Dove created abstract paintings, or "extractions," as he called them, to convey his profound response to the rhythms and forces of the natural world. Chinese Music is an early example of the artist's use of shimmering, disc-like shapes as symbols for sun, moon, and sea. Progressively scaled to suggest gently expansive movement, these radiating orbs are lightly shaded with metallic silver paint and glazed translucent green. The topmost form has a serrated edge that echoes the pale green sawtoothed form, tipped with black, which rises from the bottom of the canvas like a circular saw. These radial shapes intersect and overlap with a series of dark, planar elements, suggestive of buildings, rooftops, and inverted fans; this painting initiated a pictorial vocabulary that would sustain the artist over the next two decades. The picture was one of only three works by Dove that Stieglitz chose to be included in the Société Anonyme's landmark International Exhibition of Modern Art, held at the Brooklyn Museum in 1926.
The title probably comes from Arthur Jerome Eddy's Cubists and Post-Impressionism, a survey of modern art published in 1914, in which the author used an analogy to Chinese music to explain the importance of Kandinsky's nonrepresentational works: "The great majority of people on first hearing Chinese music exclaim, 'What a horrid din!' and turn away. A very, very small minority, about one man in a million, say, 'True, it sounds to us like a din, but to a people of extraordinary civilization it is music; the matter is worth investigating.'" Dove appears to have taken this public defense of abstract art as the point of departure for a dynamic and heartfelt composition that translates the clashing harmonies of Chinese music into visual terms. The subjective association of sound and color, known as synesthesia, was popular within the Stieglitz circle. Dove's interest in the notion of visual music was stimulated by Kandinsky's 1912 book Concerning the Spiritual in Art, which relates the sounds of particular instruments to specific colors. Twentieth Century Painting and Sculpture in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2000), p. 51.
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