How To Make A Painting Sing, How to Make Music Painterly

A. Modigliani, “The Cellist” (1909)

As the cellist is alert to what his cello is saying to him, his body is in tune with slightest changes in the melodic “narration” of his cello. Composers and performers of music are prone to consider themselves number two and three, after their musical instrument. Looking at Modigliani’s cellist we‘re somehow unsure whether it is him who is playing the instrument, who brings the cello to life. Even in a more obvious case of violin when the musician sometimes appears almost like an acrobat, we feel that it is, as if, the instrument transforms the player into its angelic marionette, not a performer – the instrument into living music. That’s why Modigliani’s cellist is, as if, enveloping it with caring dedication.

Can it be the case that the cello player is listening to his mutuality with cello’s voice as Modigliani – to the cellist’s togetherness with music? Isn’t the same thing happening with the painter when the magic combination of his brush and canvass, or his pencil and paper or any combination of hand and surface in front of his eyes becomes the very perception opened as our throats to the air to inhale? The strings of the cello and the bow and the “wooden box” of the cello’s body are transformed into the larynx of the universe.

Modigliani gives his protagonist a preferential treatment – he identifies with him, he withdraws in front of the cellist’s music in reverie for a medium of art different from that of his own. Following the auditory concentration of the cellist , Modigliani intentionally makes the visual pallet of the painting dull and inexpressive (for example, he reduces the background pattern behind the musician into a barely discernible certainty). The painter kneels before the unity of the cellist and the music he makes his cello produce/his cello makes him create.

Let’s look at the painting again. Like a painter’s studio looks like a disorderly workshop, the interior where the cellist works is, as if, visually reduced to non-significance. It is the music that destroys the very idea of human interior – it is, as though, turns it off. Interior stops to exist when lovers make love. The cellist follows the cello, which moves not in space but in time, moves without space. Instead of space we, as if, see what is inside the cello, area which looks trivial only in visual terms – it’s just for listening.

But what is that on the cellist’s bow – some kind of stuff, like ash or mold covered with dust? It is the sounds, the music the cellist and the cello produce between human being and the angel who was just sleeping inside the cello and is awakened by the human inspiration which has touched the silence of the instrument. The musician in this moment became as if, reincarnation of this angel – in the box of the room as a second cello. Modigliani registers the moment of awakening. The painter plays the role of a midwife in this birth in front of our eyes. The visual and the auditory, the painting and the music come together in the very moment of birth of creation.

Modigliani makes painting sing, like he makes music visual. Painting music is like playing painting as cello. Like composer and cellist disappear in the music, the painter disappears in his painting. Creativity is cruel – it creates reality like a future life which comes because of and instead of its creators.

Amedeo Modigliani (1884 – 1920)
Amedeo Modigliani (1884 – 1920)