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Themesicon: navigation pathSound and Imageicon: navigation pathSounding Image
The Sounding Image
About the relationship between art and music—an art-historical retrospective view
Barbara John


Since the early days of Modernism, the interplay between art and music has given considerable impetus to the development of new art forms. [1] This essay will examine the pre-history of this modern synergy. In comparison with other contributions to Media Art Net, the historical framework here is considerably larger. This is justified by the nature of the subject matter: artificial images and sounds have been created since the dawn of human culture. Therefore it is quite right that many texts refer back to prehistory, or at least the ancient world. But a great deal remains speculative here, and often history is reinterpreted, or even written, from an entirely modern point of view.

The approach in this essay will be different. Theoretical statements by artists that have come down to us will be used to show, from a short review of Western culture, how this relationship, which began in very different conditions, changed over the centuries from an art-historical point of view and led to all the arts working together on an equal footing. The route will lead rapidly from antiquity and the Middles Ages to the transition from classical artistic techniques to the beginnings of media art.


Art and music - an unequal start

In the Christian West music was one of the seven free arts, the so-called artes liberales, whereas fine art was seen merely as a craft activity. [2] Music's high standing was based on the philosophy of Pythagoras, who explained musical theory in terms of mathematical laws that were interpreted cosmologically in the Middle Ages. With arithmetic, geometry and astrology, music made up a quadrumvirate working on a mathematical basis within the artes liberales, and it was allotted a special function as a hinge between microcosm and macrocosm.

But even Plato recognized a special connection between eye and sound. Synaesthesia (Greek: sharedsensitivity) has been an epistemological topic since the days of ancient philosophy. Since the Baroque era in particular is has also been an experimental field for inventors of machines and theoretical speculators, like Pater Castel, for example. But this essay will not deal with individual aspects so much as synaesthesia in its full cultural context.

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