Behind the Cover Art
Featured: Charlotte Silverman
I spend my summers in New York City with my film camera, capturing the never-ending beauty of the buildings and the people. Each day I walk past the Aids Memorial across from St Vincent’s Hospital in the West Village with my camera in hand. Sometimes I walk through the memorial looking at the names and the architecture, but mostly I just pass through on my way home and to the subway, as do many others. This memorial honors the many people who died from the AIDS epidemic and commemorates and celebrates the efforts of the caregivers and activists. Passing through the memorial in August this summer felt very different and more meaningful than usual. I can only imagine what memorials will be put up to honor those who have been affected by coronavirus and all the front-line workers. In a city that was hit hard by the pandemic and has been deserted by many, the streets emptier and stores closed down, the memorial feels more sacred. Those New Yorkers who remain in the city and those few scattered in the park next to the memorial are all part of a collective community who have faith and love for their city. I love this photo because of how it captures this love, the clear blue sky, and warmth, as well as the amazing architecture of the memorial.
Art in the Era of Social Media
Vanessa Silvera discusses how art has shifted and grown in the age of social media
It’s a typical morning and you’re rattled awake to the dreaded sound of your iPhone alarm clock. You reach over to turn it off and the next thing you know you are knee-deep on the Explore page of your Instagram and rushing out the door after having lost track of time. Social media has become an integral part of contemporary society, shaping how we communicate and interact with one another, both on a micro and a macro scale. It has even infiltrated the art world: nearly, if not all, artists, art industry professionals, and art institutions have an online presence. But exactly what impact has social media had on the art ecosystem over the last few years?
List compiling the top 100 hashtags on Instagram with #art coming in sixth place with nearly 650M tags. Image(s): Top-Hashtags
For artists, digital image-sharing platforms provide a means to expand their audience base, reaching potential buyers that would normally be out of reach. This is especially promising for artists who are not formally trained or lack contacts to help launch their careers. For Canadian mixed-media artist Lauren Brevner, Instagram changed her life. Unable to afford art school, she decided to teach herself and after some convincing from her brother, opened an account on Instagram (@laurenbrevner). Currently, she has a following of 57.4K and attributes all the shows, clients, and sales she’s acquired to people contacting her via the app. By operating outside the gallery system, artists have the freedom to make and show their art however they want. Also, because most commercial galleries take a 50 percent cut, by removing the middle person, artists can keep the entire profit to themselves.
On the other hand, the accessibility of social media to anyone with an Internet connection makes it extremely difficult to stand out in an endless sea of talent. For those emerging onto the art scene, an inability to breakthrough could lead to a negative self-perception of their art’s worth or doubt of their talent. Even for those who have found success, the constant positive or negative reinforcement conveyed through likes and comments can affect the kind of content they produce. Finally, there is the added risk of your work falling prey to copying or plagiarism.
In addition to artists, institutions like the art museum have also felt the effects of digitization in today’s landscape. For instance, they are no longer constrained by geography and can share their collections with the public through their Instagram accounts. Their public, which was once primarily local, has now expanded worldwide where anyone can engage with the art from any place at any time. Of course, perhaps with the exception of photography and other digital-based work, online viewing is no substitute for the in-person experience. However, social media can serve as an advertising tool, drawing in audiences to view the art in-person if possible. In 2017, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden’s exhibition Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors resulted in a 6,500% increase in membership thanks to its impressive digital footprint.
Once visitors enter the museum, a secondary phase of digital interaction commences: photographing the art, the building, and themselves within those spaces and proceeding to post those images online. Social media habits, particularly the use of hashtags and geotags, allows museums to gain insights and base future programming decisions on them. Furthermore, posting on behalf of the museum and spreading the word about a cool artist or exhibition is a source of free marketing for them. In a broader sense, what we are seeing is the creation of a dialogue between the museum, once the uncontested authority on all things art, and the masses, whose feedback is being taken into consideration.
Visitor photographing Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room "The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away". Image(s): CBC News
While there are clear advantages social media can offer an art museum, how does this shift impact the ways in which we consume art? Does compulsive photographing and posting enhance our experience with the artwork or is it restrictive? In some cases, such as Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Rooms, photographs are central to experiencing the work of art. The artist encourages audiences to take photos not just of the work, but of themselves within the work. Is the art the object being showcased or is the art the experience, documentation, and conversation surrounding the object? This raises an interesting debate as to whether places like the Museum of Ice Cream, where people come to take photos in “Instagrammable” spots, or the Pink Wall Building in Los Angeles can be considered art and why or why not?
Like anything else, however, social media sharing has its drawbacks, including its resulting in a more superficial way of engaging with artwork. According to one study, taking photos with the purpose of posting on your social media accounts detracts from the enjoyment of what you’re experiencing. Unless they are being taken for your own memory, this preoccupation with how you come across takes focus away from the image and to your self-image. There is also the issue of canonizing artwork that is more Instagram-friendly than others. There may be incredible work being made that might not be as photogenic, but is nonetheless worthy of our attention. We do not have to look much further than some of the paintings made in the 1950s by Abstract Expressionists. Photos don’t do the work of artists Mark Rothko or Agnes Martin justice since they fail to capture the sheer scale or emotional impact we get from in-person viewing.
Artist Richard Prince selling other users enlarged Instagram posts at a New York gallery for $90,000 each. Image(s): The Telegraph
The bottom line is that despite the limitations social media might have, they are outweighed by its benefits. Even if that were not the case, image-based social media apps, through their immense reach, have become key in launching the careers of artists, building the brands of public and commercial art institutions, and shaping the consumption and conversations about contemporary art and culture.
Speechwriting: Art or Business?
Ella Crowsley breaks down the finer points of speechwriting, and how it can be considered an art form unto itself
Writing for the spoken word is an artistic discipline that cannot be underestimated, requiring writers to create work designed primarily to be heard, and not read or seen. We often forget those slaving away for hours to create the words that we, as an audience, take away on hearing. When we hear ‘Make America Great Again’ or even ‘Strong and Stable’, we make our jokes and we remember the phrase, without considering the time spent crafting the perfect soundbite. Perhaps this means that the speechwriters have done their job, forcing us to take away snippets of a speech, implanted into our brains, without realising how cleverly crafted it is. The linguistic artistry behind speechwriting is truly fascinating, and particularly interesting when considering the direct impact of the speech on an audience.
Now, let’s be clear, it requires a certain panache to pull off a good speech and the speaker certainly has a lot to do with how well a speech will come across. However, just because you are a good speaker, does not mean you are a good speechwriter. The best speechwriters will cleverly adapt to both their speaker and audience, tailoring their choices of words accordingly. It’s important for speechwriters to analyse audiences according to factors such as gender, profession, age, and even the size of the audience. So, what’s the key to writing a memorable speech?
Well, the first thing that comes to mind is prior research and inspiration. No matter how clever you are with words, without a deep understanding of the subject matter and an idea to motivate you, you have nothing. Ken Askew, a freelance speechwriter for luminaries such as George H. W. Bush, states that he is constantly looking for ideas for his next speech, to the extent that he carries around a large box in which he throws notes jotted on napkins, adverts and newspaper clippings that inspire his writing. Askew says that “good speechwriters need to be idea sponges”, taking in everything around them and storing it for later use.
Then it comes to the hard part, the actual writing of the speech. Although every writer will have their own way of getting words onto a page, most seem to suggest simply getting core thoughts and ideas down, before refining individual words. Askew suggests that to provide an outline of what the final speech will look like, you first create a “destination document”, detailing the main point of the speech as well as giving an indication of the tone and general feel you want the speech to have. Once you then come to fully developing your initial ideas, you have a good place to start from!
Perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of speechwriting, in comparison to other genres, is the necessity to appeal to an often auditory-only audience. Whilst writing always involves putting words effectively to paper, speechwriting requires a few rather specialised strategies. For example, the rule of three, a language technique often used in persuasive writing, becomes all the more effective when verbalised. Ira Kalb from USC’s School of Business states that our brains have evolved to panic if we are not presented with choices, but gets overwhelmed or confused with too many options. The rule of three works perfectly with this theory, offering listeners a perfect soundbite of three options to memorise from the speech. A perfect example of this can be seen in Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, in which he referred to his Government as that “of the people, by the people, for the people.” This extremely memorable phrase succinctly involves each and every person listening, drawing them in and subconsciously implanting the phrase into their memories, all while providing them options, so they don’t write off the whole phrase.
Similarly, other researchers have suggested that most speeches are divided into three distinct parts, almost in the form of a beginning, middle, and end. This helps the listener to fully track the argument and see the ideas develop in a logical way, without too many steps. Dale Carnegie once said, “tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you just told them.” This can be seen in a plethora of political speeches in which the technique is used to emphasise the key point intended for the audience to takeaway at the culmination.
Furthermore, the difficulty of writing for the ear, rather than the eye, comes in the auditory quality of words and the rhythm that they create. A beautiful sentence written down may evolve to become a tongue-twister or a long-winded phrase when spoken, ruining the flow of the speech. Some speechwriters have suggested that we process auditory imagery slower than visual artwork, and so drawing an auditory picture with descriptive words becomes all the more important.
Punctuation is yet another aspect that cannot be forgotten, with merely the tiniest dot impacting how a speech is delivered, and in turn interpreted. The famous book entitled ‘Eats, Shoots & Leaves’ depicts a perfect example of this, contrasting a panda that eats shoots and leaves with a shooter in a bar who eats, shoots, and leaves. The titular syntactical ambiguity here shows the importance of each individual grammatical choice in a speech, an art form in which the intention is for the audience to take away a message. The necessity to stop misinterpretation is paramount. Furthermore, punctuation arguably becomes an art form in itself, as it should reflect the structure of the speech, reinforcing the rhythm and pacing of the words. The pattern and flow in which words are heard can greatly affect how they are received by an audience, and this is all affected by the punctuation used.
Finally, the individual lexical choices used by a writer can change the interpretation of a sentence in a split second, particularly if you cannot see the words written down. Homophones that could be misinterpreted should definitely be avoided. The misuse of sees, seas, and seize in the wrong circumstances could be disastrous! Furthermore, single words can influence how we remember or understand meaning in a speech. Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan wasn’t just effective because it was short and snappy, but because it was clever. The use of the adverb “again”, in just one simple word, implies that America has previously been great, but made worse by the Democrats, and implies that only he has the power to return the country to its glory. Now, whether you agree with him or not, there’s no debate that the writing is impeccable, and this was a particularly effective soundbite when repeated throughout each speech he made in his 2016 campaign.
Through analysis of multiple speeches as well as research into the practice of speechwriting itself, the art form has presented itself as more complex than I could have ever imagined. Each word and image is carefully selected to paint the detailed auditory picture you takeaway upon hearing it. The research carried out to understand an audience, the speaker, and the subject, combined with outstanding linguistic choices all come together to make speechwriting an incredible artform.
The Dreamy Art of Oneiric Film
Erica Ostlander analyzes the fantastical and often perplexing dreamworlds of auteur cinema
Upon waking up in the morning, I will often find myself frantically piecing together a dream I had the night before. These dreams are the ones that linger just long enough for me to recall the small fantastical details, and then like clockwork, completely vanish from my thoughts. As frustrating as this is, the reconstruction of our dreams is still worth the exciting opportunity to compare them to the countless theories and translations circulating the internet and in literature. However, the world’s fascination with dreams does not stop at dream journals and dictionaries but has managed to branch out into the world of cinema as well. Like film, dreams are a method of communication, a tool for expressing what troubles us, and a channel for creativity, but regardless of their commonplace presence in our lives, it is difficult to describe our nonsensical stories to other people. On the other hand, film is a medium where I have witnessed the retelling of dreams at a master level, which has prompted academic debates regarding the fundamental properties of a film and its alignment with reality. In film theory, the term oneiric refers to when dreams are used as a visual plot device, and this term was first referenced in the early 1900s by film theorists like Ricciotto Canudo, who began to note the ‘dreamy’ quality of some videos. He argued that film was an imaginative art rather than an attempt to perfectly reflect reality. This debate on whether film stems from a subjective image has inspired a creative rebellion against the status quo in the era of post-surrealism. Since then, there have been countless productions that purposely lack continuity as to differentiate itself from other classical Hollywood films, proving just how flexible the medium of film can be.
One of the most prolific oneiric filmmakers is David Lynch, who has made a point of working exclusively in the oneiric realm of cinema and has been a pioneer for arthouse television. Lynch’s work has remained prominent even after his retirement from film, as there is still discussion on how much of Mulholland Drive was a dream or what is the true meaning of Twin Peaks’ rich dream sequences. Yet there are still misinterpretations of Lynch's narratives, especially when they are deemed as illogical or as a failed attempt of packing too much into a limited timeframe. These types of critiques confine narratives to the box of linear storytelling, but under the flexible rules of dream logic, narratives can have multiple interpretations and even change meanings upon a second or third viewing. Lynch’s dream worlds have their own fierce logic, as a large number of his films are playing on what is absent from the screen which forces his audience to get lost in their own heads. People naturally look for patterns and connections in what is presented to them and dream logic is the art of taking away the ability for rationalisation. The only way for the viewer to understand the film is to surrender themselves to what is on the screen and let it wash over them in order to discover the film’s meaning. Lynch actively encourages this method of viewing his work as he refuses to explain his own projects, believing that “a film should work on its own” and “leave room to dream.” Whether this is because he is a stickler for mystery or he is truly set on his belief that cinema cannot be translated is up for debate, but this notion does show parallels between Lynch and Canudo’s belief that film is an art separate from reality. Many filmmakers like Lynch navigate the direction of a story through instinct rather than concrete ideas. As Lynch explained to the Irish Times Newspaper, “it is a feeling, more of an intuition. It is the idea that you have fallen in love with, and you try to stay true to that. You see the way that cinema can say that idea, and it’s thrilling to you.” This personal treatment of film could explain why dream logic is so appealing to an audience, as human emotions leave room for mystery and intrigue.
Despite Lynch’s far-reaching hold on the oneiric subgenre, the vast majority of dream-like films dance on the edge of this classification. The vague description of oneirism has crept into a multitude of genres, as dream logic is now used as an alternative to linear narrative structures. Movies such as Spirited Away do not use dreams as a visual plot device, but instead enter the realm of fantasy, a concept which already teeters on the edge of oneirism. In fact, the key difference between dreams and fantasy can be boiled down to their levels of surrealism. Fantasy requires world-building and the creation of new societal norms to immerse the viewer into a new reality, rather than the complete absence of reality as seen in dreams. Surrealism in film is the creation of something outside of reality and relies on the senses to communicate ideas to an audience. Our sensory perception of a film allows us to focus on factors like light, colour, and sound when we are not guided by a linear narrative. These slight variations are fundamental to surrealism, but fantasy movies often take inspiration from this form of storytelling. Spirited Away is an example of a fantasy movie that was able to build a dream-like atmosphere through its poignant soundscape, colour-scheme, and its unique episodic structure-- earning it a spot in the oneiric hall of fame. Despite most Ghibli films being marketed to a younger audience, I have known people of all ages who have been enchanted by their magic. When I speak to people about the global appreciation of Ghibli movies, we always come to that same conclusion of simply enjoying how the movies make us feel. This is accredited to Hayao Miyazaki’s surreal and abstract ideas which have become tangible through his expert application of dream logic, making it sensible enough for an adult and magical enough for a child. This careful treatment of the film’s atmosphere is also seen in oneiric filmmakers like Lynch, who are experts in creating undefinable emotions through sound, narrative, and visuals.
Across the centuries, many film theorists have attempted to define how dreams and their absurd logic have been used in film. The loose connections, the metaphoric nature, and the surrealist visuals all have a unique power to take away reason from an audience, communicating in a way that exists outside of language. At their core, dream logic and oneirism are a rebellion against classical language, through their dependence on feelings and emotions to tell a story. Oneirism is what is found in every moment of sudden understanding when watching a movie, connecting the viewer and the creator through not what is being said, but the nonsensical world in their heads.
The Physics of Dance
Sarah Johnston explains the intersection of science and art in dance, and how they play off one another to create a beautifully impressive form
If you’re a dancer trying to improve your technique, the last place you’d go looking for advice is probably a physics textbook. However, dance – like everything – relies on science. Whether you want to jump higher, turn faster, tap louder, or stretch further, there is an underlying scientific principle you are harnessing to be able to move the way that you do. Dancers are often taught techniques which involve using this science without realizing, so I want to shed some light on why we dance the way that we do.
I want to begin with something quintessential to dance, but also to many other artistic sports: turning. If you’ve ever received dance training, you’ve probably heard the same advice about turns: hold your core, move your arms to first position as you turn, and ‘spot’ your head by trying to keep it on the same spot for as long as possible before snapping it round. Each of these things relies on an innate and basic principle of movement mechanics. When we turn, we harness something called angular momentum, which is a measurement of the momentum of a body which is rotating. Angular momentum is a product of the radius of the object (how wide it is) and its linear momentum (which is its mass multiplied by its speed). Momentum must be conserved, it is a physical law of the universe. This means if you change the radius of the object that is spinning, the speed of the object must change to keep the momentum constant.
This can be demonstrated very easily at home using a spinning office chair. If you sit on the chair with your arms out to the side holding weights (or bottles of water or cans of soup) and start spinning, and then bring your arms in towards your body, you’ll find you spin faster. Scientifically, this can be explained as you’re reducing the radius of your body, and so if the radius goes down, to conserve the angular momentum, your speed must increase. This same principle is applied in dance. When you prep to pirouette, you start with your arms spread widely, and as you start to turn, you bring them into your body more closely. As shown with the chair experiment, this speeds you up and enables faster turning. The faster you can turn, the more turns you can usually manage to fit in while balanced, and the more impressive you look. So, if you’re a dancer trying to nail a double or triple pirouette, make sure you’re using your arms to your advantage.
Another key aspect of turning well is good balance, which comes down to harnessing your centre of mass and balancing opposing forces. Everyone understands that gravity is a force acting downwards on us: it's what makes our phones drop, our hair lie flat, and us fall over ungracefully in the street. But although gravity acts downwards, when we stand, there is always an equal and opposite force acting upwards from the ground resisting us falling through the floor. This is called electrostatic force, and it’s the reason we can actually stand on things and aren’t just constantly sucked towards the centre of the Earth. When dancers balance, they have to try and get these two forces to be exactly equal and opposite by moving their centre of mass over the leg they are balancing on. This is why you hear a lot about engaging your core or pulling in your ribs when dancing. Contracting your core effectively makes your body into a straight rod, and keeps your centre of mass above your leg so that you can balance. If your centre of mass is not directly above the leg that you are balanced on, the gravitational pull acting on your centre of mass won’t exactly balance with the upwards force from the ground, causing you to fall over. So next time you are wobbling, pull in that core, straighten that neck, and imagine yourself as a metal rod being pulled straight above your leg.
Balancing is not only artistically impressive but is physically impressive because of the huge pressures your body is subjected to when you do it. Pressure is defined as the force per unit area, where the force is due to your mass, and so if the area you are balancing on is small e.g. just the ball of your foot, then the pressure your foot is exerting is incredibly large. Take for instance a dancer standing on pointe. The total area of the pointe shoe is very small, a few 10s of cm2, and if the weight of the dancer is 50+ kg then you can end up with pressures of thousands of Pascals. In fact, a dancer in a pointe shoe can exert more pressure on the ground than a tank, because although the tank is much heavier, its weight is spread over a much larger area. This is why it is so important to have properly fitted dance shoes, to make sure that all of the pressure you’re exerting on the ground doesn’t just break your toes.
I might even go as far as to say that gravity is the worst enemy of dancers. Dancers can make jumps and leaps look effortless, when they are in fact battling against a fundamental force. The gravitational field on Earth is 9.8 Newtons per kilogram, which means that for every kilogram you weigh there are 9.8 Newtons of force pulling you downwards. Gravity only affects vertical motion and works to pull the dance down, so jumps usually look like a parabola (arch) shape if you watch them from the side as the dancer continues to move horizontally while they jump. However, the effect of gravity limits how long they can spend in the air, as it causes them to accelerate back towards the ground. This means dancers need to come up with inventive and artistic ways to increase their ‘air time’ or at least appear to increase it. Sometimes when you watch a dancer, they can create an illusion of floating or hanging in the air. When a dancer reaches the peak of their jump (the highest point), they can tilt their head back and bring only their legs and arms up while keeping their torso steady which makes it appear as though they are still moving upwards. This gives the illusion of them being frozen in the air for a moment, making them seem to float. If you are trying to get a bit of extra height on your jumps, as well as your take-off, make sure you're harnessing your body whilst in the air.
A lot of time forces like gravity can hinder dancers, but there are some styles where you can use the natural forces in the world to your advantage. In tap dance, the sharp tap sounds are made by hitting metal panels on the bottom of the tap shoe off of the ground. Many people think the best way to get a louder, clearer tap is to hit the ground harder by exerting more force through your foot, but a much easier way to do it is to tap quicker. The sound made by my tap shoes is all to do with the collision of the tap shoe with the ground and relies on the principle of impulse. Impulse is the product of the exerted force and the time it is exerted for, and what it tells us is that the amount of impulse an object can give is related to its change in velocity. When tapping, the tap stops when it hits the ground and transfers its energy into the floor, giving off the signature sound (and if you are not careful taking chunks out of your floor too!). This means that if your foot is moving quickly, then the change in velocity is large. If you ‘tapped’ the floor more slowly, you would get a smaller impulse, and so a quieter sound. This is how tap dancers ‘scuff’ or ‘drag’. However, if you kept your foot in contact with the ground for a shorter time, your change in velocity over time would be greater, so you would exert a larger impulse and subsequently make a louder noise. An easy way to show this at home is using a tap step called the pickup. If you put your heel to the floor with your foot flexed and toes in the air, and drag it slowly backwards so your toes touch the floor, there is little to no sound. However, if you take it from the same position and snap your foot backwards so that your toes quickly hit off the ground, then you make a loud tap sound. This shows perfectly how you can use the same force, but at a much larger speed over a shorter time, to get a better noise.
Although I have said gravity can be a dancer’s worst enemy, it can also help. Many stretches in dancing, specifically dynamic stretches, use gravity to loosen muscles without having to force them. One of the most popular stretches that demonstrates this is a wall split. You lie on the floor, with your bum against a wall and your legs straight up in the air. You then slowly let your legs fall open and remain in the stretch they can get to. In this stretch, gravity actually helps to pull your legs downwards without having to push them manually. As I’ve said before, Earth’s gravitational field exerts 9.8 Newtons for every kilogram of weight, so using gravity to help stretch is actually a hugely efficient method because you don’t need to have someone on hand to physically push on your muscles.
So next time you are at a ballet, or a dance show, or even in your own class, do not forget the amazing things physics does to make dance possible. While dance is at heart a creative and emotive art form, it is equally a scientific experiment into our own bodies and how they can demonstrate the fundamental concepts of the world. For me, dance is an amazing melding of the beauty of self-expression and the wonder of science all rolled into one, and I hope now you can see why.
Music to my Ears…Or to my Mind?
Anne Moorhouse discusses the impact that music has on the human brain, and how we can use it as a means of healing
Whether it’s Stormzy, Lady Gaga, or the Beatles, most teenagers will be looking for their Pop playlist when it comes to music choice. Admittedly, the prospect of a 10k run whilst listening to Max Richter’s Sleep or one of Chopin’s Waltzes is most definitely sufficient to lure you back into bed. Somehow, I am unable to envision the usual Friday night queues for a 601 Bop if Mozart’s Requiem was on the menu. However, the next time you’re making a cake, settling down with a hearty brew or, as you will hopefully see, looking to gain those few extra marks on that essay, let me convince you that classical music is just what the doctor ordered.
I recently came across a BBC news article entitled ‘Madrid police dogs get ‘Mozart Effect’ music therapy’. The term ‘Mozart Effect’ came about in 1991 and was swiftly popularised in the media, with parents rushing to buy CDs of Mozart’s music to play to their children. Sparking extensive psychological research, the implication is that if young children, specifically babies, listen to such music they will become more intelligent, subsequent to an improvement in the cognitive activity known as ‘spatial-temporal reasoning’. The author of this article explained how, due to the stressful nature of the dogs’ duties, Madrid’s police force ‘em-bark-ed’ on a musical recovery scheme designed to restore the animal’s sense of calm. Several times a day, the dogs listened to music by Mozart, in particular, that of his Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major (K448). Indeed, according to a study carried out by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), this piece of music has been proven to reduce the frequency of seizures experienced by people suffering from epilepsy. Not only did this result in increased relaxation and a sense of calm, but the dogs displayed improved performance in their tasks. Similarly, the Journal of Veterinary Behaviour produced a study in 2012 demonstrating the effects of different musical genres on animal behaviour. They found that, by contrast to pop or rap music, exposure to classical music resulted in the dogs sleeping for longer and spending less time vocalising. The effects on humans are no different. This meditative process is completely rehabilitating, proving to reduce blood pressure. Mothers will be forever in reverence of Brahms for his Lullaby – and you wonder why no one has opted for Katy Perry’s Roar to get their screaming baby to pipe down.
2. Memory and Concentration
Music is a critical part of many school curricula. Having played in several orchestras, choirs, and ensembles, music was indeed essential to my time at school. Playing an instrument and being part of an ensemble develops highly important and transferable skills. In learning to play an instrument, one subsequently learns to read music – this is cognitive dynamite. This mental workout fully activates the brain, arousing our visual and auditory senses. Such a visceral experience nourishes the brain and has been proven to enhance children’s performances at school – interlinking with subjects such as Maths, music is incredibly cross-curricular. Not only developing group skills, but performing a piece of music to an audience is one of the surest ways to improve confidence and if played without music, memory. The Journal of Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease suggested that regular listening to such music acts as a preventative of dementia. Many children and, indeed, adults often struggle with concentration; stimulating both hemispheres of the brain, having to play and read music boosts such a vital skill. These abilities involving listening, concentration, and group collaboration are applicable and necessary for most jobs; by developing them from the outset, you are paving the way for the highest chances of success in the future.
3. Health benefits – Autism
Our understanding of this condition has vastly improved in the past decade and, subsequently, ideas of how to combat the associated difficulties with learning have broadened. Having tutored for the company Explore Learning, my awareness of the vast array of methods used by children and teachers alike when confronting educational material has been significantly heightened. Several of the children were autistic and, depending on their needs, I had to adapt my style of teaching. With so many forms and symptoms of the condition, several studies have been executed to test the effects of classical music on the learning abilities of children with autism. The findings have been extremely positive; when exposed to classical music, autistic children were able to concentrate for longer and responded to the set material in an improved manner. By comparing the impact of the same music on neurotypical children and those with autism, the research demonstrated that classical music affects the same part of the brain for both, irrespective of the symptoms experienced by autistic children. Classical music has a notable calming effect on autistic children and has been seen to have a transformative impact on their behavioural and social skills. For those suffering from symptoms connected with speech, listening to classical music has become a confirmed method of verbal therapy; being slower to develop communicative skills, such music is often a means of achieving this type of interaction. This offers children the opportunity to express themselves when a verbal display of emotion otherwise fails them.
4. Health benefits – Dementia
The renowned Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant opined that music is the “quickening art”. This encapsulates the transcendental power of music on the brain, going beyond illnesses such as dementia or Alzheimer’s in restoring otherwise lost memory and, for a short while, resurrecting the past self. Music ‘quickens’ the person in such a way that, for elderly people who seem beyond help, they are rejuvenated and animated through familiar melodies. Music has the capacity to touch the part of the brain that is unaffected by dementia. This provides a brief ‘cure’ to the illness since, when listening to music from their past, the person subsequently associates the sounds with connected memories – where they heard it, who they heard it with, and so on. Music, therefore, provides the vital connecting link through to their past with other people. Some patients are unable to comprehend or communicate verbally. Music provides the ultimate opportunity and an alternative to medication. The soothing effects of classical music in particular have been argued as the most important in alleviating symptoms of frustration and anxiety for those suffering from dementia. Pioneered by the Utley Foundation, ‘Music for Dementia 2020’ is a campaign ensuring that all patients have full access to music. This involves providing playlists, means of listening to music and offering music therapy. Alzheimer’s Research UK estimates that 850,000 people in the UK have dementia. Schemes such as ‘Music for Dementia’ and broadening the awareness of music therapy are hugely important in fighting the illness and rebuilding the bridges between families and friends.
The transformative, uplifting, and beneficial effects of music for all ages cannot be overstated. While different moods and settings require different musical genres, I would encourage you to broaden your musical palette, if you have not already done so, to classical music. The truly enriching mental impact will fulfill and last you a lifetime.
Muse of the Month
Isabelle Molinari examines one of the most unique artists of the 20th century
My muse is… Frida Khalo de Rivera (Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderón)
She is… a famous Mexican painter who is very well known for her surreal self-portraits. She was born in Mexico on July 6, 1907 and died on July 13, 1954. While her life was not long, it was a rollercoaster. In childhood, she was affiliated with polio and, as a young adult, she was involved in a serious bus accident. The accident derailed her plans to study medicine following her time at the National Preparatory School in Mexico City. While she could no longer pursue medicine due to various crippling injuries, her time in the city was far from for nought. While there, she had come to know Diego Rivera. Their connection would be rekindled as they met again when Kahlo joined the Mexican Communist Party. Diego would motivate her to paint much more, and they were married in 1929. During her marriage to Rivera, she would become increasingly traditional and her art, more folk-based. The couple travelled to the US for Diego’s career, and it was here that Kahlo suffered even more, with several miscarriages and the death of her mother weighing heavily on her. Back in Mexico, their home became a hotspot for artists and political figures. Rivera, while an incredible artist, was not an exceptional husband, and strayed often. This led to their divorce in 1939. They reconciled and lived together again, but Kahlo’s health was deteriorating. This did not stop her from pursuing art, but rather inspired many of her pieces, like Self-Portrait with Portrait of Dr, Farill (1951). In 1954, she died in her childhood home, which has since become a museum dedicated to her life and success.
I first learned about her when… my AP Spanish teacher had us all watch Frida. While not what one would expect to watch in high school Spanish, this film explores the complexities of a woman who is internationally renowned, and articulates beautifully how tragedy can be turned into power.
I am obsessed because… she refused to obey the status quo. Her artwork defied all sorts of rules and she did not allow anyone to tell her that it should be different. Those who did were ignored and pushed away. Even when she did lose herself, in her time married to Diego, a part of her continued to fight for a way out and she expressed that through her art.
My favorite work by her is… This is a tough one, but I would have to go with Shibboleth (2007). Installed in the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern, it consists of a 167 metre-long fissure running along the ground, marking the first time any artist has physically altered the space. While simple in design and execution, its ambiguity in meaning lends to several different interpretations. The crack could represent a blow to the very foundations of the museum or the art establishment, or internal divisions within her homeland as a byproduct of the conflict. Or it could take on a more postcolonial reading, representing a history of racism and the racial wealth gap between the Global North and the Global South. When the show came to a close, the flooring was restored, but a mark remains, which I thought was just brilliant and further heightened the work’s effect.
Image(s): NY Times
My favourite work by her is... The Two Fridas (1939). This painting was unusual for a number of reasons, most notably its graphic nature and the canvas’ unusual size. Kahlo used this work to show how she felt torn by the different parts of herself, and how this was exacerbated by her marriage to Rivera. Not only do I think this is a boss way to shame your ex, but I think it was incredibly brave. Kahlo’s independence was not appreciated by many at the time, and this painting screamed independence and anti-tradition values.
Some work by her you have to check out is.... Henry Ford Hospital (1932) and Frieda and Diego Rivera (1931). Henry Ford Hospital explores a lot of Kahlo’s struggles with health and tragedy, while Frieda and Diego Rivera exemplifies her marriage and the ways in which she felt dwarfed and stunted. I would be remiss, however, if I did not also recommend a look at one of her iconic self-portraits, my favourite of which is Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird (1940). I always find myself smiling at the seemingly unnecessary, over-complicated name, as it is just another example of how Kahlo did not follow the norms that society set out for her. Her life has given many lessons that are valuable, but I think the most valuable is that there is always a way for you to be yourself, whether it be in your clothes, your art, or even your unibrow.