There are no rules to what makes a compelling piece of art. Sometimes art is a faithful reflection, realist or abstract, other times art is a conceptual journey inward or beyond reality into imagined places. Art can be obvious, subtle, or both simultaneously.
If I were forced to commit to a qualifying statement about what makes art, I might lean into art being a catalyst for change in perspective, making one think or feel something. Luckily I am not tasked with such a daunting challenge. I don't need to define art, and I don't want to.
For striking examples of art that defies all notions of convention, I might look to John Cage's 4'33" or Yves Klein's Blue. Both examples prove that literal contrast is unnecessary for powerful art. Might it be fair to say that both of those examples can still be considered a major contrast to convention and expectation, making them a rather sophisticated form of contrast? A contrast to norms? Conceptual contrasts?
I think so. I think contrast is the key, part of the magic, and defining contrast is much broader than texture, shape, and color; or harmonic and rhythmic fluctuations alone.
Contrast is about a shift in perspective in all definitions. Pointing out and accentuating all manner of contrast is the artist's work. Art is an expression of perspective.
Perspective requires more than one point or position. It requires at least two points. A position from which to see and that which we are seeing. So contrast, like intervals in music, can be any two positions and their relationships to each other, including the relationship between expectation and surprise.
One of the things that drew me to Jazz as a young person was this relationship between structured form and free improvisation; known and unknown; timeless, predictable, and totally new being intertwined, a timeless tradition that is reinvented in each moment. It is a music whose very nature is all about contrast and that speaks to my artistic nature.
In a live performance with skilled jazz musicians, I know that something new will happen. I might know the song, but I won't necessarily know what is coming next, and that space of knowing and not knowing simultaneously is an exciting carnival of contrast, making the experience totally alive and a work of art itself. What are some elements of art and contrast that excite you? Comment below to continue the conversation.