The fact that music has more “space” in time that it has to occupy, along with the fact that the common chords used have emotional resonance means that minimalist music retains a more emotional intensity, while visual art remains more intellectual, as demonstrated by a comparison of Philip Glass’s “Einstein on the Beach” and John McCracken’s “Untitled Slab.”
Einstein on the Beach begins with deconstructed common chords, before being overlaid by a female ensemble counting to six using the same chord. This is then quickly overlayed with a voice speaking quickly, words barely just too quick to catch any narrative out of (Glass). It then begins with an overlay of male voices singing harmonics and a different group of male voices counting to six using a different octave of the same chord. Each chord used is major, with harmonies communicating a combined sense of joy and loftiness. These musical elements, though deconstructed here, would still be recognizable even to a lay audience, and leave Glass’s music with a distinct emotional punch.
McCracken’s work, “Untitled Slab,” is very different. This piece of work is a painting that resembles, in every element, a large black slab of marble, down to the sense of reflections in its black depth (McCracken). The fact that it looks so almost common place while being made with such distinct skill asks the viewer to engage with art critically; it demands the reader use their mind and think about art as a construct. This consciousness of art as art is common to minimalist visual art, and keeps the viewer at arm’s length, reducing the emotional punch that the art actually has. This means that minimalist visual art, while sharing many similarities with minimalist music, has a very different effect. Minimalist music retains a great deal of emotional punch, while visual art loses it to heightened intellectualism.
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