Do music and art influence one another? Measuring cross-modal similarities in music and art

Amanda Catherine Duthie, Alexander Bradley Duthie


The visual arts and music interact with one another on both an individual scale (e.g., music-inspired synesthetes and artist-musician duos) and on a grand scale (e.g., the art movement Baroque, wherein abstract qualities such as “ornamentation” permeate both media). We develop a means to measure one of the many cross-modal similarities between music and visual art to both reveal any direct influences between the media, and to apply them to determine whether these connections became stronger or weaker throughout time. We examined the cross-modally linked continuums of lightness of color and height of pitch within comparable paintings and music of a time-determined art movement. The model of comparison extracted, measured, and contrasted the attributes of lightness of color in art and height of pitch in music in works from Russia and France created between 1870 and 1920. Although Russian visual art was measurably darker in value than French visual art of the same time, no significant differences were found between Russian and French music. While our results do not suggest direct influences manifesting differently in each medium, they demonstrate the use of the lightness-pitch model, applicable to other eras to measure potential cross-modal convergence and divergence through time.


music; visual art; interdisciplinary art

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