Liquid Emotion of A Frozen Time
“Music is liquid architecture; Architecture is frozen music.”
| Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
The relationship between different art forms has a long history in the theory of the aesthetics. Philosophers have not only been curious about specific similarities or differences between the disciplines, but they were mainly interested in the impact specific art forms may have had in the evolution of other art forms. Within this blog post, I reflect on photography as an art form, and search for a way to characterize the medium of photography by looking at architecture and music as other art forms. By the end, I’ll argue why I believe that photography is liquid emotion of a frozen time.
The German philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling was very engaged in the discussion of architecture’s impact on the evolution of music. Schelling’s thoughts can be attributed to the idealism, a political movement that emerged in the late 18th century. In the idealism, philosophers looked at objects as perceived subjects. They were less intrigued by the properties objects inherently possess “in themselves”, but mainly in those that we are able to discover through ways the objects appear to us. The essence of an object, i.e. the properties things have independently of mind and perception, is unknown. Schelling characterised architecture as “frozen music”. In his perception of the arts, called the “organistic model”, architecture represents the “lasting, objective element” and music the “fleeting subjective factor” (1). Both art forms are the two extreme poles from which all other art forms derive according to this model. Contrary to the organistic model, other philosophers such as Hegel and Schopenhauer formulated the “teleological model”. In this view, the two art forms are “the beginning and the endpoint of progressive, developmental tendencies in the arts, from raw material to intellectual intangibles.” As such, Schelling formulated that the transition from sound to substance characterises the relationship between both art forms and defined architecture as “frozen music”. In both models, the philosophers emphasized the common ground between both art forms: mathematics. The British musician and musicologist Deryck Cooke claimed that music is created with “tones” instead of “stones” in order to establish rhythm, balance and proportion (2). These tones are deciphered through mathematics such as frequencies, intervals, scales, notation or rhythm meter. In architecture, the placement of stones establishes rhythm, form, balance and proportion that induces a perception of space. Through modern psychological art and perception theories, architecture has been repositioned as the art of choreographed space. On the contrary, this space can also be created as psychological effect of music. The lecturer and philosopher Edward Howard Griggs therefore described music as liquid architecture (3). In his famous TED talk from 2010 David Byrne discussed the intimate dialogue between music and architecture and emphasized that certain types of music work better for specific places (4). For him, music is made to fit into certain contexts. The moment, music is created, the context and space surrounding the composer is therefore the trigger to create and emotions are the brush to shape it, according to Byrne. Therefore, music is adaptive to the environment that contains it and potentially even written for it. The quote that is connected to Goethe describes the relationship between architecture and music we laid out in here: “Music is liquid architecture; Architecture is frozen music.”
Photography as Liquid Emotion of a Frozen Time
Originally, the term “photography” was created from the Greek words φῶς (phōs) that can be translated to “light” and γραφή (graphé) which stands for “drawing”. When we talk about photography, we basically mean “drawing or painting with light”. This light however is reflected from objects. As such we not only paint with light, but we basically paint the light. As I wrote in my blog post on Banding, when light photons interact with an image sensor free electrons are also released. Depending on the photon energy, a different number of electrons is released. This impulse is translated on the light sensitive image sensor in digital cameras into a RAW file that contains the electronic information from the sensor. Thus, we paint light itself in photography. Without light we would not be able to see shape, nor color, nor space, nor contrast, nor movement. However, light is not only the physical cause of what we see, it not only helps us discovering day cycle, it also causes biological and psychological effects impacting our health and wellbeing (5). Light can disrupt our sleep or cognitive performance such as activation or reaction times. Absence of light can accelerate a depression, but it can also enlighten, motivate and make humans comfortable.
When we paint the light, this has at least three consequences:
1. We do not photograph objects, but the light that is reflected from them. Similar to the idea of the idealism, we photograph an appearance of an object based on a specific point in time. A frozen time.
2. By shaping the light, we can directly affect the perception of our photograph and the psychological reaction to it.
3. The essence of an object, i.e. the properties things have independently of mind and perception, might be unknown. However, similar to the idea of music and space, photography is also adaptive to the environment. When we make a photograph, we react to something. Often, we don’t even know what it is or cannot describe it, but it gives us reason for the artistic act. We all might react differently in a certain moment, based on our individual experiences. However, this liquid reaction might be the closest we can get to an essence of an object transforming it into an expressive photograph.
In sum, to me photography is liquid emotion of a frozen time. And it is why I love photography as a medium that much. It brings me closer to the essence and finally to myself.
Have a wonderful day and enjoy the light!
Khaled Saleh Pascha: „Gefrorene Musik“ Das Verhältnis von Architektur und Musik in der ästhetischen Theorie. Dissertation TU Berlin, Berlin, 2004, https://depositonce.tu-berlin.de/bitstream/11303/1333/1/Dokument_43.pdf.
Deryck Cooke: The Language of Music. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1959.
Griggs, Edward Howard: The Philosophy of Art : The Meaning and Relations of Sculpture, Painting, Poetry and Music, Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y. : Orchard Hill press, 1922.
David Byrne: How Architecture Helped Music Evolve, TED Talks, February 2010, https://www.ted.com/talks/david_byrne_how_architecture_helped_music_evolve.
Rudolf Arnheim: Art and Visual Perception. A Psychology of the Creative Eye, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974.