that draw the pictures... and he has a lot of hidden abstract drawings hidden in there... I know, it can't really be considered music, but its still art on two fronts, because while its not music, its not entirely harsh on the ears.

    • Life of an Artist profile image
      Author

      Corinna Nicole 4 years ago from Huntsville, AL

      Thanks everyone for your comments and insight. I have re-vamped the title and a few notes to be more clear in my goal of the article. I appreciate you taking the time to read!

    • profile image

      Self Harm 4 years ago

      Mr Botting thanks, Bataris Box Theory, interesting.

      Mr Iacono,

      It would be far more interesting if you had some names that could be looked up regarding this information "70's-80-'s band, oscilloscope, pictures, artist, cats" as it would make this page a just a little bit more informative. As for images through the "air waves" they would be the same air waves that pictures travel down anyway for TV's just a radio transmission, a different frequency maybe and irrelevant.

    • Boots Iacono profile image

      Boots Iacono 4 years ago from Northern New Jersey

      Sure you can play sound using an image... you can also do vice versa... I forgot the name of the band, but in the 70's-80-'s, there was this one tripped out band, where if you played a certain part of a song through an oscilliscope, you would see pictures of the artist, his cats, etc. Ham radio operators used to send low res images through the airwaves long before the invention of the jpeg... as a matter of fact it was the idea behind digital images... you would find this fascinating, especially the band I mentioned before. If I find it I will post it here.

    • profile image

      Ted Botting 4 years ago

      Visual images enter the brain through the eyes hence they are visual.

      Music enters the brain through your ears hence it is sound.

      The only connection between sound and vision is my brain.

      Hence I have never seen sound or listened to visual images.

      I have seen things being disturbed by sound which could be loosely interpreted as a sound generated visual image.

      The only connection between sound and vision is my brain.

      I create music based on images and images based on music but I am not able to play music with an image. I could perhaps make music with a machine that triggers and controls sound wave lengths through lasers but that is about as close as I can get to visual art making any kind of music.

      That was the very insignificant point I was trying to make.

      As we can now see so much is missing when it comes to putting visual art into any context because it is virtually everything except perhaps sound.

    • Life of an Artist profile image
      Author

      Corinna Nicole 4 years ago from Huntsville, AL

      I definitely feel that music helps ease the tension/ helps relax people. It lightens the mood

    • Boots Iacono profile image

      Boots Iacono 4 years ago from Northern New Jersey

      even in galleries, music is usually played.

    • Life of an Artist profile image
      Author

      Corinna Nicole 4 years ago from Huntsville, AL

      Yes, you are all right - music and art certainly play significant roles together. This article is more specifically about art in galleries/museums (fine art), but I could probably clarify that. There is a whole other hub to write that addresses art that is made using music/sound - the more interactive art, etc...

    • Boots Iacono profile image

      Boots Iacono 4 years ago from Northern New Jersey

      Even in music, visual arts is involved in creating band logos, and the videography of a music video is considered visual arts.

    • profile image

      Ted Botting 4 years ago

      You put visual art into a very small box when in actual fact it is virtually involved in just about everything in our world except perhaps music. Most every 3 dimensional object that exists has visual qualities and so much has been designed, by a visual artist in some way or other so to confine it to only the areas that you seem to have, leaves a great deal out. Visual art has immense power but we are massively over exposed to it because it has immense power. You can receive a message in an instant from a visual much quicker than any sound or words. Everybody and the dog tries to use it in one form or another so we are completely saturated in it and over loaded with the overload. Music or sound or words are a different animal they create pictures in our minds, we tend to use our minds to them in a pictorial way. Most people only think they know what the song is about just like the visual art because nobody knows really only the creator if your lucky but they only know what they know and not really what anybody else knows. I consider my self to be a multilayer artist because I dabble in multiple art forms including visual arts and musical arts, song writing, writing,sculpture. I have a dislike for the words art, arts, artist because they don't say anything or mean anything and prefer the word create because we are all creative beings and nobody gets left out.

      I think you might need to look at Bataris Box Theory to get a better understanding of how we are influenced by sound, words and visuals.

      How these things are powerful on their own but more powerful when combined and it might give you some understanding of why music and song has a greater power than just visuals.

    • Boots Iacono profile image

      Boots Iacono 4 years ago from Northern New Jersey

      Personally, I blay bass guitar (well, I used to) and I cannot draw a tattoo or even work on 3DStudio unless I have on some music to get me into the mood of the piece I'm working on. It goes hand in hand for me... I cannot have one without the other.

    • Life of an Artist profile image
      Author

      Corinna Nicole 4 years ago from Huntsville, AL

      @peachpurple - Yes, and they're afraid to be wrong. There are really no right answers when it comes to art.

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 4 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      I would prefer to go art exhibit, peaceful and quiet. Music concert are just too loud for me. Most young generations prefer music than art because they don't understand the meaning behind the portrait.