The Moral Power of the Arts
The experiences of color and music have always been closely intertwined. From the days of the ancient Greeks through the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance, both color and music were widely considered to possess inherent moral powers to influence their viewers and listeners for better or for worse. Even in contemporary times, many mystics and followers of occult traditions have insisted that particular colors and types of music, especially synchronized combinations of color-music, possess the ability to induce trances and hypnotic states and healing.
Multimedia and Health
In contrast with art that heals, recent studies of epilepsy concur that some types of seizures can be triggered by the color-music patterns of video games and animated cartoons. In a world filled with multimedia, an examination of the possible association between color and music has become increasingly significant.
The Link Between Colors and Sound: Composers
Composers fond of relating colors psychology to their music include Liszt, Beethoven, and Rimsky-Korsakoff. Liszt described his dramatic intentions with decorative phrases: "More pink here," "This is too black," "I want it all azure." Beethoven is reported to have referred to B minor as the black key. And Rimsky-Korsakoff associated the color of sunlight with the key of C major and red with the note F#.
The Link Between Colors and Sound: Artists
Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), one of the most well known artists and philosophers of his day, believed unequivocally in the link between colors and sound. In his 1914 book, The Art of Spiritual Harmony, Kandinsky postulates that cross-associations among the senses exist in all highly sensitive people.
Piet Mondrian (1872-1944), a native of Holland, believed that art could elevate man. Mondrian's late works are perhaps best exemplified by a large piece called Broadway Boogie Woogie. Mondrian's composition is a grid of rectangles and squares balanced with almost mathematical precision. In this piece, Mondrian uses only white, red, blue and yellow. His rhythmic arrangement of the geometric forms are accelerated and syncopated in an unmistakably musical way. The singular use of primary colors also echoes the primitive, almost primordial aliveness of early jazz.This piece is also an ode to the streets of his beloved city, New York.
The works of Kenneth Noland (b. 1924) and other American color field painters feature color as the most central aspect of painting. For Noland, color placement is clearly akin to musical composition. Noland believes that each color possesses a pitch "that resonates beyond itself and affects other, adjacent colors, which in turn affect the overall palette of the composition." Colors, Noland insists, can also be placed at higher and lower pitches and "can be composed like chords across the spectrum."
Colors can also be used in conjunction with each other like major and minor chords, and repeated in varying ways to create visual counterpoint. Noland's color-music analogies extend into harmony, dissonance, tone, and volume dynamics.
The Art of Light and Color
Thomas Wilfred (1889-1968) was one of America's first artists to compose exclusively in light and color. Wilfred began his experiments in 1905 and worked with this art form for the next sixty years. Wilfred was concerned primarily with the visual and theoretical importance of light and color. The basis of this type of art in motion, or kinetic art, is the utilization of time in a distinctly musical way. For Wilfred and his successors, the historical distinction between the spatial arts-architecture, painting and sculpture-and the temporal arts-music, poetry and drama-had finally been completely obliterated in various forms of color-music.
Color-Music in Psychology
Color-music has been used by psychologists as a type of moving Rorschach test. Color-music was also been used with post-WWII veterans suffering from depression and post-traumatic shock. These color-music films, known as Aurotone films, consisted of changing abstract forms in pastel colors set to organ music and the singing of Bing Crosby. Many patients viewing the color-music films were so moved emotionally that they became more accessible for traditional group and individual therapeutic methods.
Color-Music in Hospitals
Other applications for color-music and multimedia art have included the use of films similar to the Aurotone films for the reduction of pain in a maternity ward in a London hospital. In addition, combinations of nature films and music are gaining widespread acceptance in hospitals as a soothing alternative to traditional TV programming for patients.
More Resources for Color-Music
See the following recommended books on Amazon about color-music:
Gifts and Products Related to Color and Music
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Andrews, Ted. How to Heal with Color. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 2006.
Chiazzari, Suzy. The Complete Book of Color. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1998.
Sloane, Patricia. The Visual Nature of Color. Blue Ridge Summit, PA: TAB Books, 1989.
Chevreul, M.E. The Principles of Harmony and Contrast of Colors and Their Applications to the Arts. New York: Reinhold Puyblishing Corporation, 1967.