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Part 4: Interrelationships


  • Close ties among the arts occur because artists share a special purpose: the revelation of values. Furthermore, every artist must use some medium, some kind of “stuff” that can be formed to communicate that revelation (content) about something (subject matter). 
  • All artists share some elements of media, and this sharing encourages their interaction. For example, painters, sculptors, and architects use colour, line, and texture. Sculptors and architects work with the density of materials. Rhythm is basic to the composer, choreographer, and poet. Words are elemental for the poet, novelist, dramatist, and composer of songs and operas. Images are basic to the painter, filmmaker, videographer, and photographer. 


  • To "appropriate" is to take possession of something. Appropriation artists deliberately copy images to take possession of them in their art. They are not stealing or plagiarising, nor are they passing off these images as their very own. This artistic approach does stir up controversy because some people view appropriation as unoriginal or theft. This is why it's important to understand why artists appropriate the artwork of others.
  • Appropriation artists want the viewer to recognise the images they copy. They hope that the viewer will bring all of his original associations with the image to the artist's new context, be it a painting, a sculpture, a collage, a combine, or an entire installation.
  • The deliberate "borrowing" of an image for this new context is called "recontextualization." Recontextualisation helps the artist comment on the image's original meaning and the viewer's association with either the original image or the real thing.
  • Artistic appropriation occurs when 
    • (1) artists combine their basic medium with the medium of another art or arts but (2) keep their basic medium clearly dominant. 
  • For example, music is the basic medium for composers of opera. The staging may include architecture, painting, and sculpture. The language of the drama may include poetry. The dance, so dependent on music, is often included in opera, and sometimes in contemporary opera so are photography and even film. Yet music almost always dominates in opera. 
  • Although essential to opera, the drama, along with the staging, rarely dominates the music. Nevertheless, drama and other appropriated arts generally enhance the feelings interpreted by the music.


  • When a work of art takes another work of art as its subject matter, the former is an interpretation of the latter. Thus, Zeffirelli’s film Romeo and Juliet takes Shakespeare’s drama for its subject matter. The film interprets the play. It is fascinating to observe how the contents—the meanings—differ because of the different media. 

Interpretation - Film Interprets Literature: Howards End 

  • E. M. Forster’s novel Howards End (1910) was made into a remarkable film in 1992 by producer Ismail Merchant and director James Ivory. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala wrote the screenplay. The film stars Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson, who, along with Jhabvala, won an Academy Award. The film was nominated for best picture.
  • The team of Merchant-Ivory, producer and director, has become distinguished for period films set in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. Part of the reputation won by Merchant-Ivory films is due to their detailed designs. Thus, in a Merchant-Ivory film one expects to see Edwardian costumes very carefully re- produced, period interiors with prints and paintings, authentic architecture, both interior and exterior, and details sumptuously (expensive looking) photographed so that the colours are rich and saturated and the atmosphere appropriately reflecting the era just before and after 1900. 
  • Forster wrote his novel in a way that emulates (mirrors) contemporary drama, at least in part. His scenes are dramatically conceived, with characters acting in carefully described settings, speaking in ways that suggest the stage. Moreover, Forster’s special interest in music and the role culture in general plays in the lives of his characters makes the novel especially challenging for interpretation by moving images. 
  • The film follows Forster’s story faithfully. 
  • Forster wrote his novel in a way that emulates (mirrors) contemporary drama, at least in part. His scenes are dramatically conceived, with characters acting in carefully described settings, speaking in ways that suggest the stage. Moreover, Forster’s special interest in music and the role culture in general plays in the lives of his characters makes the novel especially challenging for interpretation by moving images. 
  • The film follows Forster’s story faithfully. 
  • Three families at the centre of the story stand in contrast: the Schlegel sisters, Margaret and Helen; a rich businessman, Henry Wilcox, his frail wife, Ruth, and their superficial, conventional children; and a poor, young, unhappily married bank clerk, Leonard Bast, whom the Schlegel sisters befriend. Margaret and Helen are idealistic and cultured. The Wilcoxes, except for Ruth, are uncultured snobs. When Ruth dies, Henry proposes to and is accepted by Margaret. Her sister, Helen, who detests Henry, is devastated by this marriage and turns to Leonard Bast. The story becomes a tangle of opposites and, because of the stupidity of Henry’s son Charles, turns tragic. In the end, thanks to her moral strength of Margaret, reconciliation becomes possible. 
  • Conversely, the film captures something in 1992 that the novel could not have achieved in its own time—the sense of loss for an elegant way of life in the period before World War I. 
  • The moving images create nostalgia for a past totally unrecoverable. Nostalgia for that past is, of course, also created by Forster’s fine prose, but not with the power of moving images. Coming back to the novel after its interpretation by the film surely makes our participation more complete.

Interpretation - Music Interprets Drama: The Marriage of Figaro 

  • In the age of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791), the opera performed a function for literature somewhat equivalent to what the film does today. Opera—in combining music, drama, sets, and sometimes dance—was held in the highest esteem/admiration in Europe in the eighteenth century. And despite the increasing competition from film and musical comedy, opera is still performed to large audiences in theatres and larger audiences on television. Among the world’s greatest operas, few are more popular than Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro (1786), written when Mozart was only thirty.
  • Mozart’s opera interprets the French play The Marriage of Figaro (1784), by Pierre Augustin de Beaumarchais, a highly successful playwright at the time of the American Revolution. 
  • Beaumarchais began as an ordinary citizen, bought his way into the aristocracy, survived the French Revolution, went into exile, and later died in France. His plays were the product of, yet comically critical of, the aristocracy. The Marriage of Figaro, written in 1780, was held back by censors as an attack on the government. Eventually produced to great acclaim, it was seditious (provocative/troublemaking) enough for later commentators to claim that it was an essential ingredient in fomenting (provoking) the French Revolution of 1789. 
  • Mozart remained generally faithful to the play, although changing some names and the occupations of some characters.
  • In brief, it is the story of Figaro tells how the servants Figaro and Susanna succeed in getting married, foiling (countering) the efforts of their philandering (womanising) employer Count Almaviva to seduce Susanna and teaching him a lesson in fidelity (faithfulness/loyalty).
  • The audiences of the late 1700s loved the play because they revealed in the amusing way that Figaro manipulates his aristocratic master. Beaumarchais’s play was as clear about this as the opera.


  • Figaro, a servant to Count Almaviva, is about to marry Susanna, the Countess’s maid. He measures a room for a bed, but Susanna is concerned that the room is too close to the Count’s chamber. She explains to Figaro that Almaviva is pursuing her. Figaro vows to thwart (smash/dash) the Count’s plans. Once Figaro leaves, Doctor Bartolo and Marcellina enter. Marcellina is angry at Susanna for stealing Figaro away from her, while Bartolo is angry at Figaro for making a fool of him in the past. Marcellina and Susanna are sarcastically polite with one another until Marcellina and Bartolo leave. Cherubino, a young page, enters, seeking advice from Susanna. Count Almaviva caught him alone with the gardener’s daughter, Barbarina, and he is now to be sent away. He is besotted (in love with) by all women, he explains, and cannot help himself. Before Susanna can offer advice, they are interrupted by the arrival of Almaviva himself. Cherubino hides while Almaviva attempts to set up a tryst (date) with Susanna. The Count himself is forced to hide when yet another voice is heard at the door. It’s Don Basilio, the music teacher, who references Cherubino’s supposed crush on the Countess. In a rage, the Count reveals himself to an amused Basilio. He states that he is sending Cherubino away, and relates the scene in the gardener’s daughter’s chambers. As he does, Almaviva discovers a hiding Cherubino. Almaviva is fuming, as Cherubino has overheard him propositioning Susanna. He vows to get rid of the lad by giving him a military commission. Figaro returns, accompanied by festive townspeople. He asks the Count to join him and Susanna in marriage. Almaviva stalls (counters) him.


  • In Countess Rosina’s chambers, the Countess grieves for the loss of her husband’s love and attention, and she and Susanna discuss Count Almaviva’s roving eye. The Countess believes her husband no longer loves her, while Susanna wants him to leave her alone. Susanna tells the Countess that she and Figaro have a plan: Almaviva will receive a letter from Basilio informing him that his wife has taken up a lover. At the same time, Susanna will set up a date with Almaviva but will send a disguised Cherubino in her place. Cherubino enters with a song of love for the Countess and a commission letter that the Count forgot to seal, and is taken aback when the women begin to undress him. Having locked the door, they have time to hide Cherubino and Susanna when Almaviva unexpectedly arrives to speak with his wife about the letter from Basilio, written and planted by Figaro. Noticing the Countess’s agitation, Almaviva is instantly suspicious. He jealously demands entry into the locked inner room where Cherubino is hiding, but the Countess refuses to open it, claiming Susanna is inside trying on her wedding dress. Almaviva, taking the Countess with him, leaves the room to get a crowbar (an iron rod to forcefully open something). After they leave, Susanna locks herself into the room and Cherubino exits the Countess’s chamber through the window. Unaware of the switch, the Countess confesses everything to her husband upon their return. She is shocked when Susanna exits the locked room. Almaviva begs forgiveness for his suspicions. Figaro arrives to gather up the group for the wedding. He is followed by Antonio, the gardener, who is upset that someone jumping from the Countess’s balcony has crushed his flowers. Upon prompting (encouraging) from the women, Figaro claims it was he who jumped. The gardener shows him Cherubino’s dropped commission, which Figaro claims he was holding it to get the Count’s seal. Marcellina, Bartolo and Basilio enter, and Almaviva, still suspicious, hears their claim that Figaro is obliged to marry Marcellina to pay off an outstanding debt. 


  • Acting on her lady’s insistence, Susanna approaches Count Almaviva. He once again asks her to meet him in the garden. She agrees. On her way from the room, the Count overhears Susanna telling Figaro that his legal troubles will soon be over. He is furious at the apparent deception. Marcellina and Bartolo, their attorney Don Curzio in tow/boat, confront Figaro, who tells them that being of noble birth – though stolen away by thieves as an infant – he can only marry with the consent of his family. To prove his tale he shows the crowd his birthmark. Immediately, Marcellina and Bartolo recognize the mark as belonging to their son, and the three joyfully reunite. Figaro embraces his long-lost mother as Susanna rejoins the crowd, having just secured the money to pay off his debt from the Countess. She misunderstands the embrace and rages at Figaro. Marcellina explains the situation, and everyone is happy. Everyone that is, except the Count, who is sure he’s still being played. As the group leaves, Susanna stays behind to speak to the Countess. The Countess dictates a letter from Susanna to the Count. She plans to surprise Almaviva in the garden herself. Figaro returns to gather everyone for the wedding. During the dancing, Susanna slips the Count her letter. 


  • In the garden, Figaro meets the gardener’s daughter Barbarina, whom Almaviva has entrusted to return the brooch (pin/breast-pin) Susanna pinned to the letter. Figaro assumes Susanna is cheating on him and invites Bartolo and Don Basilio to join him for her public humiliation. As they leave, the Countess and Susanna appear, each dressed as the other. Cherubino is also in the garden meeting with Barbarina. He spies the Countess and, thinking she is Susanna, leans in to kiss her. Instead, he kisses Almaviva, who swats (hits) Figaro. The Count declares his love for Susanna, who is really the Countess, while Figaro tells the Countess, who is really Susanna, about the tryst (date). Susanna forgets to disguise her voice, and Figaro figures out it is she under the Countess’s cloak. Their embrace is noticed by the Count, who is about to expose them when his wife takes off her own disguise. Almaviva is shamed and apologises to his wife for both his jealousy and his infidelity (extramarital relation). They all return to the celebration.

Interpretation - Painting Interprets Poetry: The Starry Night 

  • The visual qualities of poetry sometimes inspire or anticipate painting. One interesting example is that of Vincent van Gogh’s most famous painting, The Starry Night. Van Gogh was a tormented (suffered) man whose slide into insanity has been chronicled (written) in letters, biographies, romantic novels, and films. His painting of a tortured night sky is filled with dynamic swirls (whirl) and rich colours, portraying a night that is intensely threatening. He wrote, “Exaggerate the essential and leave the obvious vague (indefinite).”
  • In 1888 Vincent van Gogh wrote to his sister praising the work of Walt Whitman. He assured her that their brother Theo had Whitman’s poetry, which was available to him in 1886. 
  • On December 23 (or 24), 1888, van Gogh experienced a mental episode and cut off part of his ear. He was then admitted to a mental hospital, where he reported that he had spent a great deal of time examining the night sky and painting a number of canvases, which he described to his brother. Among them was The Starry Night. 
  • Scholars such as Mark Van Doren, Hope B. Werness, and Jean Schwind have noted numerous similarities between Walt Whitman and Vincent van Gogh. They noted that Whitman’s ecstatic (joyful) verse complements some of the energy of van Gogh’s painting. 
  • The reference to the “crescent (resembling the curved shape of the moon) child that carries its own full mother in its belly” has been seen as clarifying the portrait of the crescent moon involved in the noon sun in the right upper corner of the painting. In addition, van Gogh may have felt a sympathetic strain (bother) in Whitman’s poetry and in his character. Whitman’s expression, “ready in my madness,” may have helped van Gogh experience his own mental condition as related to art, not just insanity. 

Interpretation - Drama Interprets Painting 

  • One of the remarkable connections in the arts is the musical theatre piece Sunday in the Park with George (1984), the Pulitzer Prize-winning play that interpreted George Seurat’s (1859–1891) painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of la Grande Jatte (1884).
  • In his best-known and largest painting: A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of la Grande Jatte, Georges Seurat depicted people from different social classes walking and relaxing in a park just west of Paris on La Grande Jatte, an island on the Seine River. Although he took his subject from modern life, Seurat sought to evoke the sense of timelessness associated with ancient art, especially Egyptian and Greek sculpture.
  • Seurat painted A Sunday on La Grande Jatte—in 1884 using pointillism, a highly systematic and scientific technique based on the hypothesis that closely positioned points of pure colour mix together in the viewer’s eye. 
  • He added a series of dots that coalesce (unite) into solid and luminous forms when seen from a distance. 
  • The theatre interpretation centred on an imaginative biography of Seurat, who was famous for his pointillistic painting style, in which he painted using tiny points of paint that the eye merges so as to perceive an image of people, animals, and things. Seurat’s figures in the painting are quite static, posed as if waiting to be photographed. 
  • The island of the Grande Jatte was a favourite place for Parisians to “hang out” in the warm weather. It was where people of many stations of life would socialise. 
  • The first act of the play is set in 1884 Paris, with Jake Gyllenhaal portraying Seurat in a vain effort to save his love for Dot, his mistress. But she rejects him because she feels they do not belong together. The second act is set in 1984—or the present—in which Gyllenhaal plays Seurat’s grandson and Ashford plays his grandmother. Modern critics have seen the play as a commentary on the democracy of the modern world. 

Interpretation - Architecture Interprets Dance: National Nederlanden Building 

  • One of the most extraordinary interactions between the arts, the celebrated National Nederland Building in Prague, Czech Republic, by the modernist architect Frank Gehry, seems to have almost replicated a duet between Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. The building in Prague has been called “Ginger and Fred” since it was finished in 1996. It has also been called “the dancing building,” but everyone who has commented on the structure points to its rhythms, particularly the windows, which are on different levels throughout the exterior. 
  • The building definitely reflects the postures of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire as they appeared in nine extraordinary films from 1933 to 1939. 

Interpretation: Painting Interprets Dance and Music: The Dance & Music

  • Henri Matisse (1869–1954) was commissioned to paint The Dance and Music (both 1910) by Sergei Shchukin, a wealthy Russian businessman in Moscow.
  • In Matisse’s time, Shchukin entertained lavishly, and his guests were sophisticated, well-travelled, beautifully clothed patrons of the arts who went regularly to the ballet, opera, and lavish (rich) orchestral concerts. Matisse made his work stand in stark (very plain) contrast to the aristocratic world of his potential viewers.
  • According to Matisse, The Dance was derived originally from observation of local men and women dancing on the beach in a fishing village in southern France, where Matisse lived for a short time. 
  • The Dance interprets the idea of dance rather than any particular dance. Moreover, it is clear that Matisse reaches into the earliest history of dance, portraying naked women and a man dancing with abandon on a green mound (a ball representing the earth) against a dark blue sky. Their sense of movement is implied in the gesture of each leg, the posture of each figure, and the instability of the pose. The figures have been described as primitive, but their hairdos  (haircuts) suggest that they might be contemporary dancers returning to nature and dancing in accord with an instinctual sense of motion.
  • Music is similarly primitive, with a fiddler (a person who plays the violin) and a pipes player (who looks as if they were borrowed from a Picasso painting) and three singers sitting on a mound of earth against a dark blue sky. They are painted in the same flat reddish tones as the dancers, and it seems as if they are playing and singing the music that the dancers are themselves hearing. 
  • The two panels, The Dance and Music, seem designed to work together to imply an ideal for each art. Instead of interpreting a specific artistic moment, Matisse appears to be striving to interpret the essential nature of both arts.

End of the Part!


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