The Pairing of Music and Art at Boston Athenaeum

Posted on April 7, 2016
Filed Under Providence Journal - Relationships | Leave a Comment

 At a recent concert, I had a taste of artistic pairings.

The jazz quartet Petite Feet, from the New England Conservatory of Music, highlighted the artwork of the late Allan Rohan Crite. For each musical composition, a different artwork was projected onto the screen.

In our love-addicted society, we like pairings. Yet, at the concert, relationship pairing was upstaged by creativity. The sounds of “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “Black and Tan Fantasy,” plus original works by the musician-composers, were met with applause and smiles.

Applause is always rewarding, but why are smiles important? In a review paper published in February 2016 in “Trends in Cognitive Science,” Adrienne Wood and colleagues presented scientific evidence that underscores what we intuitively believe: “Smiles generate smiles.”

It is called “mirroring.” The authors pointed out that “emotions are patterns of expressive, behavioral, physiological, and subjective feeling responses.”

If Crite had been looking at the faces of the audience during the concert, he would have been as pleased as his widow, Jackie Cox-Crite, who was at the Boston Athenaeum to support the event. Her husband was committed to portraying African-Americans living ordinary lives in the Boston community: A child skipping rope, a mother and child riding the bus, and men reading the newspaper.

Preserving one’s heritage is vital. Here in Rhode Island, Brown University is hosting a March 12 event called “Hacking Heritage.” It is designed to make connections among scholars, museums and community advocates and is open to everyone interested in cultural heritage, preservation and public history.

The beauty of a music and art pairing is music’s ability to activate one’s emotions. Researchers tell us there are “best” songs for lovers, for getting over a failed romance, and the best tunes for putting a smile on one’s face. The young men in the jazz quartet know how to smile. Perhaps the audience reacted not just to their music and photos of the artwork, but to the sheer sense of enjoyment on the faces of Travis Bliss, tenor saxophonist, pianist Shane Simpson, drummer Jon Starks and bassist Simón Willson.

Smiles and laughter are contagious, as we learned from studies by Robert R. Provine, neuroscientist and professor of psychology at the University of Maryland. If you are feeling blue, change your mood. Play music that makes you want to dance. Look in the mirror and practice one of those “you light up my life” smiles. Take a walk and smile at strangers on the street. They will smile back.

Smiling at family, friends, lovers and strangers is similar to gratitude as an attitude, not a feeling. Express gratitude through kind words, thank-you notes, or visits — even in the absence of feeling. Whenever you smile and express gratitude, positive feelings will envelop you.

— Rita Watson is a Journal columnist who also writes “With Love and Gratitude” for PsychologyToday.com. / Rita Watson: Smiles and laughter are contagious 

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