Paintings in Narrative Motion; A Comparative Approach to Musical and Cinematic Transpositions of Visual Art and Some Suggestions for Cognitive Narratological Analysis
MetadataShow full item record
Like music composed in response to painting, films about particular paintings can also be regarded as the exploration and sophisticated application of the narrative possibilities that are contained within static images, telling stories that are just inside or at the boundaries of pictorial representation. Since film, just as music, develops in time, they can both be interpreted to release the ‘frozen composition’ of a painting into the fluid, dynamic state of the musical composition or film. So far no research has been conducted that touches on possible correspondences between instrumental music and film in their mutual attempts to ‘translate’ the narrative contents of a painting into respectively the medium of music or cinematography. Hence, potential similarities or differences in their underlying creative process and reception have yet to be identified: (1) how and why exactly do composers and filmmakers make use of a particular painting as a source of inspiration in their own medium? (2) How may these inter-art translations subsequently influence or (re)shape the hearers or viewers perceptions of the visual artworks depicted? And (3) how does music, suggestive of telling a narrative or at least allowing to be interpreted as such, correspond with the perception and experience of film? These interrelationships are, however, well worth considering since they may help to overcome the disciplinary boundaries that currently divide musicology from research on inter-art (or inter-media) transference of narrativity taking place in neighbouring disciplines such as film studies. By comparing films referring to Arnold Böcklin’s painting Die Toteninsel with translations of the same painting into music, I will examine whether composers and filmmakers assign the same structural, aesthetic and ideological roles to a painting to give coherence and artistic legitimacy to their art works. For the purpose of comparing and analysing these inter-art translations and to address its reception, I will use a recent model on ‘intermedial narratology’ (Wolf, 2002c). This model argues that, besides medial characteristics, narrativity is partly the result of the recipient’s (i.e., listener or film viewer) cognitive engagement. However, the recipient’s role in construing a narrative in terms of mental representation, structuring, and visual imagery thus far remained a theoretical premise that is, up till now, insufficiently grounded by empirical research. This observation also applies to research on the cognitive engagement of the music listener in response to a suggested musical narrative. Hence, the precise role of the listener in the perception of a musical narrative is therefore still unclear and remains speculative. I therefore argue for the necessity of connecting the study of musical narrativity to the new emerging field of ‘cognitive narratology’. I explore this rapidly developing area while pointing at the same time to the implications and possibilities of recent developments in psychological, cognitive and neuropsychological research on film for a better understanding on the process of experiencing music as a narrative. Drawing on results from contemporary experimental psychology and film theory regarding close correspondences in cognitive processing of music and film by its recipient, I shall hypothesise that the structuring and processing of music that is interpreted to tell a story (‘mental film’) might follow along lines similar as watching a film.