This is your brain on painting


Dear Artist,

For those who might wonder why music plays such a great role in human life and culture, Daniel J. Levitin has written This is Your Brain on Music. The book contains remarkable insights and new information on music, song and dance. Some researchers think music may actually predate speech. Others see it as a wayward deviation that only ends in harmless play. Curiously open-ended and open-minded, there’s something on every page of Levitin’s book that has me asking similar questions about the brain and painting.

Folks have been making marks on cave walls for almost as long as they’ve been humming and whistling. And folks have been painting some sort of pictures, getting attention and impressing others for longer than rockers have been rocking for chicks. Can these arts be related to the business of attracting a mate, or are they some form of mass or private beguilement? Further, has evolution hardwired some of us to our brushes? If so, what’s the nature of this wiring, why do we plug into it, and what’s it good for?

Among many other enrichments, three words keep reappearing in Levitin’s book — rhythm, repetition and novelty. Here’s how I feel they might just apply to our game:

Rhythm is an elemental force in human nature. In visual art the moving brush and the wandering eye are directed toward harmonious cycles and shapes that amuse and satisfy. This rhythm is between curves and flats, protrusions and recessions, crudeness and delicacy, patterns and amorphousness, lines and forms. As in music, the list goes on.

Repetition is one of those strangely satisfying curiosities that somehow helps us feel rewarded and secure. Repeated motifs, themes and stylistic peculiarities give a “beat” to visual art that seduces the eye and brings it back for more. Far from being boring, repetition is the grid on which higher themes may fly.

At the same time, the human brain and eye love novelty. Something new around the corner — a surprise, a jolt out of the normal — arrests our flow and gives a sudden flush of wonder and joy. In the evenness that describes so much of life, humanity craves the bump of novelty.

Best regards,


PS: “Another possibility is that evolution selected creativity in general as a marker of sexual fitness.” (Daniel J. Levitin)

Esoterica: Coincidentally, on recent jury duty I was paying attention to the choices of my fellow jurors. For the most part they chose art that was not necessarily technically competent or perfectly rendered. What held the juror’s attention and received the highest number of votes was work that appeared to me to overflow with rhythm, repetition and novelty. Coincidentally, I had just watched the works being painted on location, and those winning artists also seemed hardwired to having the most fun.


See the music
by John D. Vedilago, Goteborg, Sweden


Improvisation V
Kandinsky’s painting

Just look at Wassily Kandinsky and see the music. The whole premise of Abstract Art was to paint or sculpt as musicians compose, with one note just relating to another with no outside reference. In music you’re bound by linear time and memory but in a painting you respond to the whole symphony in one glorious moment of spiritual enlightenment and hyper reality. Your readers should check out Kandinsky’s Concerning the Spiritual in Art and Point to Line to Plane along with essays in The Blue Rider with the composer Arnold Schonberg.


watercolour painting
by John D. Vedilago

“Colour is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammers, the soul is the piano with its many chords. The artist is the hand that, by touching this or that key, sets the soul vibrating automatically.” (Wassily Kandinsky)




Adrenalin rush
by John Bergman, Hoople, ND, USA


original painting
by John Bergman

What happens to my brain when painting? Nothing. I lose all thoughts on realities and spend hours looking at my canvas not realizing time or space. It is as if the real world is gone and it is in this state that I am the happiest — maybe not so much in what I am doing or have done but being away from the real realties. To me, to create is more important than the finished product, which I never seem to be happy with, and I really don’t mind for I, for the time involved, have had my time with my, let’s call it, escaped adrenalin rush.

There is 1 comment for Adrenalin rush by John Bergman

From: Nicolle — Oct 09, 2009

I am glad having found someone who can pick up the right words to express exactly what i feel. Thank you.


Creativity’s complex dish
by Haim Mizrahi, East Hampton, NY, USA


original painting
by Haim Mizrahi

As you speak of rhythm, repetition and novelty, I recall my early days of decision-making process as far as my artistic versatility was concerned and I can only share one important thing with you: these qualities were very tempting in seducing me to engage through their literal suggestions but quickly enough I have realized that they are only a very small ingredient in the complex dish called creativity, and therefore they can only serve as creative distraction in the much greater purpose. Constantly coping with desire, now why is it important?… because with art, music and writing we (I) cannot engage through the medium itself because it always proves to be stronger than me, so a distraction in place serves as a smoother path to the heart of our desire to find the alternative and isn’t it the most important thing in arts always to consider the alternative if at all we are lucky enough to have one.

There are 3 comments for Creativity’s complex dish by Haim Mizrahi

From: Michael Epp — Aug 18, 2009

Wow, do I ever love your painting.

From: Liz Reday — Aug 18, 2009

Excellent painting. And the poetry too.

From: Dayle Ann Stratton — Oct 02, 2009

Haim said something in an interview that struck me: “…why should I be intimidated by a small canvas that wants to be friends with me?” Now I am looking at those blank canvases in a new way: they are my friends who are helping me put voice to my vision. Thanks, Haim.


Levels of awareness
by Susan Burns, Douglasville, GA, USA


pastel painting
by Susan Burns

I am connecting with a deep part of myself when I paint, and reaching out to connect with others. If someone sees something in my painting that they like, they have connected with themselves on a deeper level. We all long to connect with others and ourselves over and over. Those that insist they are separate, struggle internally. When we see something novel in a painting, it is because we are recognizing some novel part of ourselves. We all have such different awareness and levels of depth of awareness so we all have our own likes and dislikes when it comes to art and music. I had a fairly common upbringing in the ’60s and yet I remember my parents’ belief that, The Beatles were radical and scary.

There are 2 comments for Levels of awareness by Susan Burns

From: Rene in Huntsville, AL — Aug 17, 2009

Hear, hear, Susan!

From: Kells Mooty — Aug 18, 2009

I agree with your parents!


Visual hunters
by Paul deMarrais, TN, USA


“Adriennes #10”
pastel painting
by Paul deMarrais

Humans are visual hunters. Our roving eyes pour over our world looking for visual stimulus for all sorts of reasons. Sex and survival are probably the most basic concerns for our eye. Cave artists wanted to record their world and this also seems to be a core human need. We want to leave a record of our brief stint on earth. Those who possess this gift of drawing and painting were no doubt rewarded in these early societies and to a lesser degree are rewarded today. Artists serve as the collective eye for the rest of society. The viewers respond to both what is familiar and perhaps the unique twist that each artist gives to their paintings. We respond instinctively to contrasts… familiar and strange, warm and cool, busy and calm, large and small, bright and dull, curved and straight, etc. Artists learn to manipulate these contrasts to create a visual feast for our audience. We are visual entertainers.

There is 1 comment for Visual hunters by Paul deMarrais

From: Larry — Aug 20, 2009

“Artists serve as the collective eye for the rest of society.”

I like that Paul, nicely expressed.


Possible cosmic connection?
by Bill Hibberd, Summerland, BC, Canada


“Artist without borders”
original painting
by Bill Hibberd

What if we are actually unique spiritual beings designed by a creator to comfort, stimulate, encourage and challenge one another through our art? What if we are not just a bunch of random particles subconsciously evolving from ourselves for no purpose greater than preservation of a species? What if we approached our art as a divine gift, on our knees with a realization that our creativity is a conduit between God, ourselves and fellow mankind? If we persevere in our art-making to a level of competence, will our art make a difference?

There are 11 comments for Possible cosmic connection? by Bill Hibberd

From: Ginger Child — Aug 17, 2009

Yes! Yes! Yes!

From: wes g — Aug 18, 2009

That’s a pretty good batch of what ifs.

From: Margaret — Aug 18, 2009

Well it DOES make a difference to us, the painters, eh Bill. Just maybe you know of ” The Creative Call’ Book and course. Worth checking out.

From: Brenda W. — Aug 18, 2009

Amen! It’s encouraging to hear from other ‘believers’ …. all creativity flows from the Great Artist (the Creator of all things)!

From: Karen — Aug 18, 2009

I agree, I think we are part of the great Creative energy and we as humans, are always creating (for better or for worse!). Painting is a positive form of this, and it can touch others. When that happens, it’s wonderful!

From: Jeri Lynn Ing — Aug 18, 2009

I too believe in the “Call” to art. We are put in this world to reach out and touch people- art can touch hearts of stone and evoke emotion in the glimpse of an eye. The Lord gives us this talent to be his face and voice in a world the needs his love.

What an honor to do such important work.

From: Anonymous — Aug 18, 2009

Thanks Bill. Your painting says it all. No borders indeed.

From: Kells — Aug 18, 2009

And now we are informed, thanks, but what if……

From: Arnold — Aug 18, 2009

What if the Hokey Pokey really is what it’s all about?

From: Beverly B — Aug 18, 2009

Thanks Bill, You have a special way with WORDS that encourages me to keep on painting!

From: Cat E — Jan 19, 2010

Amen to that absolutely, as artists our natural reaction to life is art. Wanting to understand and explore the limits and scope of the world and through this its creator, who is without limit. Beautiful painting by the way, I love how clear each stroke is, it brings a lot of life to the scene.


Learn palette like a musician learns notes
by Ron Elstad, Anaheim, CA, USA


original painting
by Ron Elstad

The painter’s palette can somewhat be compared to that of a musical instrument; the hues then could also be compared to that of the notes of music and the painting to the actual music. Moreover, the brush work would be the rhythm of the music and the proper use of the color would be its harmony. Therefore, to be a great musician or painter one must learn to play the instrument properly, this being the palette, before producing beautiful art.

There are 2 comments for Learn palette like a musician learns notes by Ron Elstad

From: Sally Baker — Aug 18, 2009

Good analogy. Makes perect sense.

From: Kells — Aug 18, 2009

Thanks Ron, I have this taped to my easel!


Doodles of the brain
by Helena Tiainen, Berkeley, CA, USA


“Of joy”
acrylic painting, 5 x 7 inches
by Helena Tiainen

There has been research done on doodling and its benefits to the brain. If doodling is good for the brain, then why not painting and actual drawing. I personally find that I like to draw and paint partially due to the movements required to do these activities. To me they are a form of meditation. I paint and draw in a particular fashion that usually brings me the maximum satisfaction when it comes to the movements involved in applying the media. If the process itself was constantly too tedious I doubt that I would continue painting and drawing. There has to be some pleasure derived from any activity in order for it to continue outside of necessity. There are moments while painting

I find myself holding my breath to make a brushstroke, but those are not constant, only occasional. I also have found out that painting and drawing can relieve anxiety and soothe a troubled mind. These activities are therapeutic by nature. Yes, art may have many health benefits beyond what we currently acknowledge.

There is 1 comment for Doodles of the brain by Helena Tiainen

From: Roberta — Aug 18, 2009

Yes! Painting is physical for me too. The pleasure of making the marks fully with my head, hand, heart and media gives me a rush and stops time. Love your work!


Early fertility symbol re-created
by Leslie Edwards Humez, Painesville, OH, USA


“Venus of Willendorf” (left)
“Venus of Willoughby”(right)

Your intriguing comment regarding marks on cave walls — and presumably three dimensional works from antiquity as well — and the suggestion that such artifacts might have been made to attract a mate, or were actually some sort of mass beguilement, comes right on the heels of my sculptural poke at the presumptive fertility icon, the Venus of Willendorf.

On my website I’ve begun documenting thoughts and progress of a sculpture which modernizes this icon, and postulates that the original /pocket-sized/ Venus was either a handy “photograph” to be carried. Maybe she was mass produced and hawked by the zillions behind the bushes to warriors everywhere along with the naughty clay tablets.

There are 3 comments for Early fertility symbol re-created by Leslie Edwards Humez

From: Jess Laljee — Aug 18, 2009

Interested in this website, Leslie. Where can I find it?

From: Diane Rabideau-Wise — Aug 18, 2009

Hello Leslie

Loved your comments, and have a vision of the Marketing of Venus going on to this day, and as we speak.

With the over-feeding of Americans, their (Warriors) style and your sculpture are right on target. Happy sculpting. Love to hear from you. With your wit, Check out the Fiction Books by Foer, a young writer fr NY.


From: Leslie Edwards Humez — Aug 18, 2009


Creative nurturers
by Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki, Port Moody, BC, Canada


“Indian Point”
acrylic painting, 12 x 16 inches
by Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki

Hmmm, I think that linking creativeness with sexual fitness is debatable in context of evolution. In order for natural selection to kick in, sexual fitness is a condition, but survival of the offspring is the key. Most human offspring in recent history have been produced under the iron grip of conservative religions — nothing creative about that. Linking creativeness with the survival of the offspring makes more sense to me. What I am proposing is that being artists makes us attractive not as creative sexual partners but as creative nurturers. I know, that’s not nearly as sexy as what Levitin is saying, maybe I should keep the logic down and go with the marketing idea.

There is 1 comment for Creative nurturers by Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki

From: Catherine McLay, Cochrane, Alberta — Aug 18, 2009

Love your painting, Tatjana!


Art and music in parallel
by Lindell Stacy-Horton, Oregon, USA


“Bafflement of Balor”
acrylic painting
by Lindell Stacy-Horton

I was especially intrigued by today’s letter about the brain on music, art and dance. I am painting up a storm these days, greatly inspired by many of your ideas. I also play music, which I consider just as important in my life as my visual stuff (Irish trad and Celtic Fusion, fiddle, classical and jazz viola). I went to “art school” in Ashland, Oregon which they were calling applied art rather than commercial art, where we were to learn how to present ourselves as artists, concerned with package, record jacket, book cover, graphic design, magazine layouts, and newspaper ads. This was in the day before computers, and the French curve and technical pen, along with t-squares and see-thru rulers, proportion wheels and type sizing scales, and calligraphy skills were essential to survival. I was already a fairly competent painter when I started. My favorite instructor advised me to choose between muses, would I serve Art, or Music. I said both of course. He advised against this, and I have been dancing happily all these years with both partners equally. When I tried to choose one discipline above the other, all suffered. For me they are completely connected, and I think if the brain guys would look inside mine, they might get a surprise.

I believe the creative trait is definitely an indicator of success when it comes to survival. Humans are curious, and curiosity is a major component in the creative process. (Have you noticed how attracted to one another artists and musicians are?) Furthermore, I think this same curiosity is what enables us as a species to invent things, discover science and how things work, how to grow food, herd animals, and sadly enough, to mess things up and need to start again. I just keep hoping we can go a bit longer, I have lots of tunes to play, and lots of art to make.

There is 1 comment for Art and music in parallel by Lindell Stacy-Horton

From: Gigner Child — Aug 17, 2009

Ah, yes, Curiosity, my Friend! My life has been a curious journey, “What will happen if….?” and then I find out! Ssometimes good, sometimes not! It’s one of my favorite aspects, so thanks for making the connection with art. Of course, it requires curiosity…not knowing how something will turn out! For me, this is the joy of discovery, and making art.




Silently Letting Go

oil painting
by Aleta Gudelski, Durham, CT, USA


You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.

That includes Judith Lenzin of Lausanne, Switzerland, who wrote, “Yet again I find that your letter is totally relative to my work as a quilt maker. Rhythm, repetition and novelty… it’s actually a hymn to what I do and I had never heard it expressed so succinctly.”

And also Nader Khaghani of Chicago, IL, USA, who wrote, “If rhythm is the backbone and the formal life of a painting, it’s perhaps best sensed not intellectually but intuitively with our bodies and senses, just like a dance. We move naturally without much forethought.”

And also Edward Berkeley of Portland, OR, USA, who wrote, “Rhythm exists since our conception. The embryo is exposed to the mother’s heartbeat and the fetus to his own heartbeat. Our heartbeat is our metronome.”

And also Bob Dawson who wrote, “I sent your “This is your brain on painting” to Daniel Levitin and he loves it. ‘Awesome’ being his word for what you wrote.”


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for This is your brain on painting



From: Susan Holland — Aug 14, 2009

What a seminal concept, Robert! This is why art of all kinds can be called “sexy”, I believe! When music, visual art, sculptural shapes, dance (and the list goes on) tweaks those primal chords, we are again totally alive critters willing to replenish the earth, as originally instructed.

From: Louise Lemay — Aug 14, 2009

RE: This is your brain on music. There is a documentary from the book that was broadcast this summer. There is also a website.

This is your brain on Art: There is a documentary series made in Britain called “How Art Made The World”. Last night (Aug. 13) was episode 2 of 5 on the Knowledge Network. It answers many of the same questions as This Is Your Brain On Music. Also has amazing website.

From: Jackie Knott — Aug 14, 2009

Actors and musicians often express themselves as visual artists as well. Art, in all its various forms is hardwired in us however it eventually surfaces. The dominant talent will predominate. We could produce an “A” list of recognizable names who dabbled in the visual arts before we recognized them as actors and musicians: Dennis Hopper, Anthony Quinn, Jane Seymour, John Mellencamp, Pierce Brosnan, Jonathan Winters, Rosie O’Donnall, Grace Slick, Tony Bennett … it is a long list, and we could even include those in an extended range of expression from Winston Churchill to Prince Charles as inspired political servants.

Art in general, allows one to concept outside the norm …. therein may be its asset above all others’ perspective. I am thankful for that cognitive process – the whim of inspiration and seeing that which others do not.

I vividly recall my frustrated pianist mother trying to teach me piano. I could nail a piece by ear in minutes as a child … but lacked the dedication and focus to become a musician. We both gave up. As much as I appreciate music I picked up a pencil and could SEE. It was as comfortable as an old pair of warm slippers. It fit.

When we speak of rhythm isn’t that simply composition? It can be musically or visual in expression. An actor utilizes cadence when delivering his or her lines in the same vein of rhythm. It is all compiled in a wonderfully rich condiment of expression, as artists.

The art muse will surface. It may be musically, literary, or inspire us with visual three- dimensional conception. As long as we do not turn from our natural inclination and labor as a CPA or corporate manager as a substitute for our calling (even though I still hope to publish my book :-) ) …. we will find peace.

We will be sidetracked. We will have to devote time and effort to our livelihood. But, I can’t think of anything more sad than to depart from that which one is called to do.

From: Gene Martin — Aug 14, 2009

Rythmn and repetition I understand but novelty? Less than perfect? Are we not taught and driven to perfection? Why is there no one set of agreed upon rules for judging art shows? Are we to be continually cursed by the “whim” of the juror? Perhaps this explains why many of we artists do not enter art shows. At least it is why this one does not.

From: John Ferrie — Aug 17, 2009

I am not sure about rhythm and repetition of sound and how it relates to me as an artist.

What I do know is this…

Most of the time I have music playing in my studio.

Sometimes it is hip hop from some obscure radio station in Europe.

Sometimes it is something more cerebral and is recalling my reptilian brain with vibrations from the past.

I am not sure about much, but as painting soothes my soul, music fills my heart.

I do know that when I am doing something in public and a crowd gathers, I always have my IPOD cranked up.

At this point, it is just because I want to be left alone and not have to explain what I am doing. When really I have run out of blue where I am now painting orange.

From: Suzanne Small — Aug 17, 2009

I do not know how you can come up with such beautifully and sensitively written letters every week, but please don’t stop! I look forward to every one of them and learn something with each one. I file them in my Robert Genn file. If you publish your letters in book form I’ll be the first in line to buy one and perhaps a Robert Genn painting to hang next to it.

From: Gail Descoeurs — Aug 17, 2009

I am also an artist (oil painter) and have been painting for 30 years,the last 3 years professionally, and I am recently preparing for a show (with a theme) this month (August) to celebrate my anniversary as an artist. I booked this show last November feeling I was giving myself plenty of time but again I have found myself painting under pressure. It’s funny how life gets in the way and how things unexpectedly come up but I realize it just makes life that much more exciting and our life story that much more interesting. “Stress comes when you resist what is”…so I just go with the flow.. At the start of my preparation for my show I took a bad fall and had a concussion and was not able to paint for a few months , followed by wonderful opportunities to be featured in magazines which took time to prepare, unexpected shows which required me to make new paintings for (out of my theme), which brought me to the month of May the month I wrap up classes the month before school is out for the kids. : ) Like all artists it requires discipline to work at home when I go into my studio (at home) it’s like I am at the office. Laundry, dishes etc. are done after my day is done. But the summer holidays for the kids can be quite challenging. What works well for me over the years is to start my painting day at 3:00 AM allowing me time to get into my painting without distractions and by noon or 1:00 PM I have put in 9-10 hours allowing time for the kids in the afternoon to keep life in balance. But even so I am here the last week before my show working hard to finish up a couple of paintings. Two weeks earlier I had woken at 2:30 to work on finishing a 5′ piece which was to be my “star” of the show but because of problems with the canvas (the paint was not adhering well to it) I had to scrap it. Surprisingly enough I let it go without being upset, it was 6:30 am at this time so I crawled back into bed an hour later I got up took out a 4′ canvas and started a new painting. I think one gets to a point where you say “whatever” bring it on…what’s next. I rather laugh then cry anyway….. With the short time left it had to be smaller size canvas (4′). Last night I had I did my longest stretch yet it was 17 hours. The painting already with one complete coat was ready to be completed. I started painting at 1:30 AM and finished at 7:30 PM with 2 short breaks of 1/2 for lunch and breakfast and with 2.5 hours of sleep. It was tough but at the end of my day I was so happy I could cry if It wasn’t for exhaustion. the funny thing is I love this painting so much more than the one I had to scrap. I guess there was a reason after all. A year ago I painted another painting, that won 2nd prize for the International artist award, under the same pressure. I feel like there is something that takes over me when I paint under pressure which is hard to explain. It’s as if there is a shift from mind to heart, my heart completely opens where at times I catch my self painting with a smile on my face and tears flowing down my cheeks. It’s so beautiful and that feeling is what it’s all about.

The past few months I have been telling myself that my next solo show I will give myself much more time and block in time for the unexpected such as concussions, extra shows, scrap paintings…. But maybe not….maybe I just happen to be one of those artist that works well under pressure and I would hate to miss out on those beautiful moments.

From: John Fitzsimmons — Aug 17, 2009

That book sounds interesting, I immediately thought of meeting a musician from Africa many years ago who spoke Hottentots. I had coincidentally just read a book called “The Mother Tongue” or some such that said that Hottentots was the first language that all others descended from. Hottentots is a mix of clicks and other noises that sound allot like Be Bop, so this all makes sense, at least to someone.

From: Carol B. — Aug 17, 2009

I think that art or music making is really a very individual undertaking and when all is said and done, although you can learn a lot from others, there is a certain core within that you that you cannot ignore. That which you produce may or may not appeal to a large fan club but the honesty of it might satisfy your soul.

From: Peggy Guichu — Aug 17, 2009

I was just considering this prior to your writing. Sunday, for some reason I was drawn to doing a watercolor. I’d been working on my oil paintings for weeks without a thought of doing anything else. But Sunday I turned on a CD that my granddaughter had burned for me of Michael Jackson songs and my entire insides changed. I just had to get out all my watercolor paints and touch some Arches 300 lb hot press paper. I spent the entire day listening to Michael J. and having a great time painting with my watercolors. I found that there were a few particular songs of his that I kept playing over and over. They gave me what I needed for the painting I was working on.

I realized that when I paint with watercolors I always want to listen to music. Some days it’s country. Other days it might be instrumentals, opera or pop. But always a CD of just music. On the other hand when I’m working with my oils I’m compelled to turn on a good movie that I know well and listen to it while I paint. Movies feel slower to me, very comfortable. As I take in the familiar background music and voices of the characters, it allows my mind to wander slowly in more of a meditative state. It is the music I yearn for in order to put myself in the right frame of mind.

This realization caused me to do what I do best, analyze this behavior. The watercolor medium, to me, is light and airy. I love to add mica’s and iridescents into the paint to give it that sparkle. I feel different, lighter, spontaneous. When I’m working with oils I’m more serious, contemplative, and direct. I suppose all this is because watercolors dry very fast and, therefore, I need to be faster with my decisions and brush work in order to get into the paint while it’s still fresh and wet. With oils I know there will be a long open time with the medium so I have no need to rush. I can take it slow with no stress of wrong decisions made that could ruin the work.

My conclusion is this: If I find that I need to lighten up a bit I will now turn on some good music and jump into a watercolor painting. If I need to be more mindful or just work something out, I know to pick out that old movie and go directly to my easel. Either way I’m listening to music which enhances my art.

From: Tiit Raid — Aug 17, 2009

We know how music can move us. It seems easier to get emotional when listening to music than when looking at a painting. Much of it is probably due to the fact that the visual world is silent and it’s vibrations are considerably more subtle. Certainly there are people who get a tear in their eye when looking at a painting, but my guess is that this is rather rare, for the most part, silence demands more attention and awareness than sound.

I base my guess on thirty years of playing music and around fifty-five years of making art. I’ve learned that there is no way of making a visual equivalent to sound. Music and art, though they share many aspects, are two very different worlds. But, it seems to me, the visual world is ‘musical’ if you know how to see it.

I’ve spent many hours sitting high on the bank of a creek that flows some fifteen feet below behind our house observing the appearance of the ever-changing visual world. After many years of looking and paying attention to the relationships of shape and tone and color, one day the visual world became ‘musical’. It’s not that the visual became audible, but it certainly became magical.

From: Linda Saccoccio — Aug 17, 2009

Along with painting I have added writing, especially poetry to my repertoire. This month I awaken myself at 3:15am as others do the same to write in whatever state of being we find ourselves in at that hour. It is the “3:15 Experiment” that has been going on for several years. What I have noticed is that the same habits in creating a visual piece are in my process of creating poetry. The elements are musical and are what you highlight here as rhythm, repetition and novelty. Works need to flow and sing rhythmically, they repeat as you say for beat as well as, to create an environment for the audience to settle into, some continuity, and then there is the letting go into discovery that creates the novelty that surprises, intrigues and mystifies in a very satisfying way. These three elements are basics for the playful work of creativity. They are seeds to an amazing garden whether in sound, vision or through the written word, that also comes to life dynamically as it is read aloud.

From: Robert N. Rorebeck — Aug 17, 2009

Speak to us about the signing and dating of our paintings. I’m all for recognition but too often a signature/date in the bottom right corner compromises the composition. If I can’t camouflage my signature on the face of the canvass, I will put it on the right-hand, vertical edge. And if this was my biggest problem, I wouldn’t have any!

From: Liz Reday — Aug 17, 2009

I just got back from three weeks in India, and I return to a messy studio littered with pots of acrylics and tubes of oils. I have to start cleaning before I can move, but since the trip was such a staggering inspiration, a million ideas have been brewing in my mind. How to translate THAT into paint? For once I didn’t bring my easel & brushes- we were moving too fast and I didn’t want to carry too much stuff besides my camera and sketchpad, but the images of the last three weeks have been forever burned into my brain.

How to capture this experience and translate it into a visual medium without slavishly copying my photographs? First order of the day: MUSIC. Somehow the rhythms and repetition of music, the crude alive sound of simple primitive instruments will direct me into what is, essentially, the translation of a state of being?

From: Foxy — Aug 18, 2009

Regarding Dan McGrath’s paintings. My Grandfather, Father and brother were all draftsmen. I made my living as a newspaper illustrator. When I do oil paintings I also find it hard to stray from the illustrator in me. The composition is always first priority, and my teacher will say, “you’re not an inventory taker!” I like your paintings, especially Last Colors and Slope. It’s hard to go from a lifetime of making a living as a technical artist to the wonderful loose brushwork often found in oils. Sometimes you might have to actually make a mistake. I was use to deadlines and the work had to be printable every time. I use that same principal when painting and therefore hesitate to try something different. Here’s to letting go Dan!

From: cary brief — Aug 18, 2009

My main trouble is staying with a subject or a medium. I work in watercolor, pastel, pen and ink and oil as well as mezzotint and other print techniques. I can’t seem to force myself to stick with one medium and build a body of work – I’ll do 5 or 6 in a medium then jump. Galleries don’t seem to care for that. Any suggestions?

From: bob — Aug 18, 2009

Hi Dan,

I think that despite excellent painting and emotion in your paintings, you have one compositional problem which manifests as lack of emotion in some cases. Most of your paintings featured here have lot of happening in the lower half of the painting and almost nothing happening in the upper half (or the other way around). As I look at them, I look down immediately and then I look up and there is almost nothing there – it feels like starting to read a story and then there is sudden silence – as if you don’t want to talk to me any more. The clean neat lines add to the feeling of a clinical definitive statement that doesn’t leave any doubt that there is nothing else to say. If there was some object or area inviting me to wonder about it, that would feel like an emotional element – as if there is a message you have put there for me.

Of course, I may be wrong, but perhaps for the sake of an argument you can try composing a piece with this in mind and see what happens.

Whether this is useful to you or not, I think that you are an excellent artist going in a good direction and you will give pleasure to many art connoisseurs to come.

From: Maxine Price — Aug 19, 2009

To Cary, If you want to build up an inventory and get into galleries you may have to make some choices. Can you pick two mediums? The way I have handled this is to work in one medium, oil with palette knife, but not limit myself as to subject matter which ranges from abstracts to landscapes. This keeps me from being bored and my galleries don’t seem to mind.

From: Karol — Aug 24, 2009

Wrote this amidst music but tracks directly with John, in “See the Music.” I could hear such sounds as these earlier to day, standing amidst the forest panoply before me. Each note and movement of Vivaldi’s Four seasons seemed played out amongst the leaves, each lilting movement of leaf somehow in synch or indeed the actual vision of the sound. And even without movement, the varied lights that splayed across the forest canvas gave visual life to the musical sounds. As if you were watching the very orchestral movements and players entrances and exists in the slightest movement or variation in light

and for surely in the swaying movements, and slightest disturbance of leaves still alight, alife on the trees. The ferns along the forest floor too played in the concert adding whatever note they are, to the complete picture of sound. It was the melding of nature, movement, light, music, and moment to create a canvas of sound and sound of canvas.




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