The Hearing Eye: Jazz & Blues Influences in African American Visual Art

By Graham Lock; David Murray | Go to book overview

Introduction: The Hearing Eye

Hear with your eyes and see with your ears.

—Charlie Parker

This collection aims to address a gap in the literature on art and music, a gap that appears to be the result of a racial blind spot and/or listening bias. Valerie Wilmer has described how the idea for her book As Serious as Your Life, a study of post-Coltrane jazz, first came to her in a Manhattan bookshop when she picked up a volume called The New Music and “instead of reading about Cecil Taylor and Sun Ra, found myself into a treatise on Cage and Stockhausen.”1 A similar experience provided our raison d’être for compiling The Hearing Eye: it seemed that every book on art and music we consulted had plenty to say about Klee, Kandinsky, and Schoenberg, but hardly anything at all on jazz, blues, and African American visual artists. Nor was this myopia (and selective hearing) restricted to older publications: in 2000, for example, we came across a new book entitled The Sound of Painting: Music in Modern Art and, turning to the index, were nonplussed to find that—still—not a single African American painter or musician had been listed.2

These omissions appear to confirm painter Vincent Smith’s contention that the art world has become “the last bastion” of white exclusivity;3 they are made even more glaring by the fact that close links between African American painting and music have been evident since the early years of the twentieth century. Aaron Douglas, a pioneering figure of black modernist art, recalled that when he set out in the mid-1920s to create a new, distinctive African American aesthetic in his painting, his Harlem contemporaries looked to black music and dance to provide the model: “At that time, pleas could be heard on all sides for a visual pattern comparable to, or rather expressive of, the uniqueness found in the gestures and body movements of the Negro dance, and the sounds and vocal patterns as found in the Negro song.”4

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