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  • Writer's pictureVidya Shyamsundar


Music & Art

I like playing music in the background when I paint, but I have not attempted to express the feeling of the music through my art. I chose a piece of music that I love, Coldplay's A Sky Full of Stars, and let the music repeat until I stopped painting. Before I turned the music on, I spent a few minutes thinking about the outline for my composition instead of picking up the paintbrush and letting the paintbrush lead me. Then, I began to rehearse the lyrics in my head. Next, I thought about the materials I wanted to use. I could not convince myself that it was simply a playful exercise, and the objective was not to make a good painting. I took a deep breath, picked up my paintbrush, and let the song repeat for twenty minutes. I had mixed feelings about this exercise. I was happy that I forced myself to try something new, but I was not all in. I had bursts of enjoyment but still felt discontent. I picked up my sketchbook journal and wrote about the parts I liked and disliked about this piece and how I could tweak my mindset.

For the next exercise, I told myself that I was not perfecting the quality of my art but rather emotionally responding to the song’s essence. I chose one of the Indian classical songs I learned from my (late) grandmother. She was an instrumental artist and musician who played for All India Radio during her youth and motherhood. I was fortunate to spend two years living in my grandma's home during my junior/senior year of high school. She introduced me to the string instrument Veena and taught me the basics, and I continued my lessons until I learned to play a few moderately tricky notes. I wish I had shown more curiosity and interest; I would have learned more.

I decoupaged a picture of my grandma playing her instrument, Veena, and sitting on a chair. My mother was the oldest child among her four children. My mom's signature is the beautiful rice paste mandala on the floor, drawn with her fingertips. I included the image of a divine spirit to symbolize the Goddess of Power & Strength, Durga, which my grandma worshipped. Every day, before I went to school, my morning ritual was to tidy her porch with a broomstick and water and make a mandala drawing with rice flour. It was not my favorite activity. Often, I finished the chore with haste. My other routine was to clean her prayer room and prepare everything she needed for her prayers before I left for school. I had a gush of emotions while making this and felt so connected.

Decades later, one of my friends introduced me to an artist and musician, Lynn Miller. While admiring her mosaic art in her home, I noticed the instrument Veena tucked away in a corner. I could not help myself but ask her about it. She brought it out, and I had a moment to myself. It had broken strings, but I sat down and held the Veena, picturing the memories with my grandma. Lynn and I then shared our stories.

I wanted to continue to experiment with paint through music. I brought out my newly purchased Swarthmore Mixed Media 18" x 24" Pad, laid my supplies and tools on my painting desk, and began to make marks. I let everything go and immersed myself in the music. I played the IndoSoul Violin Fusion by one of my favorite Indian Violinists, Karthick Iyer. I grabbed my tools and paint and even tried painting with my eyes closed for a minute. I felt the energy and movement in my mind, body, and spirit. I felt the song's soul through - a sense of complete immersion. It was freeing!

I could not believe that I would let go of my thinking of 'should,' 'should not, or 'must,' 'must not,' but surprisingly, I succeeded in pushing away every thought that got in my way of judgment while I was making my pieces. It helped me to tap into a deeper part of myself. The result intrigued me. The swirls, abstract scripts, brushstrokes, scribbles, drips, lines, shapes, and forms with acrylics, pastels, and making marks using various tools such as a toothpick, old credit card, scrubber, art tape, onion bag, etc. captured the facets of my emotions - the feeling of darkness, happiness, calmness, busyness, energy, and movement. These became my clues to evolve my voice.

Painted to Brovabarama; Carnatic Violin Fusion; Indosoul by Karthick Iyer

Painted to Manavyalakim; Carnatic Violin Fusion; Indosoul by Karthick Iyer

I realized that play is an essential aspect of creativity. Creating time to quiet down our thinking mind is necessary. As my teacher, Louise Fletcher, puts it, “the thinking mind wants a plan and quick answers - an easy recipe that gets us from point A to point B in as little time as possible. Loosening our tight grip on control creates surprising results. Creating wonderful things is more than a belief - it's knowing.” I consider these words as words of wisdom.

My Next Upcoming Blog: Working in Series - My Studies & Exploration

Thank you for your time!

Peace & Namaste!


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