Tango music: top line is violin solo, bottom line is piano left hand1413b-450.jpg

I’ve always liked this photo by Steve Durbin.

But what does it have to do with tango?

Let’s look more closely. The landscape has sharp and repetitive features. This regularity creates a structure through visual rhythm. The water is something quite different. It is a smooth flow, it is bold and bright, yet soft. Both the land and the water have motion. You might say, the water is moving and the land is still, but that is not correct. This is a photo and everything is still. The movement is not literal movement, but the suggestion of movement of a different sort, of visual movement — it makes your eyes move, it makes your thoughts move, it is psychological movement. This is the magic of photography(and drawing and painting) — putting movement and stillness on an equal footing, giving each the potential to move.

Above the photo I’ve placed the opening of the most famous of all tango tunes, La Cumparsita. Here it is again, below. You don’t need to read music to see some basic structure. [You can hear a old recording here]
the violin flows, the base his sharp and textured
Look at the second line of the music above: it looks jagged and repetitive, rhythmic. In contrast, the solo violin on top begins a melody with one long note, followed by a shorter one, then another long one. At a musical level, this is very much like Steve’s photo. The river is the melody, the land is the textured rhythm that create a structure for the river to run through, for it’s form to take on the meaning that it does.

We’ve looked at some music, but what about the tango dance itself? The goal in tango dancing is to express the feeling of the music as a totality, which means, in part at least, to express these two elements simultaneously — rhythm and melody. The complex rhythm is expressed with the feet, the melody with the upper body. I’m trying to learn and I can say, it is not easy! The image below is a link to some real Argentinian dancers (you will need to scroll down on the linked page to find this video).

This video (click image, scroll down) shows the feet marking the rhythm, the upper body the melody

This video (click image, scroll down) shows the feet marking the rhythm, the upper body the melody. The linked site, Tango and Chaos, is an excellent source of information.

A river flowing through a landscape, or an old tango tune, both are pleasant in and of themselves. To interpret them, into a picture, or into a dance, requires some special ability and awareness. What I am arguing in this post is that part of what we need as visual artists is to accomplish multiple tasks at the same time. We don’t necessarily have to do everything at once, as artists, but in the final outcome, it must all be there, working together. The tango dance, expressing the melody and rhythm together, seems to me both an informative and inspiring metaphor, or perhaps example, of what we are doing when we are at our best making still images.

Have you ever found inspiration for your artwork in (what seemed like) unrelated disciplines?

Also by Karl Zipser . . .

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