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  • Writer's picturemarti mcginnis

How Music Can Influence Your Art

In My Studio

In artist's studios everywhere it is pretty standard to hear tunes playing while the creative within does her thing. Music can reach parts of your imagination that the visual world can't. It can elevate mood and inspire deep reflection. Music can spark memories, hood space for a thought or create a curtain that keeps the outer world away.

I got through stages of what I like to listen to when I'm painting or drawing. Sometimes it's directly related to the subjects of my creative inquiry and sometimes I use it to help get me prepared for the work ahead.

I first noticed the amazing influence music could have on an artist's vision when I was spellbound by the animated sequence of ancient Greece in Disney's Fantasia, the Pastoral sequence blew me away. It still does. That whole movie was an incredible achievement!

How Happy Music Creates Happy Creatives

A new study suggests that listening to happy music promotes more divergent thinking—a key element of creativity. It's the exploration of multiple ideas surround one central challenge.

After comparing participant performance on divergent and convergent thinking in the five scenarios, the researchers found that participants who’d listened to happy music had significantly higher scores on divergent thinking than those who’d performed in silence. In other words, they came up with more total ideas, and more creative and innovative ideas (as rated by people who were unfamiliar with the study’s aim). The other types of music did not have this impact.

Read the full article here.

They also discovered that the listeners did not have to like the music to be positively influenced by it!

Yep, you don't have to like Pharrell William's song "Happy" to reap the benefits of that upbeat tune in your creative endeavors.

25 Happy Songs

Oprah has compiled a list of 25 happy songs you can use as your playlist.

"Say Yes" by Michelle Williams feat. Beyoncé and Kelly Rowland

"Valerie" by Mark Ronson feat. Amy Winehouse

"Let's Go Crazy" by Prince

"Tightrope" by Janelle Monáe

See them all here.

Or just click on this video. It's got 2 hours of 'happy piano music'.


Evocative Music

Music that borders on the meditative can really set an inspiring tone for the space you make to hold your creative process. Let's say you're not interested in being as convergent as possible in your process for the day, but rather you just want an atmosphere that allows you to make your art unhindered. One of the participants in my Creativity Club shared the work of Arvo Part with the group. I fell in love with it immediately and share a long piece with ou right now.


Try It Out For Yourself!

Suggested Activity

Play a variety of songs in a variety of moods and create a series of paintings based on what you’re hearing.

While the music plays create a series of loose painting sketches - one for each song.

Possible subjects:

self portraits, abstracts, landscapes, etc....

The best materials for this project are those that can be used more fluidly while the music is being played. Consider using watercolors or other free flowing media.


Samples From My Sketchbook

Here are a few results from my sketchbook and the songs that inspired them:

Erik Satie's Gnosienne No. 1 - Guitar version - by Brandon Acker


Tiger Coming Down

This is a very old traditional Korean song about the turtle who needed to get the liver of a rabbit to submit to the king of the sea. But the turtle mispronounced mister rabbit (to-sunseng) and ended up summoning mister tiger (ho-sunseng). So the tiger comes down to see the turtle by a mistake.


God Only Knows

A gorgeous update to a Beach Boys favorite.



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