Music for Art Portfolio

A thoughtfully selected and organized art portfolio is a visual symphony. There is the introduction of thematic material, and then development of that material. There is an aspect of recapitulation also. We are ultimately brought back to the essential idea of the set. It is driven home for us. We carry it away with us as a gift from the viewing. The effective portfolio presentation might focus narrowly on a single subject, or more broadly on complimentary subjects. But generally there is some thread running through the works which creates unity. We learn about one painting from information in another. We discover the subtle in one piece from the explicit in a second.

By way of contrast, our appreciation of the art portfolio presentation is diluted when there is an insufficient concentration of subject material, or when there is thematic disparity. What is the effect of a photo set featuring three beautiful butterfly closeups along with three spooky shots of haunted houses? It is one of diminishing impact. It is as if we are trying to tell two different stories – one about light and one about darkness – at the same time. Our involvement with the set is bifurcated. The individual pieces are appreciated less and the overall experience is ambiguous.

Nevertheless, even the well chosen portfolio is not always such an easy nut to crack. This is where a musical component can work magic in terms of enhancing the experience and appreciation of the art set. In abstract art, for example, where we often lack for recognizable images or familiar patterns, music can suggest a narrative, an emotional response to the visual works. This is the composer’s take on the set, of course, not ours. As likely as not, we won’t see or feel the work in exactly the same way as the composer. But we are challenged, activated, into formulating our own meaningful narrative, into exploring our own unique emotional response.

Music can indirectly enhance the experience of the portfolio set by referencing a period in history, a holiday season, a creative genre. Softly murmuring ghosts and distant wolf cries add sonic color to a set of misty Transylvania landscapes. Sleigh-bells and caroling contribute spirit to the Christmas art show. Insistent snares and tympani shots like cannon bursts animate the military art retrospective. A dreamy electric guitar, heavy on the reverb, takes us back to the 1960’s for the rock art review.

Poorly chosen music, of course, can be nothing but an intrusion, an unwelcome distraction. At best, the music may suggest a narrative for the portfolio set or a common thematic element running through the works. The music may establish historical context for the presentation, or serve to stir in us memories and associations relevant to the visual portfolio.