Color Melody and Memory


“In color are found harmony, melody and counterpoint…Harmony is the basis of the theory of color . Melody is unity within color, or the coloring in general. Melody requires a cadence; it is an assembly in which all the individual effects merge in one general effect. Thus melody leaves a profound impression on the mind.” There is something to this sense of melody that Charles Baudelaire muses on in his essay on “What is Romanticism?” Harmony seems easier to grasp. Harmony is  the proper relationship and balance of color and color temperature in a painting. There is an interaction between the colors that produces an effect that is unified, giving a general feeling of balance to the whole.

But melody has to do with the flow of passages- of color, form and line, within the image; the rhythmical construction of the parts; the proper measure and modulation that taken together creates a wholeness and a certain effect of feeling or emotion. In music movement is ever progressing. It cannot be held. Painting is more difficult because it is held but must also comprise the entire symphony at once. There must be movement throughout and simultaneously it must also have a “suspended moment” held at its greatest point of expression- creating a heightened sense of emotion. This combination of opposing forces is what gives an image “life”- a reflection of nature itself. Creating a strong juxtaposition of color and form, an arrangement  that flows like nature, is the task of the artist.

In Boisbaudran’s study on The Training of the Memory in Art, he points out that when he asked his students to produce from memory a certain arrangement of lines or an object or a face, he found that the student’s ability to remember a face was greater. Their ability to reproduce a face from memory with more exactitude than an inanimate object or an abstract arrangement of lines, he attributed to our innate sense of  what it is to be human. Our inherent sense of  the faces’ specific arrangement automatically touches our memory. Certain arrangements of color and form impact the  memory with greater intensity than do others.

Melody presents memory with an order that not only appeals to our sense of being human but also ties that order to an emotion. This is what is so appealing in great music-from the prelude to the climax to the resolution- it touches our emotions and holds us suspended. If one takes this and then adds an image to it, how much more will the psyche and the emotions be effected and therefore hold it in memory. How much more will the memory be engaged and therefore our entire being? One will have the capacity to recall  the image with ease because it has touched a deeper center within us. Melody of color and form, its rhythmic movement and climax, together creates an indelible image capable of residing in the memory as a force of transformation.

Author: Judith Reeve

For nearly 30 years I've developed my painting practice in the studio, building on what I leaned from my student days at the Lyme Academy of Fine Art. Along with my daily journey creating images which I write about here on this blog, I am also currently writing a book on the color practice of Robert Henri.

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