Music in Art

Keeping the beat while creating beauty
story and Photos by: Carla Edstrom
I always start out the day with a hot cup of coffee and music playing in my studio. My musical tastes tend to change daily with my mood. One day I’ll be listening to country and the next day the Kinks. Sometimes, I must have Bowie.

Unfortunately, my dear sweet husband knows what kind of mood I’m in by what I’m listening to and how loud I have it playing. And if its classic rock playing really loud like Led Zeppelin, that could be a sign of danger. If there is an accompanying sound of pottery breaking, that is a definite ominous sign. Probably best to wait until I’m back to playing Bowie before entering the studio.
With music being an important part of my life as both a singer and a potter, I am curious about how music influences other artists in their creative processes. It’s easy to understand why artists use music in their work and are moved by certain musical compositions because both art and music are able to express emotion without words. Georgia O’Keeffe created some of her early abstract paintings to convey a message without words, much the same way as music communicates. She was quoted in saying that music could be translated into something for the eye. She even named her early abstracts as musical compositions such as Music Pink and Blue no. 2.
Kathleen Durstewitz, a local watercolor artist, uses classical music to influence her watercolor painting. It is a creative process she discovered when she was a grade school art teacher. “I taught grades one through eight in both public and private schools,” says Durstewitz. Using music was a very important aspect of her teaching art. “I would put a classical CD in, and play music. And it would always be playing in the background during class. It was very calming for the students,” she said. “They really loved the music and even had their favorite composers. They would often request Bach’s Arioso, Albinoni’s Adagio in G minor or Bach’s Air in D major. Or anything by Vivaldi.”
Teaching art in the 1980’s and 90’s during a time when many art and music programs were being cut from the curriculum, Durstewitz was thankful to be able to find work as an art teacher. The last school she taught at was Oak Hill Academy in Lincroft, N.J. “Our headmaster was supportive of the arts and I was fortunate enough to have a beautiful art room complete with ample supplies,” says Durstewitz. “It was certainly a far cry from pushing an art cart or sharing a room, both of which were my early experiences. By being anchored in one room, I was able to expand the curriculum and augment the student’s art learning experience with classical music playing in the background.”
Durstewitz has always been an artist and was able to follow her creative side from a young age. In her teenage years, she took lessons in plein air watercolor painting in her hometown in Monmouth County, NJ. In plein air, which literally translates from French as “fresh air”, artists use specific techniques by following the lighting and weather conditions outside. There is a specific technique to follow, according to Durstewitz. “Timing is important, and everything is done step by step. The humidity of the day will determine when you paint.” It is a technique that she still strives to excel.
Her paintings of serene coastal life show her strong understanding of the watercolor medium. Since her retirement and move to Brunswick County, near Sunset Beach, Durstewitz is happy to be devoting more time to her art. Even though she grew up by the ocean, she said that the lighting here is different than up north and it’s a wonderful change. “I find myself staring at the sky and the clouds like never before. The tranquility of the beach really speaks to me here,” she said.
It’s easy to see how her watercolor paintings are influenced by classical music. I myself am drawn into her work and can almost hear the beach scenes calling to me. Her use of tranquil natural colors and her flowing brush strokes speak of peace. Her kind and gentle personality also shows through in her work. I’m confident that her former students cherished their time they spent in her art room. I know I surely would have. And so this week, I’ll be adding Vivaldi to my studio playlist.
Durstewitz is an exhibiting member of the Associated Artists of Southport and sells her work at Franklin Square Gallery as well as being the workshop chairperson for the Waterway Arts Association, coordinating workshops at the new Bellinger Artworks studio in Calabash.


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