Ask Parvati 29: Art As Soul Food

BY Parvati

ART AS SOUL FOOD

Dear Parvati,
I have been thinking about creative expression and how not all expressions are expansive. I recently had a pop song stuck in my head (Adele’s “Someone Like You”), and realized that the song is just glorifying the idea, amplifying the energy, of remaining stuck holding on to something instead of moving on with life. Then, last week I was in a shoe store and I heard Lady Gaga’s “Alejandro”, and while it was catchy, I also felt a strong sense of unease in my body at being exposed to these sounds, and was deeply relieved to get out of there. There are other artists whose music makes me feel good, like Eva Cassidy or Chicane. Your music feels really good and nourishing to me. Some classical music feels good, but not all. Good energy doesn’t seem to be tied to the genre of music or even to the words (there are songs with apparently positive messages that feel deeply uncomfortable for me). So how do we know when a work of art of any kind is nourishing our spirit? How do we know when engaging with a song or other work is taking us off path? And how do we know when our creative impulses are in service to the highest good?

 
 
PART 1: PERSONAL PERCEPTION AND THE UNIVERSAL
Thank you for sending in this question. Art and creativity are very close to my heart, as you know.
Creativity ultimately is a personal thing. We each have unique taste. We will respond differently to various artistic expressions. Some will feel boosted while others deflated by the same work of art. So are there any universal themes that tie artistry together?
No one song, composition, opera, symphony or concerto will make everyone feel the same way. If there are a thousand people in a room at a gig, there will be a thousand opinions about the music. That is part of human nature. We all perceive differently.
But deeper than perception, musicology and music therapy show us that certain sounds can cause a universal response. For example, minor musical keys tend to feel somber as compared to a major key. Chords that feel more open, such as a major seventh or eleventh chord, will feel more expansive, whereas a major triad will provide a sense of strength and stability. These are the colours that a composer has to use as he/she paints a sonic landscape. His/her specific collection of sounds that expand versus sounds that constrict creates the unique artist expression of that composition.
The same is true for dancers. Certain physical expressions will emit the emotion of hope where as others will communicate despair. Bringing the various emotional expressions into a choreographed piece will communicate the overall message of the artist. And the same would follow for painters, filmmakers, writers etc.
Beyond this more analytic approach to art, if we are going to look at how art nourishes the spirit, we need to explore the power of intention and consciousness and what those do to the creative process. For example, what makes the same singer have different recordings of a song and one makes your spine tingle and the other one leaves you flat? We could say great pitch, tone, etc… We could say that the unheard but sensed overtones varied based on the particular performance and that affected how we felt about it. Maybe there was a certain “je ne sais quoi” in the performance that contributed to a presence in the voice that just felt right, even if it was not technically perfect.
A singer can sing a supposedly happy song in a melancholic way by changing the inflexion of his/her voice or by adapting the speed and tone used. Depending on the state of consciousness at the time of creation, a piece with happy lyrics can come across as manipulative or insincere.
Emotional presence and the state of mind are communicated in the work of art. On this, we likely could all agree. What about the intention that the artist has to create? Does that affect the artistic work? How does intention affect the audience when the art is delivered? Does it change the way we experience art?
(Continued tomorrow with The Power of Intention)