Monday Modern Art Madness #12: Orgasmic Sinesthesia in Georgia O’Keeffe’s “Blue And Green Music”.

One of the more interesting works of pure abstraction from the Queen and mother of American Modernism Georgia O’Keeffe, whom I wrote about in this series before, I highly recommend reading that one as well for more general information. This piece in number 12 of the series is intimately tied to the modern art tradition, as well as the reciprocity and loving relationship between music and visual art.

Blue and Green Music (1919-1921) is quite innovative in that it is one of, if not the first work of abstraction that directly takes on the experience of pure music and sensation from music itself, outside of any narrative structure (like tone poems, operas, quartets that are accompanied by stories, etc. that are then represented in visual art). BAGM is a work of Synesthesia, which is defined as:

“a perceptual phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway”.

In other words, Synesthesia is an involuntary linkage or synthesis between two sensory modes of experience, and scientists have worked on exactly which passages in the brain are disrupted or fused together in order to make the phenomenon happen. The most common occurrence is between sound and sight, or people who have the ability to visually see music represented in colors, patterns, shapes, etc.

Now O’Keeffe did not clinically have Synesthesia, but this work is trying to replicate the same experience through symbolic expression, more specifically from her knowledge of Kandinsky’s theory of philosophy and color in painting; quote:

“Kandinsky carefully discusses his ideas of the meaning of color in his book. O’Keeffe obviously had her own palette, and she was probably inspired by Kandinsky, to make it that, her own. Perhaps O’Keeffe tried to bring forth her own visual symphony in this image, perhaps inspired by classical music. Kandinsky views the light blue color as the equal of the sounds of a flute, dark blue means cello and an even darker blue would be an organ”.

Blue in various cultures represents the heights of wisdom and religious devotion, such as the blue adorned in skin by Shiva in Hinduism. Almost every culture has cultivated a symbiotic relationship between music, visual art and religion. This sacred mixing of various artistic expressions in religious practice is a sum total polysemous relationship that visionary painter Robert Vensosa called “integral art” based on immersive experience from multiple senses. O’Keeffe represents the bands and waves of fluttering music in painting, and with a natural, caling blue, green and turcoise color palette in various soft tones. Here the bands are the pure expression of the breathing effect you find in chasing waves and waves of music while in a meditative state. This piece is almost “psychedelic”, not in terms of neon vivid colors and symbolic shapes, but in terms of its strange effect when observing the piece; it is almost as if it pulls you in, you can feel the primordial breath that is mixed into various tones of blue and green. Alan Watts once commented upon the relationship between music and religion, stating that music is the most primordial of all arts, fro it is evanescent, changes with regions, seasons, and various festivals, etc. Therefore music has always been integral to religiosity, as painting is.

Of course another element in this work, an element that has characterized nearly all of her paintings, is the element of female sexuality. The archetypal (or stereotypical view, we must be fair) on male vs. female sexuality is that on the male side, at least stated by Freud and Augustine, sexuality is more agitated, conquering, out of balance, till the finale of fireworks “shoots up” and equilibrium to the subject is restored. The libidinal tension is like “being chained to a madman” according to Augustine. Female sexuality is much more sensual in character, at least that is what the “male chauvinist stereotype” has proclaimed (I sit on the fence in this matter, but for the sake of art analysis, lets assume so). O’Keeffe in this piece has modified her palette to be much more earthly, toned down, even sensual in a welcoming, kindly way. Her floral works are sensual in that fiery, voluptuous, “hot and bothered”, “Empowered!” sort of way that shocks and enlivens the senses. Here with the accompaniment of music, we still have her famed “feminine” fold of color and V-shapes, but only in a more muted and almost meditative fashion.

I am personally fond of this piece because in my work, i have at various times tried to replicate the experience of seeing in a deep way, and then visually representing music, either through the immediacy of action painting, or from other means. O’Keeffe here goes one step further in that she not only represents music, ties it to the earth in her choice of color, but comments upon the fundamental relationship between the primal nature of music and sexuality. The Goddess mother, the fertile music that washes over us in sonic waves, giving life to ur senses. This piece is pure visual poetry with sound and color.

 

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