My Memory of a Time and Place Where I Never Was

La Goule simultaneously fascinated and excited the patrons in Aristide Bruant‘s decadent, famous Paris cabaret, Le Mirliton, as portrayed in the newly rediscovered L’intérieur de chez Bruant: Le Mirliton I saw at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

"L’intérieur de chez Bruant: Le Mirliton" by Louis Anquetin
“L’intérieur de chez Bruant: Le Mirliton” by Louis Anquetin

 

I could only share that fascination and excitement when I heard, in the background, an acoustic recording with its distinctive high pitched, tinny sound of the famous “Galop Infernal (can-can)”. It took the combination of both sight and sound to take me back there, to make me feel as if I was sitting around the table with those people.

Ironically, it is the poor fidelity of those recordings that give them their emotional vitality, as well as their association with a particular period of time.

Hearing that crackling, high pitched recording while looking at the paining made me feel I was there, at the very spot, at that very moment. Painting and scientific artifact associated together in my mind through sight and sound placed me there.

Sensations, associations, and ideas combine to form the artistic experience. Scientists have tried to understand both ideasthesia and synesthesia with minimal success. We do not need to know how there experiences arise, we just have to be willing to allow them to arise.

Our associations can even change over time.

Take something very simple: are black and white colors?

As the French researcher Michel Pastoureau has written, for the medievals they were. Nonetheless, for many years under the influence of theories based on Isaac Newton’s work, many famous artists did not consider them colors. Once again, today, we see them as colors.

We appreciate works of art from the Middle Ages without understanding their symbols.

Our sensations and ideas interact to produce our own unique artistic experience.

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