The popular phrase “without music, life would be a mistake” comes from German philosopher, poet, and composer Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche. Nietzsche was spot-on when he said this about music’s timeless impact on life, which will undoubtedly find its way into the unique spaces of Crystal Bridges and alongside the visual art in our collection.
The paintings in the Crystal Bridges collection are records of our history, culture, and dreams, yet music also serves as a reminder of our past and provides hints into our future. Music is already sweeping through Crystal Bridges, whether through the songs of the birds on the nature trails, an outdoor concert at the Skyspace, or with live performances indoors at Art Night Out or Culture Hour in Eleven. Although Crystal Bridges is considered a museum dedicated to visual art, music will be integrated into many experiences, whether it’s a musical interpretation of an artwork or to help us tell the story of the American Spirit and what brought this country together.
Like art, music expresses stories of its times. During the Great Depression, the role of folk songs and making music within the family became vital in keeping the hopes of the American dream alive, as well as providing an outlet for social and political commentary, as in “This Land is Your Land, ” by Woody Guthrie. In the 1960s, during the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement, songs spread across the nation with words of anti-war protest and equality, such as the 1964 song “Times They Are a Changing” by Bob Dylan. In the 1970s, during rise of feminism, the country saw an influx of songs by women musicians, such as the 1971 song “I Feel the Earth Move” by Carole King.
In the early 1950s, composer John Cage changed the way we experience sound, time, and space. Based upon his “Chance” theories, he led new experimentations with the piano and electroacoustic instruments. Cage inspired and collaborated with Merce Cunningham’s dance performances; and video artist Nam Jun Paik developed a lifetime collaborative partnership with Cage through which they produced numerous projects together, including the John Cage Robot II by Nam June Paik (1995), which is currently being installed in Crystal Bridges’ Early Twentieth-Century Art Gallery bridge.
With the Museum’s location in Northwest Arkansas, we are blessed with the rich culture of folk, roots, and bluegrass music in the Ozark region. For the exhibition This Land, which opens Aug. 31, the Museum collaborated with the Fayetteville Roots Festival to curate a special audio tour, The Music Experience of This Land, that explores the dynamic relationship between lyrics, melody, and image to illuminate the guest experience of the exhibition. After all, the modern folk and roots singers of the Fayetteville festival come from a tradition of songwriting starting in the 1930s, such as the song “Big Muddy” by West Fork, Arkansas musician Jack Williams, which we paired with Joseph Vorst’s After the Flood. You can download the Crystal Bridges app, which includes The Music Experience of This Land from the iTunes app store.
Kicking off our music exploration at the museum is also a six-week film series, America’s Music, taking place on Wednesday evenings from August 28 to October 2 and presented by the Tribeca Film Institute and Northwest Arkansas Community College music professor Miles Fish. Each film screening will be followed by a live music concert by local musicians and a discussion about music’s influence in our lives. Hopefully, after attending this series, the Museum’s audience will have a gained a fresh perspective on the context of the paintings in our collection within the history of American music genres such as jazz, Broadway, blues, mambo, bluegrass, and rock.
To learn more about music events at Crystal Bridges visit, exhibition and events at Crystal Bridges.