There’s art you see, art that you taste, art that you feel, and there’s art that you hear. Whether it’s a magnificent painting, a gourmet meal, a smooth marble sculpture, or an enchanting melody, art is a language of the senses. It shows us what is beautiful and it teaches us how to find those qualities in the world around us.
While developing This Must Be the Place: The Art of Landscape, MSV Deputy Director for Arts and Education, Nancy Huth, focused on the idea of picturesque landscape - images that emphasize both the beauty and the grandeur of the natural world. Rather than writing about the artists, Nancy chose to explore countries and geographic regions. This approach made us think about the epiphanies we experience when we find an ideal scene or place, often expressed with the awe-inspired exclamation, “This must be the place!”
I realized that the title we had chosen was not only a common phrase, but it was also the title of a really great Talking Heads song “This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody).” This staccato synthesizer-driven song became an underlying muse. I kept hearing the song in my head as the exhibition developed. Soon, every thematic section had a song of its own. This was not our original intent, but we were inspired by something not entirely related to the subject matter. It’s the type of thing that happens often in the creative process of exhibitions and is typically not obvious to visitors. The resulting playlist, known only to the exhibit team, is an eclectic mix from new wave to folk to techno to baroque classical.
Just as there is music in nature for those who choose to hear it, there is music in this show too. If you haven’t seen it, please check it out. If you have, take another look and let the music guide you.
Here’s our subliminal playlist:
1. This Must Be the Place – The Talking Heads (above)
Talking Heads’ frontman David Byrne credits this song as the first love song he ever wrote. The lyrics are a series of non-sequiturs expressing states of happiness and tranquility. It’s the perfect fusion of emotional and physical circumstances, and a great compliment to picturesque landscape paintings.
2. Pure Imagination – Gene Wilder
2016 has been a year filled with the tragic losses of some of our favorite musicians and actors. The passing of comedic actor Gene Wilder was fresh in our minds as we were developing this show. At our first panel reading, the message of the first landscapes being imaginary scenes created by Flemish painters conjured this song from the 1971 film Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
3. From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea – The Cure
A dark and stormy sea with frothy waves crashing is dramatic stuff. It leaves no doubt as to why early British landscape painters were swayed by the opportunities it presented to portray legendary battles and shipwrecks. This Cure song from their 1992 release “Wish” is a haunting story about two lovers set on the English coast.
4. What If We Went to Italy – Mary Chapin Carpenter
The Grand Tour of Italy is a strong theme in Julian Wood Glass Jr’s collection. The MSV benefactor carried on this cultural rite of passage by visiting historic places and viewing architectural wonders throughout Europe. From a portrait by Pompeo Batoni to Francesco Guardi’s “View of the Rialto Bridge” his collection, and our exhibition, are heavily influenced by classical art. Somewhat less aristocratic, this acoustic ballad by Mary Chapin Carpenter describes how many of us think of traveling to Italy today.
5. Tour de France – Kraftwerk
It’s hard for us to imagine a time when people didn’t love the great outdoors. As residents and natives of the Valley know, we are surrounded by some of the most renowned natural landscape in the world. However, something most of us don’t know is that landscape paintings actually influenced people to travel outside of cities to see the countryside. In France during the mid-1800s, trains provided tourists and artists the opportunity to travel with ease, increasing access to what was once wilderness. Techno music pioneers Kraftwerk released this song in 1983 to celebrate their interest in the Tour de France bicycle race. The lyrics, sung in German, are translated below:
The hell of north Paris-Roubaix,
The Cote d'Azur and Saint Tropez
The Alps and the Pyrennees
Last stage Champs-Elysees
Galibier and Tourmalet
Dancing to the top
Bicycling at high gear
Final sprint at the finish
Flat tire on the paving stones
The bike is repaired quickly
The peloton is regrouped
Comrades and friendship
6. Rule Britania –Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
According to tradition, “Rule Britannia” is a patriotic song about the dominance of the Royal Navy and the British Army. It figures prominently in The Last Night of the Proms at Royal Albert Hall, which by most accounts is a rowdy event where the entirety of the audience belts out this song at the top of their lungs. As rebellious Americans, this song seems to reflect our notions of British culture and the formality of British art. See for yourself.
7. America the Beautiful – Ray Charles
Ray Charles is an American music legend, no less a national treasure than our greatest works of art. Here’s his performance of this classic anthem “America the Beautiful” from The Dick Cavett Show in 1972. You might notice that he starts this rendition with the original poetic verse, before singing the familiar lines most of us learned as children about “spacious skies” and “amber waves of grain”.