Harmony and Discord


By Cherrill Everley




Both the preparation work and the supervised, timed theme will aim to explore harmony and discord in a manner that satisfies the following objectives:


·        The recording of observations, experiences, ideas and insights in this essay and the accompanying sketchbook.

·        The demonstration of interests and the sustaining of independent judgement in the selection of sources.

·        The collection, organisation and relaying of information related to the theme.

·        The analysis and critical evaluation of sources.

·        The demonstration of mature responses to the theme, information and sources.

·        The demonstration that interpretations provided in relation to the information and sources are informed by an understanding of purposes, meanings and contexts.

·        The demonstration of the exploration and development of ideas and investigations undertaken in relation to the theme.

·        The appropriate selection and use of resources, materials and techniques and the establishment of relationships between the working methods applied and the outcomes achieved.

·        The demonstration of understanding and application through the integration into the preparation work and the timed theme of formal elements such as line, colour etc.

·        The presentation of responses that are fluent and imaginative.

·        The realisation of intentions expressed in this essay and in the preparation work in the final timed theme.

·        The explanation of the connections found and made between personal enquiry and the work of others that has been researched.




Harmony - agreement or concord. (from the Latin harmonia, a concord of sounds, and from the Greek harmos a joint).

Discord - to be different or to be in disharmony. (From the Latin discordia).

Concord-  peace or harmony, the opposite of discord. (From the French concorde and from the Latin concordia).


(Source: The New Oxford Dictionary of English).


It is important to note that discord is not strictly the opposite of harmony, rather it is the opposite of concord. A concord involves the bringing together of individual items in a harmonious way, whereas discord occurs when one or more of the items are not in harmony and therefore concord is not achieved. Whereas harmony, concord and discord are terms often used in relation to sounds and music, they can be applied to other matters. In this essay the intention will be to explore their use in connection with formal elements, such as line and colour, in painting. However, in many ways this will be analogous to formal elements in music.




Pythagoras discovered a basic relationship between musical harmony and mathematics. He found that a single stretched string vibrating as a whole produces a ground note. The notes that sound harmonious, to the human ear, with the ground note being produced by dividing the string into an exact number of parts. If the still point on the string, the node, does not come at one of these exact points, the sound is discordant. A similar approach could, perhaps. be applied to the various colours on the colour wheel.


Pythagorus also linked geometry with numbers and proved that, like sound, vision is also governed by exact numbers. In the vertical picture plane a right angle is defined by its fourfold rotation back on itself, the same holds in the horizontal world of experience. This is true both of the natural world and of the world that we construct. The following diagram illustrates this point:



Therefore, harmony and discord can be exploited by artists when producing both realistic and abstract works. When geometrical and colour consideration are combined, the overall effect can be powerful.
















Fireman Painting


An early experiment with harmony and discord in painting involved the fireman painting completed as preparatory work. The early notes suggest how the ideas were being explored and investigated:


"The brightness of the fire and the blackness of the smoke. The colours are discordant. But fire and smoke form harmony. The harmony of the two firemen, working together. But their harmonious stance is in total discord with the harmony of the fire and the smoke".


The painting began as a watercolour experiment. I wanted to see how well I could manage to blend a few watercolours to give a bright, sharp result with no "mud"



I filled the entire page, painting wet on wet, with various warm tones of yellow and red.


When the whole was dry I decided to have a bold acrylic contrast which, as an idea, would be discordant with the watercolour washes, but as a whole would give the feeling of harmony.






















Harmony, Discord and Music


In musical terms, harmony is the combination of simultaneously sounded musical notes to produce chords and chord progressions having a pleasing effect. Discord, on the other hand, relates to the lack of harmony between notes sounding together or to a chord which, in conventional harmonic terms, is regarded as unpleasant or requiring resolution by another chord. Additionally, discord is associated with any interval except unison, an octave, a perfect fifth or fourth, a major or minor third and sixth, or their octaves, a single note dissonant with another.


Harmony in music


The combining of musical notes into chords, and then into sequences of chords, with emphasis on the ‘vertical’ component of the music rather than on the ‘horizontal’ fitting together of melodic strands (counterpoint). Harmony is thus generally thought of as accompanying, or ‘clothing’, one or more lines of melody. It may be diatonic(using wholly or mainly the notes of a particular key), chromatic(employing many notes foreign to the key), or atonal(independent of any reference to a key centre). In a looser sense, the term harmonious is often used to mean ‘pleasant-sounding’, in contrast to discordant, but in reality discord has been an essential part of the harmonic theory of all periods of music history.




A psycho-acoustic phenomenon explicable on several levels. In terms of pure sound, two or more notes whose soundwaves peak out of phase (producing a discernible rapid ‘beat’) may be described as dissonant. The phenomenon may also be viewed as a conjunction of two or more notes producing a ‘painful’, ‘harsh’, or merely ‘unpleasant’ effect, or as a chord requiring resolution. This view is more subjective, and the degree of acceptable dissonance has varied at different periods of music history. The concept is nevertheless basic to the harmonic theory of most Western music up to the 20th-c, and many would argue that it is rooted in immutable laws about the nature of sound.


(Source: AND Encyclopaedia).



Jazz musicians, amongst others, often make use of discordant notes in order to add expression to their music. This suggested that there might be an important relationship between music and painting which could be explored in both the preparation work and the timed theme. Just as jazz musicians introduce discordant notes into their music in order to express emotions, it would seem possible that discordant colours could be added into paintings in order to express similar emotions. It might also be possible to use colour to express musical sounds as well as the emotions those sounds attempted to express.


Traditionally, secondary colours are made up of equal parts of two primaries - green, orange and purple - have a natural affinity for each other and when placed next to each other produce a pleasing, harmonious effect. Meanwhile, colours opposite each other on the spectrum are known as complementary colours - blue and orange or red and green - they produce a far stronger contrast with each other suggestive of tension and visual energy.


Therefore I decided to prepare samples of harmonious and discordant colours and samples of the form of the painting of a jazz musician that I intended to paint. The intended outcome being to paint a jazz musician using harmonious and discordant colours to capture the emotions being expressed in the music.


Sketch Book Preparatory Work


This sketch was drawn with deliberately no uniformity of pattern, conveying an impression of discord, yet on completion the overall impression of harmony is conveyed.


The square form created by the musician's shoulder, arm and saxophone that he is playing shown in this sketch being















extended to cover the full orchestra, with the music








being played symbolised by the musical notation.


Jazz is considered to be “hot” full of body, rhythm, emotion and colours. Therefore, I produced a water colour experiment with what I consider to be “hot” colour: cobalt lemon, cobalt yellow and crimson to represent rhythm, with an outer edge of cobalt blue, phthalo blue and ultramarine with just a touch of rose madder to represent the blues.


Although rhythm and blues go together hand in glove, these colours did not. The warm colours seemed to “flicker” with movement and brightness a lively combination while the blue contrast is discordant, cold, sluggish creeping rather than moving rhythmically.


I then completed a series of acrylic experiments based on the same colour format, but adding titanium white. I painted several small experiments in order to arrive at the right background for my final piece. To the last two I added jazz musicians. One Playing the saxophone the other the trumpet. I dipped my little finger into titanium white and managed to create a Smokey atmosphere.


Although I like my jazz musicians, I felt that for my timed theme I would prefer to make the musical instrument, rather than the musician, the main attraction as this would help to convey the notions of harmony and discordancy.


The following are examples of the experiments carried out in relation to the background textures and colours and the various jazz musicians:


















I completed a pencil drawing of a saxophone. I loved it’s curved shape and the gleaming brass. At this point, therefore, I began to think of using a saxophone as my main subject in the timed theme.


Further experimental and preparatory work involved the use of  a background of various yellows and reds, hot colour for hot jazz,  with blue at the picture plane to represent the blues, to which was added a very loosely painted saxophone. while all the colours are harmonious, the “cool” element of the blue is discordant with the jaunty and jolly suggestion of the warmer colours.

























I then painted another saxophone in watercolour and drew my subject loosely then wet the paper thoroughly before dropping in colour. I left the water and paint run and blend freely dropping more water onto the surface. When it was almost dry, I added some darker tones to the saxophone. I surrounded the saxophone with an impression of gold light and fire, dropping in ultramarine (which mixed nicely with the cadmium yellow, near the picture plane to cool the whole effect down.


This was then developed firstly in a small acrylic painting in my sketch book and then on a larger canvas. These pieces of preparatory work forming the basis for my final timed theme.




















However, I also experimented with several other musical instruments and the combination of line and colour involved in paintings involving more than one musical instrument.


 I completed a watercolour of a guitar, a saxophone and a piano key board, trying to make it as light and bright as I could. However. it didn't quite work out as well in practice as I would have expected.


It is interesting to consider the harmony and discord associated with certain instruments. For example, if we were watching a brass band marching and amongst the musicians we spotted a guitarist, we would consider it to be discordant with the other instruments. But, in fact, it would only appear discordant. In reality, the guitar would be as tuneful and attractive as any of the brass instruments. Therefore, although the appearance of a guitar in the middle of a brass section would appear to be discordant, in reality, its music could be blended with the other instruments to form harmony and a concord of sound.























Some of the colours in the flute painting shouldn't have worked together, yet they did. Amazingly, harmony appeared to force itself to take precedence over discordancy. I was surprised at how my purple mists washes, in the guitar painting, turned out when dry (reminiscent of Jimi Hendrik's purple haze!). The notion of discordancy was emphasised by drawing six strings but only five string pegs!  As a result I developed the guitar idea onto a larger canvas. The saxophone and keyboard experiment was based upon earlier sketches containing echoes of Wassily Kandinsky's "Yellow-Red-Blue 1925" painting. I liked the loose yet clearly well thought out way this work had been composed. While Kandinsky would doubtless have done far better, I enjoyed thinking it out and starting with the treble clef I then added instruments until I had produced quite a few interesting shapes, both negative and positive. However, I was ultimately disappointed with the final outcome. In fact, my watery background reminds me more of Paul Klee's Red and Yellow Houses in Tunis 1914" than of Kandinsky.

Kandinsky. 1













            Kandinsky.                                                                 Klee.


The artist Paul Klee was also a very gifted musician who played the piano and the violin. His father wanted him to find employment as a musician but Klee said, ”I would have gladly left school during the last year but one, but my parents’ wishes prevented me from doing so. I now felt like a martyr. I only liked what I was not allowed to do. drawing and writing.”


However, there doesn’t appear to be more than a minimal connection between Klee’s musicality and his painting. He reproduced his music in a traditional way, while his artistic creativity was radical. He felt that he could create through art but not through music.


Wassily Kandinsky realised his conception of “artistic synthesis" in 1928. He painted a visual accompaniment to Mussorgsky’s  “pictures at an exhibition.” His idea was to accompany the movement of the musical phrases with moving shapes and lighting. The synthesis of musical and visual expression mutually illuminating and intensifying each other with discord and harmony. Kandinsky, in fact, postulated an inner relationship between music and painting. Both expressing the role of intuition in the creative process. For Kandinsky, there was an important relationship between intellect and intuition. Knowledge without intuition being barren, but knowledge providing the material upon which the intuition could work. Creativity, therefore, required harmony between the intuition and the intellect. In many ways this is similar to the two horse chariot of the intellect and the passions, which need to be maintained in harmony, postulated by Plato. Kandinsky was also aiming at a pure concord of colours through the interplay of various shades.


The harmony of colour, line and sound, therefore, is nothing but the expression of the harmony of the intellect and the intuition.


I found it interesting to read that Kandinsky and Franz Marc founded the Blaue Reiter group in Munich. Kandinsky was impelled by his need for effusive lyricism to eliminate from his painting the object. According to Concepts of Modern Art. Third Edition. Edited by Nicos Stangos,  “the role that music played in Kandinsky’s creative life was played for Marc by animals.” He saw them as being in a oneness with the rhythms of nature.






As a result of this preparation work and additional sketches, I finally produced a small watercolour of multiple instruments which, although I do not intend to develop it at present, I will return to at a later date and paint onto a larger canvas.


The lines of the instruments interestingly also form the shape of a sailing boat.
















Jazz music is often played in smoky atmospheres, therefore I wanted my timed theme to contain a background suggestive of wispy, curling smoke. Clouds and smoke look similar, and I had already attempted to demonstrate, in my firemen painting sketch, that black smoke can billow and move as attractively as clouds can, but in truth nothing can be more discordant.


Clouds are atmospheric, fresh and carry rain while smoke is acrid, choking and dry. Clouds water our world, helping living things to grow, while smoke destroys life giving air and kills.


In my first saxophone painting I covered the canvas with yellows, reds and blues in an attempt to achieve a sky effect. I then added some white areas to give the impression of clouds and smoke. I attempted to make the saxophone quirky, trying to make it look happy, almost as if it were contemplating dancing to its own music. In order to achieve this effect I changed its shape slightly. I also wanted to convey "hot jazz" and "cool blues" as hot and cold are superficially discordant, although they ultimately go together as I hope the painting conveys.


Final Timed Theme


For my final timed theme I attempted to bring together all of the points discussed in this essay, along with the ideas learned and developed in the preparation work contained in my sketch book and on the submitted canvases, in order to achieve an outcome expressing harmony and discord.


I painted the background with cadmium lemon, naples yellow, golden yellow, titanium white cadmium orange, rose madder, phthalo blue, payne’s grey cadmium red, naphthol red, benzimidazolone maroon and dioxazine purple. I had carried out a few experiments for different background textures and, as a result, decided for the best smoky or cloudy effect I desired, the painting would work better with a flat background.


I used my fingers as the canvas was quite large and covering a large area with brushes would be difficult, as I suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome in my right hand and wrist. This way, not only would I achieve the effect that I desired but I would also be able to restrict the use of brushes to paint the saxophone which was to dominated the centre of the canvas. In fact, I quite like the direct contact with the medium which is achieved through use of the fingers.


I blended the colours wherever I wanted to place them, and loved the harmony that somehow emanated from the canvas out of the discordant colour mixes. It was almost as if the discordancy was actually contributing to the harmony of the whole when viewed holistically.


I attempted to convey the emotions and feelings of jazz in the movement of the smoke and clouds. Hot, flowing, dark, loud, soft, gentle, happy and jaunty, plaintive and sad. On a certain level I felt almost as if I were playing an instrument in that my fingers were making the paint work in the same way that a saxophonist would make his instrument play.


After blocking the saxophone in with naples yellow, I picked out the detail using brushes for the first time. Burnt umber, golden yellow, lemon yellow, raw sienna and titanium white worked together to give the saxophone a metallic look.


I didn't add shadow beneath the saxophone as I wanted it to look as if it were floating incongruously in the sky clouded with beautiful music. When the saxophone was completely dry I mixed titanium white with a touch of ultramarine and, after adding quite a lot of water, again using my fingers, I smeared the wash from the mouth of the saxophone to the bottom of the picture plane so that it rose in a wispy effect and then disappeared at the back of the instrument.


I then cut out different sized note-like shapes in black card and tried them against the golden colours on the left side of the canvas. Once I was satisfied with their position, I pencilled them in and painted them with a thick coat of payne's grey. I wanted a dense, dark effect to make the notes stand out. The different sizes contributed to a "near far" sense; that the notes were floating away from the saxophone and that the music was strong, loud and colourful, sometimes harmonious, sometimes discordant, but always worth hearing.


The saxophone blends harmoniously with the NEBULOUS background, yet other than beyond the force of gravity, the idea of a saxophone floating amongst the clouds is discordant.


When I painted my preparatory canvas I included a line of jazz music. Although it suited that painting very well, I did not feel that it would work so well on my final timed theme. However, in order to experiment, I cut out some shapes in order to form a few unlikely looking notes and a stave. I then stuck them onto the canvas, in various positions, to see if they worked. Digital photographs being taken of the results. The notes in varying sizes worked really well, but the stave bars looked harsh and, although they looked better in some positions than in others (one looked like a giant bar code!), on the whole the painting looked less cluttered and more dynamic with just the notes.







the notes added.

































Furthermore, having looked at length at the digital photographs I believed that some things can be over done and end up hiding the very point that the artist is trying to make. For example: if someone makes a dress out of beautiful material, cut to an elegant pattern and then, for whatever reason, decides to add a great lace ruff and a big bow, the basic attraction and fine lines of the dress would be lost - all people would see would be the hideous fripperies that had been attached at the end. This is what I feel would have happened to my painting if I had added the stave in any position. It would have dominated the painting, killing off the saxophone and rending the "mood" colours irrelevant. However, the experiment was worthwhile as it served to justify my initial intuition.











The preparation work and the supervised final timed theme were carried out in a manner that satisfied the following process and outcome objectives:


·        Observations, experiences, ideas and insights were recorded in both this essay and the accompanying sketch book.

·        The selection of sources demonstrated a range of relevant interests and sustained independent judgement.

·        Information related to the theme of harmony and discord was collected, organised and relayed.

·        Sources were subjected to analysis and critical evaluation.

·        A mature response to the theme, information and the sources was demonstrated.

·        Interpretations provided in relation to the information and sources were informed by an understanding of purposes, meanings and contexts.

·        Ideas and investigations were explored and developed.

·        Appropriate resources, materials and techniques were selected and relationships between the working methods applied and the outcomes achieved were established.

·        The integration into the preparation work and the timed theme of formal elements such as line, colour etc demonstrated understanding and application.

·        The presentation of responses were fluent and imaginative.

·        The final timed theme realised the intentions expressed in this essay and in the preparation work.

·        The connections found and made between personal enquiry and the work of others were explained in this essay and in the preparatory work.


In order to achieve the above I attempted to:


     Keep an accurate record of the development of the final timed theme. In order to outline the materials and techniques utilised, the ideas being tested, rejected, modified and refined in my sketch book and in preparatory work on canvases etc.

     Analyse my work in relation to the work of others which had been researched and critically evaluated, for example that of Kandinsky and Klee.

     Achieve a final outcome through the process outlined above and to subject that final outcome to critical evaluation.


This approach not only led to developments in my own work, but also helped me gain critical insights into the work of others. What I was aiming to achieve being a composition which was apparently harmonious in terms of form and colour, but which on closer inspection revealed elements of discord in terms of composition, texture and colour combination etc.


The logical steps of my method being to:


·        Examine the concept of harmony and discord in general and in its specific application in music and art.

·        Explore the use of colour and line in relation to harmony and discord.

·        Explore the work of others, such as Kandinsky and Klee, which contained echoes and resonances that could be developed in my own work.

·        Explore how textures could be used to enhance the tension between the background and the foreground in a way that was suggestive of discord etc.

·        Explore how movement, such as that found in smoke and clouds, could be captured in paintings.

·        Explore how colour and line could be used to express sound and emotion, particularly those sounds and emotions which are harmonious and discordant.

·        Experiment with paintings of different musical instruments and musicians in order to make a valid selection of the appropriate subject for the final timed theme.

·        Achieve a final outcome which integrated all of the above explorations.


I was restricted, to a certain extent, in my preparatory work through having to work on fairly small pieces due to the pain in my hands and wrists, I suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome in one wrist and fractured a bone in my other wrist! Therefore, I had to conserve my effort for my final timed theme which was completed on a large canvas. Scale was important in order to add impact and to achieve the effect of the "blues" spilling out of the saxophone's gaping mouth, throwing its notes into the atmosphere. This effect would have been almost impossible to achieve on a smaller canvas. Overall, I feel that my final outcome worked well and achieved these aims.



My painting of Kandinsky.



My painting of Klee.














Evaluation of Final Outcome


Both Edgar Degas and Rembrandt painted with their hands in the latter part of their lives when their eyesight began to fail. Degas used to make his pastels into a kind of paste by adding hot water to them. In this way he could contrast "painted" areas with "drawn" ones.


My final piece contrasts in that the background was painted with my fingers while brushes were used to paint the saxophone. I have learnt that fingers are excellent for blending colours together and for deliberately smudging and smearing.


I applied the paint smoothly without the use of an impasto method. This was because I wanted a smooth canvas to convey the impression of smooth music. I considered harmony - basically objects, people and music all working together. Then I thought about discord - something being not quite right, not blending, gelling or sounding as it should.


The word "harmony" actually sounds harmonious; calm, smooth, gentle, almost swaying while "discord" sounds sharp as if deliberately at odds and determined not to mix in. It sounds gutsy and alive.


I was trying to think of a way to bring harmony and discord together and jazz seemed to provide the perfect answer.


I feel that my final outcome justifies my research and experiments. It is vibrant with colour and the saxophone just screams "jazz!" The colours work both on a harmonious and discordant level, which is why jazz with its many harmonies and discords is the perfect foil. My painting is multi-coloured and full of energy and so are the many facets of jazz.


I originally chose to use music to explore the theme of harmony and discord because I play the piano, I am a jazz fan and because music was always predominate in my mind whenever I explored other approaches to the theme. All musical notes, however diverse, can be brought together by an accomplished jazz musician, so that although the listener is aware of discordance the overall harmony that is achieved is colourful and emotional. This was the effect that I set out to achieve using multi-coloured tones to convey the multi-coloured moods of harmony and discord.


My choice of colours was arrived at through my colour wheel experiments (see insert in my portfolio) and background colour experiments in my sketch book. These experiments led me to feel that the moods and feelings of harmony and discord could not be achieved by just having a few colours however bright.


In many ways I wanted to achieve the discordant effect which David Ferry aims to prevent when he suggests that: "A small range of colours can be a distinct advantage, as too wide a choice on the palette can result in confusion and a disharmonious picture".


In my final outcome I wished to convey the highs and lows, the sweetness of harmony and the abruptness of discord.


I will certainly experiment further with painting with my fingers. However, in future work I will introduce a greater range of colour and tone, rather than restricting myself to the yellows, reds and blues that I initially used in my early preparatory work. My background only really starting to come right with my preparatory guitar painting on canvas, when I intuitively used a greater range of colours which conveyed energy and high colour.













·        Kandinsky. Hajo Duchting.

·        Klee. Susanna Partsch.

·        The Life and Work of Degas. Douglas Mannering.

·        The Artist's Handbook. Angela Gair.

·        Artist's Manual. Collins.

·        Art of the 2oth Century. Jean-Louis Ferrier.

·        The Illustrated History of Art. David Piper.

·        Painting Without a Brush. David Ferry.

·        A Century of Jazz. Roy Carr.

·        Jazz: An Introduction to its Musical Basis. Avril Dankworth.

·        The Making of Jazz. James Lincoln Collier.