8 Tasty Art and Music Pairings

Music and visual art enjoy a harmonious relationship that dates back centuries. Classic compositions have moved many an artist to put paint to canvas, from Pablo Picasso and Wassily Kandinsky to Henri Matisse and Georgia O’Keefe. Conversely, beloved paintings have influenced great composers from Franz Liszt to Stephen Sondheim. But while each art form resonates with audiences in its own unique way, something really special happens when the two are combined. The right blend of sound and imagery takes audiences on a multimedia journey that might just be greater than the sum of its parts.

We asked some of our Articulate staffers to pair eight iconic paintings with songs that would help viewers enjoy them even more. Here’s what they said.

Van Gogh’s Starry Night

Goes well with…

Lou Reed “Walk on the Wild Side”

Lou Reed’s iconic track, "Walk on the Wild Side" was somewhat shocking when it was released in 1972. The song, produced by David Bowie, deals with taboo themes ranging from drugs and prostitution to transsexuality in Reed’s signature monotone. Listening to it while staring into Van Gough’s Starry Night (another creator well ahead of his time) creates a hilarious juxtaposition between country and city sensibilities. Somehow, the painting’s mysterious, romantic quality is enlivened and made all the more interesting by Reed’s smutty lyrics. But don’t take my word for it…give it a listen!

- Tori Marchiony, Executive Producer

Jackson Pollock’s Autumn Rhythm (Number 30)

Credit:  The Met

Credit: The Met

Goes well with…

MEDASIN ft. Masego – “Coffee”

If you’re looking for a little aural stimulation with your drip painting, why not try a relaxing cup of audio joe? While the signature rich brown of coffee beans is absent from this nearly 9 by 17-foot Jackson Pollock piece, all the other factors for a relaxing fall morning are intact: the white clouds, mingling with the black splatters of road, and, of course, the tan of pavement being trodden over on your way to work. The hypnotic backbeat of the song works along with its lilting saxophone to create an ambient autumn rhythm. Number 30, that is.

- John-Paul Yunque, Research Assistant

Salvador Dalí’s Persistence of Memory 

Credit:  MoMA

Credit: MoMA

Goes well with…

Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 — Prelude

The Prelude from Bach’s first cello suite is probably the most recognized work for solo cello of all time. It’s constantly played in television and film scores, and YouTube stars the Piano Guys even adapted it into a piece literally titled "The Cello Song."

It’s a beautiful, serene piece of music, perfectly befitting the natural landscape in the background of Dalí’s painting. And because of its beauty, its simplicity, and its popularity, you’ll hear it again. And again. And again. And then you realize how the whole movement is comprised of one arpeggiated pattern repeated over and over again. And because it’s such a perfectly composed piece of music, it will never stop being played, and it will never stop sounding beautiful.

- Constance Kaita, Director of Operations

Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa

goes well with

Jimi Hendrix – “Foxy Lady”

She is not only one of history’s most well known foxy ladies, but both works were created by masters in their respective mediums and have inspired generations of people.

- Mark Miller, Post-Production Supervisor

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Dustheads

Goes well with…

Pink Floyd – “Astronomy Domine” 

When Basquiat’s 1982 painting Dustheads was sold at Christie’s auction house back in 2013, it fetched a princely sum of nearly $49 million — setting a record that was only broken a few years later by one of the iconic graffiti artist’s other works (Untitled, which sold for $57,285,000 in 2016). Dustheads is definitely an evocative painting, which distills the experience of two people assumed to be under the influence of the hallucinogenic drug commonly known as ‘angel dust.’ Given the painting’s unlikely mainstream success, as well as its psychedelic palette, it feels appropriate to view it while taking in the sounds of "Astronomy Domine" — the swirling, enveloping opener of Pink Floyd’s debut album. Far out.

- Kevin McElvaney, Digital Content Supervisor

Grant Wood’s “American Gothic”

Goes well with…

Tammy Wynette – “Stand By Your Man”

Though famously, the couple portrayed in American Gothic are the artist‘s dentist and his sister, the implication has always been that they were a long-wed rural couple.  Both of their expressions suggest resigned acceptance, but hers suggests that she has long been suffering.

I’m not sure who exactly Tammy Wynette is advising in her song, but given the socio-economic options that existed for many women forty years ago when the song was written, I suspect it was addressed to women for whom putting up and staying put were the only viable options.  The ‘wife’ in this painting looks as though these, too, were also her only options.

- Jim Cotter, Host and Managing Editor

Edvard Munch’s The Scream

Goes well with…

Kanye West – “Everything I Am”

The subject of The Scream is a messed up looking guy. He’s realizing that unlike those two normal-looking silhouetted people in the background, he’s got a round, pear-shaped head, buggy eyes, and dots for a nose. There’s a beautiful background behind him with the sunset and the river. But compared to this nature, he’s the token anomaly.

And despite being so out of place, he’s an instantly recognizable art subject. Just like how Kanye will never be "picture-perfect Beyoncé" and has this whole air of rejection around him ("everything I’m not made me everything I am"), everything normative that the subject of The Scream lacks ends up defining it in a new way.

 - Constance Kaita

Monet’s The Water Lilies: Green Reflections

Credit: Musée de l’Orangerie

Credit: Musée de l’Orangerie

Goes well with…

Portugal. The Man – “Purple Yellow Red and Blue”

“When you step in close to one of Monet’s giant renderings of water lilies, the painting turns from a string quartet to a light show at an alt rock concert. Indeed, the pastoral renderings of water lilies become strokes of color in unexpected combinations and places. A dash of orange, next to a deep purple, next to a soft green will compose the shadow under the edge of a water lily. It may seem like the only similarity between Portugal. The Man’s song and Monet’s work is the palette of colors. But Monet was totally revolutionary for his time. His earlier painting, Impressionism, soleillevant, inspired the word “impressionism,” and defined a new genre that would forever change painting. So as shocking and strange as the ‘Purple, Yellow, Red and Blue’ music video may seem, it stems from a long tradition of artists shaking up the status quo.”

- Aaron Lemle, Producer