Invisible Art

in #art6 years ago (edited)

“The conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects.” That’s how Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “art.”

blank art.jpg
No this post isn’t about white canvases or minimalism

“Aesthetic objects” in the above definition don’t really address the art of a great novelist, or for that matter, a tribal storyteller weaving a dramatic fantasy in oral form.


Beyond literature and storytelling, what about music? Music is arguably the highest form of art, and it is an invisible art form – indeed some of our greatest musical artists in recent history were themselves blind.

Prior to the modern age of audio recordings, music was an ephemeral art form. You could see the artist creating art and you would hear it, yet the created art itself was invisible and fleeting. It’s wondrous to think about. Vibrations travel through air and bounce off one’s ear drums, and the brain processes those audio signals. In the case of music, those audio signals have the potential to elicit a deep emotional response in the listener.

It is also an art form that has the power to unify an entire audience in an intensely focused artistic experience – a group sharing an emotional experience in the here-and-now. Of course I can only speak for myself, but some of the most powerful and vivid memories I have are of musical performances. How about you?

We tend to accept the existence of music as a given without pausing to reflect on the wonder of what is happening. Thankfully, even though we couldn’t record music until recently, human ingenuity devised a system of transcribing what musicians were doing so it could be duplicated. Thus we have the gift of being able to listen to music that was created centuries ago. That also allowed us to build upon what went before. Other cultures, such as India, developed a rich musical heritage and extraordinary master musicians without musical notation.

John McLaughlin

I’ve had the honor of interviewing the guitarist John McLaughlin, a living legend in jazz circles, three separate times. He is of course famous for his work with Miles Davis, but he is also one of the rare jazz artists who plays and performs in India with Indian master musicians. So those interviews gave me the chance to get off the beaten track and explore the magical side of music with this master musician. Here is a brief part of one such exchange:

Alan Bryson: You meet so many people out on tour, so you may know this person already, the neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks, is he someone you've met?

John McLaughlin: Yes! I know his nephew, I've been in communication with him, and he sent me an autographed book from Oliver. It's fascinating.

AB: Oh great, that's what I wanted to ask you about. I've just started reading it, I'm talking about "Musicophilia" which deals with music and the brain. The really fascinating thing about it for music lovers, is that most of us just accept music as a given. But Dr. Sacks points out in his book that even Charles Darwin was really puzzled by human musicality and he called it a mystery he couldn't explain. He also mentioned the science fiction author Arthur Clarke, he wrote a novel about alien overlords who came to earth, they were super intelligent, but they couldn't experience music, and they couldn't understand why we were moved by it. Although they could, on an intellectual level, see rhythm, harmony, notes, and understand the complexity of music, but they couldn't appreciate it.

Then Dr. Sacks points out that there are a few people who are normal in every way, except that their brain can't process music. If they turn on the radio, it sounds like a horrible noise, like nails on a chalkboard. So I wanted to ask you your thoughts about where music actually comes from?

JM: Well the answer, it's obviously a big mystery. Let me come back to the title of the album, "Black Light." It's one of the more irrational statements that I've made, because if you're thinking in a logical way, black light is nonsense. But we're irrational beings. We like to be rational sometimes, but art is completely irrational because it doesn't mean anything except what it is. It doesn't refer to anything, yes when we improvise we tell our life story in a capsule, but this is done spontaneously. But black light to me expresses the thought, how am I able to see images in my head where there is no light.

How am I able to hear the music? How does music that I've never heard before, come into my mind? I can hear it, it's music that's never been played. This is new music, and this is what happens when I make a record. How is this possible? How is it possible that I'm hearing new music that is coming into my mind, I hear it and I write it down.

I haven't the faintest idea how it happens! I have no idea, and "why?" is not even a question I can pose. "Why?" doesn't belong in the irrational world, because it's completely irrational. I have no idea how this music comes to me.

I talk to my painter friends, they have no idea. I have one particular friend who paints, he's one of the great wild animal painters in the world. He tells me, "It comes into my head, my mind, I see it in its totality!" I asked him, "How is this possible?" He says, "I have no idea." What can I answer? I'm confronted with the same mystery every time music comes into my head that I've never heard before. It's inexplicable, it has no logic, it has no reference to anything other than it is what it is.

I mean, I read Oliver Sacks, and I've read another book by an Indian brain surgeon. He is capable of recognizing a musician's brain, physically. That's far out. He says it has different kinds of convolutions between the two hemispheres than a typical brain. He said the thing that happens is that there are lots of synapses that grow between the left and the right hemispheres because of the necessity of discipline, which is logical, married with the completely irrational instinctive spontaneous nonthinking side—the global side and the personal side. He said that he can recognize that, and that really blew my mind too.

So the answer to your question is frankly Alan, I have no idea. It's been a mystery my whole life and here I am, 73 years old and I still don't know. I'm just thankful and amazed every time it happens.


Thus we have a music legend who has spent a lifetime wrestling with the question of where music comes from and admits it is still a mystery. I went on to ask him if perhaps music might be similar to mathematics. Math is based upon universal laws which already exist, they are discovered but not created. Are there perhaps musicians who are able to tap into a higher plane and channel music in some way? Our conversation continued along that line, also getting into God, Bach, Mozart, Alan Watts and even psychedelics -- if you’re interested you can read the rest here

There is so much more I would like to write, but it is simply too much for a single Steemit post. Here is a brief bit of what interests me. Painting, drawing, and sculpture began as an attempt to replicate our physical reality, and eventually artists began to incorporate emotion, imagination and fantasy into their work. On the other hand, there is no sound in our physical world which comes close to the music made by humans – although music can, for example, evoke images of the ocean.

That’s perhaps why Mark Tobey, the artist in my last post, said if he could do it over he would have been a musician. Albert Einstein put it this way: “If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.”

Keeping it short – just as music seems to flow to the musician’s mind, could it be that some visual art is also “out there” somewhere, waiting to be discovered? How is is possible that many people who take psychedelic substances are flooded with intricately beautiful moving images somewhat like this?

Is this encoded in our genes? Are we capable of accessing a collective consciousness or cosmic consciousness under certain circumstances?

That’s an intriguing question for another post, as is the subject of the pineal gland.

The Invisible Art Exhibit

My post above was essentially an introduction to a video playlist I’ve entitled “Invisible Art," which I suggest you listen to while watching another video.

The playlist consists of music which paints emotion with tone and rhythm. All the tracks are performed by musicians I’ve interviewed. In each case, the musician I interviewed is the primary artist, with two exceptions. On the track “Lady Day & John Coltrane,” I interviewed the keyboardist, not the singers. On the track “Man’s Hope” I interviewed the bassist. (If you are outside of Germany you might not be able to hear the track “Frog Dance”-- a work-around would be to use a VPN address from Germany.)

The Experience is to listen to the "Invisible Art" playlist while watching an ever-changing fractal animation.


Open this “Invisible Art” musical playlist in a new window


Open the video below in a new window and be sure to change the quality to HD.

Suggestion: While you listen to the playlist with headphones or good speakers, watch this fractal animation in full screen in high definition. These animations mimic the visualizations the human mind seems to have the potential to generate when influenced by psychedelic substances.

When you watch the fractal animation and simultaneously listen closely to this improvised music, your brain will intuitively look for patterns. This search for patterns can weave the audio and the visual together into an experience. If the music connects with you, you will find yourself in the moment – in a deeply satisfying state of contemplation and relaxation. A musical trip without the inherent risks of mind altering substances.

So thanks for stopping by, that's my final post for 2018.

I wish everyone happy holidays and I’ll see you in 2019

1 is a YouTube screen capture with effects by @roused
2 is from (free use)
3 John McLaughlin, original photo by Pepe Gomes with effects by @roused


I also wish you happy holidays, have a good time! See you in 2019!

Interestingly philosophy never have been able to come up with a satisfying definition of art. That is probably the reason for the muffled definition of Merriam-Webster :) One of the earliest attempts were the semi-religious Greek muses. Both lesser goddesses and symbolic representatives. Music was indeed part of that art view, but not the creation of objects!

I tend to consider art a complex expansion of basic language like simple sounds or words, body language, facial expressions etc. Humans just do this when they speak. Intonation, funny words, rhythm, different voices... it is basically music, but it is also literature. Patterns and meaning weaved together. But it doesn't stop there. The tool we make with our hands are also able to transmit the same thing and it even has the ability to save the language after the death of the person. Writing (including scores), pottery, painting, architecture, recordings... it goes on forever. We even invent new languages. There are so many ways we can do this.

Just listen how this little girl! already a language master.

And thanks for the video. It will listen these coming days.

:-D cute kid

An all encompassing definition of art is indeed elusive. There was a US supreme court justice who was asked to define pornography, and said, I can't define it, but I know it when I see it. That kind of works for art too ;-)

Visually one could argue that we can't compete with nature:

Music seems to be one spot where we really shine.
(Images from

I guess we all know what it is, but just lack a water-proof definition. Quite common with language actually even though we . Meaning is defined through consensus and art is maybe one of the factors that moves the consensus to new definitions. And I am not sure music is different from Images or words. Sounds in nature can be a very strong, and what you see with your eyes rather frameless. We create the patterns to understand it all, or maybe we see and listen and find the patterns that governs it all?

I am interested in what the judge would call this. Pornography or Norpography.

Uh oh, I'm embarrassed to admit I've never heard of "norpography" and couldn't find a definition. I'm guessing the late judge would have been similarly bewildered with the word and the gif ;-)

I should have been more careful in expressing my thoughts on visual art. I don't want to leave readers with the impression that I don't value visual art. Your point about framing is very important. Visual art has the power to express of emotion and meaning. Also it can transform reality in new ways. It challenges us to see our reality differently.

For decades I went around thinking there was one reality, but with time I came to believe that there isn't one reality. Instead, each of us walks around with our own version. No doubt that is also true in relation to what we consider art.

Your point about the beauty and power of natural sounds is also important, I didn't mean to minimize that, but I do feel that for some mysterious reason humans have been given the gift of music. As I perceive it, it's not a representation of natural sounds -- music transcends them, it is its own reality, like the elegance of math.

Architecture is (for me) another art form that is somewhat independent of the beauty of nature, yet it can intersect and enhance nature. Great architecture is something that transcends our known reality and enriches it. Like music and math it is elegant.

This is an expansive topic, and I am admittedly an artistic illiterate -- but it's better to be thinking along these lines than what spews out of the television ;-)

Haha, yes, I invented the word, norpography :)

It is true that music has a synthetic feel to it, less natural and possibly closer to the strange unworldly world of mathematics. But the older I get the more I do refer my musical experiences to the natural world. The heartbeat, the sound of the sea, noises in all their annoying glory. Gustav Mahler says it here:

"He explains the method once when, on a country walk, his companion complains of fairground noises that disturb the peace – a crackle of shooting galleries, puppet shows, a military band, an amateur choir. ‘You hear that?’ cries Mahler. ‘That’s polyphony and this is where I get it from. As a small child in the Iglau woods … a racket like this: a thousand birds singing, the howling of a storm, the slap of waves, or the crackle of a fire. Just like this – from different sides – the themes appear, different from each other in rhythm and melody."

Copy pasted from here.

Mathematics is indeed independent of nature, it is the language that only exist in the heads of men (almost) without any relation to the human senses (except it is impossible without the human and the human is impossible without senses). Music lends from this abstraction. It is patterns like in Islamic pictorial art. But music is also physical in a very direct way, that is at least how I feel.

An expansive topic indeed.

No doubt about it, nature can deeply influence music -- I was thinking of Debussy's "La mer, trois esquisses symphoniques pour orchestre" when writing my previous comment.

As beautiful as a chorus of birds, frogs and crickets at night, a babbling brook, or the surf of the ocean are, some music seems to connects us to a higher consciousness outside of our earthly existence.

“Music is, to me, proof of the existence of God. It is so extraordinarily full of magic, and in tough times of my life I can listen to music and it makes such a difference.” Kurt Vonnegut

Yes some music, even good music, "can" seem synthetic, but most of the music I love feels organic and soulful -- even when electric guitar is involved. This kind of music draws inspiration from creation, but my suspicion is that it is more cosmic creation than earthly if you know what I mean.

I think we are orbiting a similar view. Synthetic in the sense that it is man made, like math with no real natural reference. The fact that math does fit strangely with what we see in nature has an even stronger case in music, because we know it with our bodies. This is the nature I am talking about, and to me that involves all of the universe (where math also seems to be in sync.)

Yep we seem to be on the same wave length on a lot of these questions.

My intuition tells me that we (and pretty much everything) is about frequencies of some sort -- color, music, objects. Math and physical laws we aren't even aware of (yet) are in play.

Existence is a wild ride!

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