Sunday, November 30, 2014

Modern Art and Jazz

This past week I went to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. I went through many exhibits, including ones on Renaissance art, Ancient Greece and Egyptian art, among others. The exhibit that struck me the most was the contemporary art collection of Shinique Smith. This exhibit polarized me - I was stuck between being confused about whether I was looking at art, and not caring if it was in fact art. And what I took away from this was a completely non-biased look at what people may think of jazz the first time they listen to it - the stun, shock, and confusion of it all.

Modern Art and Jazz

Jazz stunned me. To me, this sound epitomized elation and joy; it was different and exciting, but it was also confusing. What is happening? I liked it because I felt like I discovered the whole thing, like it was mine, like only I could hear what these people were communicating. The music was talking to me, and it was genuine to my ears.

Being confronted with another medium, one that I am personally unfamiliar with, allowed me to gain perspective. Honestly, with any art form it is easy to think that you would be seen as unintelligent if you did not like the art, or if you said that you didn't understand it at first. Some art forms take patience and willingness to understand.

Just like jazz stunned me, these pieces of art stunned me. I looked at them in a sort of nightmarish way - spirals, collages, splatters of paint, all put together with heaps of yarn. At the exhibit, I looked at pieces over and over, reading the descriptions to try to understand what was happening. And the thing was, I didn't understand it, and that is okay. Sometimes you just have to accept something and let it be.

Jazz gave me a gut reaction, just as contemporary art, just as some poems and novels. Sometimes you just go with your gut instinct - a feeling, an emotion. How does the piece strike you? Perhaps you may find humor, creativity, boldness, inspiration, or even freedom in a piece without exactly knowing why.

This video of Charles Mingus playing "Flowers for a Lady" musically presents the same shocking feeling I felt about this art collection - I saw beauty, but also controlled chaos, and abstraction.

Final Thoughts: 
I have found that sometimes the most you learn about jazz is when you are doing something completely non-related to jazz in the first place. By stepping outside and appreciating new art, I was able to see the physical and symbolic - how this art related to me. And with each paint stroke and collage I was able to understand the feeling of acceptance for an art you may just not 'get' at first glance. Joy comes from your heart not your head. You don't need to be an art expert to get nostalgic about a sculpture. You don't need to be a jazz aficionado to cry at Billy Strayhorn's Lush Life. It just happens.

My sketch of Thelonious Monk
This sentiment inspired me to start drawing. As I have mentioned here, I don't consider myself an artist; but I as I was surprised to find out that jazz musicians Miles Davis and Tony Bennett drew at the Montreal Jazz Festival, I figured why not draw what inspires me?

Inspired, I wrote my poem, "Wrong" on my jazz poetry blog, "Without a Poem", in which I improvise a new poem everyday without editing my thoughts. I will also share my 'sketch of the day' on my poetry blog!

Share your thoughts about the similarities between modern art and jazz in the comments.

Photographs by Grace-Mary Burega.

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