let's dance about architecture

I would be surprised if anyone interested at all in fine arts had not heard or read "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture."  Though there is some controversy about its source, it is its meaning that I have been contemplating as of late.

If you are as interested in this statement as I am, I truly recommend that you read the entirety of the article linked above, as it provides some fascinating analogies for this sentiment.  (The first similar usage is from 1918, noting that "writing about music is as illogical as singing about economics.")  It seems that, over time, it has been construed as meaning 1) that people do not want to write about music, 2) that it is too difficult to write about music, or 3) that it is entirely pointless to write about music (presumably because the "meaning" of music cannot be conveyed in any other form).

I lean toward the belief that the "meaning" or "message" of musical pieces cannot be translated into words; the Italian phrase "traduttore, traditore" ("translator, traitor" or often translated as "translation is treason") comes to mind.  Indeed it would be quite presumptuous to assert in no uncertain terms that Beethoven's 7th Symphony is "about" subject A or B, unless, in the case of some pieces and authors, it is plainly stated that the music addresses a certain topic.

But "translatability" is not the issue here.  Why shouldn't we talk or write or dance about music or architecture or economics?  Why are these off limits?

Let's look at those three construals again:

  1. People do not want to write about music.  We know this isn't true.  Shelves of books, legions of university students, and the very existence of the field of musicology attest to this fact.
  2. It is too difficult to write about music.  See above.
  3. It is entirely pointless to write about music.

The third construal is the issue here.  I've said that translation can only ever be approximate, but let's ask ourselves if talking about music is translation at all.  I would venture to say that it is not.  Talking about music is about exploring one piece of art in a number of different ways, including tearing it up and analyzing it with words.

And here's where we arrive at my point: Let's talk about things.  Let's get worked up about them.  Let's take the music we love and experience it in every way we can.  And let's dance about architecture.  Let's try to experience the beauty of landscapes in the planes of the human body.  Let's treat the body with the reverence that we show to cathedrals and skyscrapers.  And why not sing about economics?  There are multitudes of songs about less engaging topics.

I'm talking about being engaged.  If you love something, why not take it and spin it, make it your own?  You don't have to tell this to my brother, who writes music about Monet's lilies.  Or to my sister, who sculpts about physics and existentialism.  I've recently been dancing about evolution and improvising music about color and time.  (See also: Pilobolus dancers exploring symbiosis and deaf artist Sun Kim materializing sound.)

Look at your universe and experience it in your own way.  If that means dance or writing or music, then so be it.  If it means talking or arguing or looking up in perfect silence at the stars, then do it!  No matter how you do it, be engaged.  Make this world your own.

[img] [ballerina project]