19 Jul
Fri / 2019

Inside the MFAH
Symphonies of Color

In 1913, Stanton Macdonald-Wright and Morgan Russell, two American expatriate artists living in Paris, introduced a new mode of abstraction they called Synchromism. Their conception of the term, and the rhythmic, pulsating colors and forms that comprised their canvases, were rooted in music.

As Macdonald-Wright explained, “Synchromism meant ‘with color,’ just as symphony means ‘with sound,’ and our idea was to produce an art whose genesis lay, not in objectivity, but in form produced in color.”

Color as Sound
Influenced by the work of Paul Cézanne and Henri Matisse, as well as by Cubism, Synchromism approached color as a composer or musician would approach sound—by creating complementary “chords” of colors as an organizing principle within an abstract composition—with the goal of producing a visceral, nonverbal, or even spiritual response that transcended the physical.

Color as Rhythm
In Synchromy (below), Russell arranged brilliant, subtly modulated colors and varying shapes in an almost concentric pattern to achieve color rhythms that activate the composition, injecting a virtual pulse or beat into an expression that, if handled any differently, might have been static, “quiet,” or still.

Macdonald-Wright’s Arm Organization (below) similarly pulsates, and the arrangement of vivid, often saturated colors suggests an even more rapid beat, as the eye moves swiftly from color to color and shape to shape.

Color as Theory
But Macdonald-Wright and his colleague Russell, who also established themselves as theorists of art and especially color with their writings and Synchromism manifestos, argued that artists should look to the example of music in order to achieve with their creations more transcendent experiences: “Mankind has until now always tried to satisfy its need for the highest spiritual exaltation only in music. Only [musical] tones have been able to . . . transport us to the highest realms. . . . Yet color is just as capable as music of providing us with the highest ecstasies and delights.”

► Find out more about Arm Organization, Synchromy, and other MFAH works of art: Search the collections.


Comments

Recent Posts

Post Archives

Tag Cloud

18th-century 1970s 19th-century 35mm 5womenartists abstract activity african-art a-history-of-photography akan american american-art ancient and angelica-kauffmann animals anna-atkins antiquities architecture archive art art-books artist artists art-of-the-islamic-worlds arts-of-india azaleas bayou bayou-bend bayou-bend-christmas-village bend bestowing-beauty biblical biography british british-arrows british-art broadways-amazing-mastersons buffalo-bayou-park-cistern campus campus-redevelopment carroll-sterling-masterson chair chef chinese-art christmas christmas-fun cinema cisternrain classic classic-films coffee collection color colors-of-the-oasis community concrete conservation contemporary-art contemporary-arts-museum-houston contemporary-film contesting-modernity countess cullen-sculpture-garden culture curator curators-picks dance decorative-arts degas degas-a-new-vision design digital documentary documents dont-blink-robert-frank drama drawings dutch-art electronic elizabeth-i england e-records exhibition exhibitions eye-on-houston family family-programs fashion fashion-fusion feast festival fiber-arts field film films flowers food francis-bacon free french french-art fun future futuremfah gainsborough gallery gallery-interpretation garden garden-paradise gardens george-iii glassell glassell-school-of-art google-art-project habsburg-splendor-masterpieces-from-viennas-imperial-collections halloween happyhour happy-new-year harris-masterson-iii henry-viii hirsch-library history history-book-club holiday holiday-fun hollywood home homemfah homeso-different-so-appealing houston howe hurricane-harvey icaa ikat ima-hogg impressionism indian-art instagram interactive ipads islamic italian japanese-art john-biggers joshua-reynolds kenwood kids king kodak kusama latin latin-america latin-american latin-american-art latino-art latin-wave latinx laura-israel learning-and-interpretation love mail manet maria-fernanda-cardoso mastersons mayan-art media meditation mending-craft-and-community mexican-film mexican-modernism mexico mfa-cafe mfah mfah-book-club mfah-films mfah-in-the-community mfah-staff modern modernism movie movies movies-houstonians-love mueck mueckmfah museum museum-education music native-american-art new nhprc now-on-view now-playing organic oscar-de-la-renta oscars painting paintings paint-the-revolution paris paul-thomas-anderson peacock-in-the-desert-the-royal-arts-of-jodhpur-india peacockmfah persian persian-art photographs photography picasso portrait portraits pose prints prints-and-drawings programs queen-victoria radical rebel-jester-mystic-poet recipe rembrandt-van-rijn rienzi ron-mueck rothko sampler school sculpted-in-steel sculpture self-portrait shadow-monsters shepherds short-films slow-art-day snail snapshot spain spanish-art spring style summer technology texas textiles thanksgiving the the-al-sabah-collection theater the-glamour-and-romance-of-oscar-de-la-renta trivia tudors-to-windsors valentines-day venezuelan-art video vincent-van-gogh vincent-van-gogh-his-life-in-art virtual wagner-garden-carpet watercolor winter women-filmmakers womens-history-month works-on-paper yoga zoom