What Kind of Music for Art?

What Kind of Music for Art?

So you are a composer and have decided to write for an artist. You have chosen the painting you like and now you need an idea. Where to start?

A good place to start is with a review of the ways in which music can enhance visual art.


Sometimes the experience of a painting can be enhanced by sonic information about the “place” of the painting.  In space art, for example, a spacious reverb and creative uses of delay can emphasize a sense of vastness. In a tropical jungle scene, perhaps one with no animals, we can add some animal sounds.  Of course sound effects can be blatant, and generally speaking we will be going for a subtle mix. We want the music to enhance the experience of the art, not to overshadow it with distracting howls and hoots! Of course there is a place, from time to time, for the obvious sound effect. You will know that place when the time comes.

Sonic Narrative

In an action scene, we might find a way to convey musically a subnarrative for the painting.  Picture in your mind two low-flying space shuttles on patrol. Their long exhaust tails are burning hot. The planetary surface is not altogether smooth.  With the music, we can take a stand on the action of the painting. Is this a casual patrol? Or is there some urgent mission afoot. Can you convey urgency in your beat?  Is it possible that the shuttle hull is actually scraping against the surface rock from time to time? That has GOT to be stressful!

Consider a winter street scene of shoppers and shops. Perhaps there is some evidence of Christmas in the scene and perhaps not. Is that the sound of caroling we hear in the distance? Is that ringing the Salvation Army bell in front of a shop. Can your music convey the happy, and perhaps spiritual feeling, of a Holiday coming?


Of course you must ask yourself how the painting makes you feel. What mood does the painting establish for you? Is there a sense of foreboding – a queasy feeling that mayhem is imminent? What is conveyed by the image of a young woman, decked out for her Saturday night, passed out and sprawled on a city bench? Can your music high-lite the sense of despair, of failed hopes?  Abstract art lends itself wonderfully to taking a bold stand on mood. Do bright primary colors suggest celebration in the abstract piece? But surely you don’t want to use sound effects to convey that sense of celebration – you want your music to be abstract in the same sense as the painting. So how do you convey celebration and joy? Is there something comical about the piece? How do you express humor through your music? Does the abstract painting convey something spiritual to you? How do express a sense of the holy, or the profane for that matter, without the obvious sound effect?

Making some basic decisions about how you want the music to connect with the art can give you a creative springboard for that leap into your work.  At the end of the day, there are no wrongs when it comes to interpretation.  What is always right is successfully connecting music to art in a way which is meaningful to you.  Of course you have to be honest about the “successful” part!

Enjoy your music for art projects!  The artists are hugely grateful for this unique presentation of their works.



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