Art & Music

I recommend you play classical music in the background to encourage creative and relaxed thinking.

Why does good music encourage ordered and creative thinking?

Western Classical music is a highly sophisticated language of psychological expression, as is Western Art.

The form, harmony, rhythm and melody of well structured music is particularly helpful in inducing a "flow state".

If you develop your music and art literacy, you will hear and see many common elements between the two creative spheres.

I always tell my students that I can tell whether a painter can dance by looking at his work. I can read the music rhythms and sense of balance in the brush strokes.

So, what music?

Claude Monet (1840-1926) Gabriel Faure (1845-1924)
Claude Monet (1840-1926) | Gabriel Faure (1845-1924)

The obvious choice for an impressionist painting is... impressionist music! Debussy, Ravel, Faure, de Falla, Franck, Albeniz, Granados, Villa-Lobos. There are many to choose from.

In the art lesson situation I favour the orchestral pieces rather than works for solo instruments. This is because it is in the orchestral setting we hear the widest display of colour, tone and timbre, all elements we want to be aware of in our painting efforts.

But with the orchestral works comes another problem. Many of them are dramatic - and actually too dramatic for our purpose. They tend to disrupt the "flow" state we expect to be in by the third hour of a typical painting session. That is why I have also excluded the Russians, such as Mussorgsky, Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov, Rachmaninov etc. Too much drama for painting!

Choose music that helps you relax. If you're not used to classical music, ease into it with something more familiar, like movie soundtracks which use orchestras, The "Harry Potter". soundtracks are an excellent place to start.

After 40 years of professional music making, performing and writing, take it from me, the classical greats are the source for everything good we hear today, so make a goal of getting familiar with these great works.

Of course you can curate a playlist from any of these composers, selecting only the more sedate pieces, but that takes time, although you can find many excellent collections at your favourite music retailer, usually they will have "Adagio" in the title.

Here are some couple of pieces I've found to work well. I keep a constantly updated list at

List 1
  • Albinoni: Adagio
  • Faure: Suite from Pelleas and Melisande
  • Faure: Pavane
  • Faure: Fantaisie for Flute and orchestra
  • Faure: Masques: I
  • Faure: Masques: II: Menuet
  • Faure: Masques: III: Gavotte
  • Faure: Masques: IV: Pastorale
  • Faure: Cantique de Jean Racine
  • Faure: In Paradisum
  • Handel: Water Music
  • Pachelbel: Canon
  • Vivaldi: Four Seasons - all four of the 2nd movements (Tracks 2, 5, 8, 11)
List 2: Music that is a bit more dramatic, but still in the zone for good painting.
  • Dvorak: Symphony from the New World: Adagio
  • Faure: Requiem
  • Handel: Messiah
  • Saint-Saens: Carnival of the Animals
  • Vivaldi: Four Seasons