Can Music Inspire Your Paintings?

Art inspiration: Consider how listening to music while you create art can affect the outcome of your work.

by Jean Pederson

Have you ever gone to a musical concert and experienced a physical reaction? The sound waves traveling into your ears likely elicit physical and emotional responses such as goosebumps on your arms or tears in your eyes.

Art inspiration - Jean Pederson mixed media -
Jean Pederson, “Rumba,” acrylic, 12 x 12 in.
This acrylic portrait, which I painted while listening to fast-paced music, shows my energetic mark making within the scarf and clothing.

Music impacts our mood, lifts us up, touches our hearts, makes our feet tap to the beat of the percussion.

Music is simply a compilation of notes interpreted by a musician. The musician plays the music, which in turn stimulates the tiny hairs in our ears, and our brain hears the auditory message. Once the brain hears the music, we evaluate the sound and respond with pleasure, sadness, or irritation, for example.

Artistic disciplines can support each other with inspiration, and impact energy, emotion, and motivation within each creative endeavor.

I think all of the artistic disciplines are similar — connected by language, the communication of ideas, audience response, enrichment of society, spawning creativity in others (for example, medicine, engineering, technology can gain inspiration for the arts).

Artists — whether writing, painting, sculpting, acting, or playing music — use similar terms within their disciplines. Harmony, unity, rhythm, movement, balance, and emphasis are examples of terms and considerations within the arts. It is no wonder that we react and feel a connection to one another.

Understanding that music can produce such strong emotional responses can help artists with their creative process. Music can be very useful, guiding artistic intentions through brush marks and color choices.

Art inspiration - Jean Pederson mixed media -
Jean Pederson, “Forward Thinking,” mixed media, 20 x 16 in.
This mixed-media portrait reflects the calm music I was listening to while painting.

I always begin my creative process with “What are my intentions?”

I begin my painting intentions with an idea, like communicating energy, pizazz, or an uplifting feeling. I select music with high energy (such as Aerosmith or Elle King) to help me move, smile, and make expressive energetic marks. The marks made during this process communicate as much to the audience as the music. When listening, consider the choice of music and how it reflects on your artistic intentions.

There are times when I need to concentrate while painting. My more realistic portraits require calm, thoughtful brushwork, and my go-to music is classical, Latin guitar, or Loreena McKennitt. Just as music can help your mark making, it can also impede your artistic flow.

I often use music with students, encouraging automatic responses to what they hear. Music that irritates the artist listener often has a detrimental impact on the painting results. Unpleasant music often produces dark, strong marks or, at its extreme, a blank stare at a blank canvas.

I challenge you to consider your intentions and process each day in the studio. Experiment with different styles of music and how those styles affect your mark making and color choices. Choose music that inspires the appropriate marks for your intended outcome.

Compile playlists that will provide you with different inspirations. I have one playlist that is full of meditative music, another for energetic rhythm, and another for variety of styles.

Know your intentions, put the music on, and let your paint brush fly to communicate your ideas in a visual dialogue.

Use the comment section below to tell us what type of music you listen to in the studio, and how it inspires or impacts your art!

Visit Jean Pederson’s website at

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