Art History  •  Movements and techniques

The Vibrating World of Jazz and Its Reception in Art

Jazz not only had an influence on the development of music but also on the visual arts of the 20th century. Which artists were inspired by jazz? This vibrant world and its reception in art will be examined here using three examples.

Around 1900, jazz emerged in the southern states of the US. From there it did not take the world by storm at first, because the increasing spread and popularisation of jazz led first to jazz criticism and then to jazz research.

It is thanks to this research that jazz is not only valued as light music but also as a cultural achievement. The influence of jazz on the visual arts can be seen in many different ways. There is iconographic evidence of artists involvement with jazz.

Otto Dix: Großstadt, 1927/28

Otto Dix

Jazz conquered Europe in the 1920s and 30s. Otto Dix, an artist of the Neue Sachlichkeit, shows the inside of a sophisticated dance bar in his triptych Großstadt from 1927-28. The dominant theme here is the nightlife of the Roaring Twenties which juxtaposes lavish enjoyment (middle panel) and the realities of the hardships that were faced (left panel: war cripples, poverty and prostitution).

On the middle panel of the triptych, we see a jazz band dominated by brass instruments playing in a dance bar. The overwhelming feeling of relief and liberation that spread in society after the end of the First World War was overwhelmed by the urge to drown the horrors of war in hedonism. Music and dance became an outlet for the release of lust. Jazz, with its pulsating, unbridled energy, reflects like no other the attitude to life in this short, excessive period in Europe. Because jazz was considered a symbol of freedom, the National Socialists rejected it and branded it as degenerate and banned it during the Third Reich.

Jackson Pollock: One: Number 31, 1950

Jackson Pollock

Jazz is an intellectual battery that anyone can use to recharge. Jackson Pollock himself was captivated by bebop, a style of jazz from the 1940s. He sprayed paint on the canvas surface or dripped it directly from the can (Action Painting) with the same kind of energy one sees in jazz musicians. He was known to listen to Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Louis Armstrong, and he often attended performances at the New York jazz club Five Spot.

During the act of painting, he immersed himself in the hot, spontaneous and swinging rhythm of the music. The “flaring, splashing and raging” of his compositions are in direct exchange with the boundless, energetic quality of jazz music. His abstract paintings are characterized by a spontaneous, gestural colour flow that resembles a visualized symphony. A composition of harmony and unrest, of dynamics and statics. This use of spontaneous improvisation can also be found in the jazz aesthetic, where the performer has the freedom to improvise solos. The artist never loses the overall structure.

In his Action Paintings, Jackson Pollock captures an immediate, uninhibited and, it seems, unleashed power. He composes colours, splashes and lines like melodies, rhythms and structures in jazz music.

Piet Mondrian: Broadway Boogie-Woogie, 1942

Piet Mondrian

The influence of jazz on the visual arts of the 20th century is particularly evident in the example of Piet Mondrian. The Dutch Constructivist artist preferred to listen to Boogie Woogie. His passion for jazz was intensified after a concert visit by Duke Ellington in Paris. Indeed, he could be seen dancing to jazz on the dance floors of London and New York. Often with the collector Peggy Guggenheim and the painter Lee Krasner.

In Minton’s Playhouse Mondrian listened to Thelonious Monk, who had developed his own style. Through dissonant harmonies and broken chords, the talented musician created a visionary approach to timbre and dynamics. The precision with which Mondrian set a line or applied colour to the structure of his paintings can be directly compared. A tension between brilliantly disciplined compositions and uninhibited dynamics.

With the painting “Broadway Boogie-Woogie”, Mondrian set out to capture the rhythm and energy. A flickering, wild but still orderly carpet that makes the colours dance dynamically. Jazz and painting prove to be a mutual source of inspiration for Mondrian.

Jazz on Singulart

The influence of jazz on the visual arts is still highly relevant. There is a lot of evidence today that jazz influences artistic processes, ideas and productions. Jazz music is also a source of inspiration for many Singulart artists.

Immerse yourself in the vibrating world of rhythm and energy, harmony and restlessness, dynamics and statics. Captured on canvas, you will find our curated collection All that Jazz