Even though I’m a person who loves silence, I notice that 98% of the time, I put on music when I’m creating -- instrumental when I’m writing and either songs or instrumental for artmaking… Aside from just amusing myself, I find that the music can inspire me (and it’s important to get the right music), and it also keeps my mind on the project better than silence. I’m sure this is no surprise to other writers or artists, but it’s something worth exploring. There is something about music that stimulates the right brain in such a way that brings up images, connections and ideas that I don’t seem to have access to as easily in silence. I’m sure it’s not just the connection between the good feeling of a familiar sonata or memories brought up by the piece. Nor is it simply the energy created by bright rhythms and sprightly melodies… no, I’m convinced that it truly taps a part of my brain that I need for creating and that therefore I work better, more holistically if you will, when music fills my studio.
I seem to be able to let go and allow my creative impulse to lead when I’m listening to music. The linear, verbal thought structures move to the back as I follow the melody with part of my mind and let my eye and hand work together to move the art project along. Over the years, I’ve begun to differentiate types of music, too. If I have a sense of the kind of art I’m looking to make (for example, if I want to do assemblage that represents Nature or conversely represents War), I will choose the music that in the past has helped bring up those images. (Not surprisingly, there is a messy stack of tapes and CDs in one corner of the studio.) If I’m not sure what direction I want to go, I have a couple tapes with music that seems to bring up deep impulses and surprising images (Anugama, and Adiemus are two artists).
A good example of this is an art therapy exercise, painting to music. I’ve used it as a way to help teens understand that music affects their mood even if they’re not conscious of it… Basically, you select five really different pieces of music and set up paint, pastels or any free-flowing, colorful media (collage, pencil, clay don’t work quite as well). For each selection, you allow the music to suggest the color and the gestures you make -- literally empty your mind and “follow” the music as best you can. No need to do representational art; abstract forms are fine. It won’t take too long to see how different the images are -- some music produces jagged, angry-looking pieces, others very flowing, soft-color pieces.
Another technique I use to get started is to page through books and magazines that have a lot of varied color and texture… doesn’t have to be art books/mags… quite often books on nature, or alchemy or even kitchen gadget catalogs work just as well. The important part is looking at the juxtaposition of shapes, colors, textures… it seems to flip a switch into the right brain, allowing me to shut down the linear process of “if this, then that” which is wonderful if I know exactly what I want to make and have a plan, but is very unhelpful when I am looking to “play” or to allow something new and unknown to come up. I find that my work is more powerful, more individual when I allow for “play days” on a regular basis… sometimes I end up with “something”, but just as often the process results in some colorful mess that I doubt anyone will be interested in. Sometimes I can recycle it into other art, but if not, I’m content that I have strengthened my art muscles anyway… One day, I laid out sheets of 22”x36” clay-coated paper, grabbed a handful of postal twine (that had gotten utterly tangled and was otherwise useless), dipped it in watered-down acrylics, and swirled it all over the papers -- it was lovely! And so much fun! And I got to use the paper in collage and for wrapping paper… so, you never know… If you haven’t tried it, I highly recommend it.