Monday, 2 September 2013

Reverse Ekphrasis: Music Into Art

I loved teaching ekphrasis in high school -- having students look at pieces of art and then write poetry about them (or sometimes studying published examples of the written art). Cool examples include poetry inspired by art such as William Carlos Williams' The Fall of Icarus;  after contemplating Brueghel's painting, Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, Williams'  eyes turned to the corner, away from the farmer, where most people look, to the legs splashing into the water. He writes:

unsignificantly
off the coast
there was
a splash quite unnoticed
this was
Icarus drowning




But this sketchbook could do more. I imagined using music as the inspiration for us to create art. Where the painting inspired the writing before, now the writing inspires the painting, or in the case of my first sketch, oil pastels.

One of my favorite memories with Michael is of a small concert in Baltimore I attended just before moving to Singapore. Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova's film Once (a musical movie) was one of my favorites, and the two were on stage in my own hometown. I wanted to freeze that moment in time, seeing them in person and hearing their heartfelt music -- soon enough, we found out the concert had been professionally recorded, and we raced to buy it on iTunes. I often find myself going back to one song they performed that night (and that Glen had performed years earlier with his band, The Frames.

"Star Star" centers me. There's a point in the song where he surprises you. It fills me with the wonder of a child and is my go-to song when I'm having a tough day as a grown-up.

Quite simply, it's my song.


But I was stuck with how I'd make it into art. I wrote the lyrics down. I made lists to generate images, like the verbs he used, the repeated images (sorry, I'm an RLA teacher)...and then I threw my pencil down, thinking, I don't want to do Starry Night like Van Gogh. I'm teaching my students how to avoid cliche, for goodness sake!

So I went into Barbara's art studio, played the song for a few of her students, and told her the story. She guided me to the oil pastels. We talked about paper and color; the rules of thirds and negative space; freedom to screw up.

Freedom to get my fingers dirty as I smudge everything. Freedom to not fill the whole thing in. Freedom to make movement visible and messy. Freedom to press hard on the oil pastel. Yes, I need to be told to let go, on occasion.

Which was the point of the song, oddly enough. Funny how art can bring us back to the images in the music that inspired us in the first place. Barbara "taught me how to shine, shine." Thank you, Barbara. And thank you, Glen.





5 comments:

  1. "So I went into Barbara's art studio, played the song for a few of her students, and told her the story. She guided me to the oil pastels. We talked about paper and color; the rules of thirds and negative space; freedom to screw up.

    Freedom to get my fingers dirty as I smudge everything. Freedom to not fill the whole thing in. Freedom to make movement visible and messy. Freedom to press hard on the oil pastel. Yes, I need to be told to let go, on occasion."

    Sounds a lot to me like writer's workshop . . . and the role of teacher AND writer. Lovely. The music, the art, and this post.

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  2. Ok Rebecca - you just made me cry! Thank you - it wasn't teacher and student.... no not at all .... it was teacher to teacher.... student to student. There is something very beautiful about speaking those thins we know to be true, right and just and watching it be embraced by another. Nice work Rock Star!

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  3. I love love love the Brueghel, first of all! We use it in our mythology unit in grade 7 here at ISKL -- along with poetry re. Icarus. Lovely stuff. Next? I loved Once (in NYC) and that you caught Glen Hansard in a such a small setting? Fantastic for you both. (I will research The Frames now!). Your next step was so much fun to follow, and I could indeed see you there with Barbara, in the art studio! (Barbara, is Rebecca an official "cherub" yet?) Love to you both! Tracy

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