Thursday, January 20, 2022

Harmony, Discord and Composition



Artful Life
Tara O’Neill

B11-CBN-6-13-14-1Passion vs. serenity; active vs. static; harmony vs. discord. These aren’t just the building blocks of artful compositions, but of all human relationships. What we seek is balance – and it’s not one-size-fits-all – it’s personal.

In color theory, the juxtaposition of color-wheel opposites – oddly called compliments – creates a super-charged vibrancy (just put a dot of purple paint in the middle of a yellow sun and watch for a solar explosion). Color-wheel neighbors, however, create a calmer, more soothing composition. Elsewhere in visual arts, a horizontal line is perceived as static, a vertical line as active and a diagonal line as extremely active. Viewers’ preferences naturally fall throughout the spectrum, much of it subliminal.

Moving on. Lovers of fiction know that any good story involves conflict and some sort of resolution. But just how much conflict is palatable depends on the reader as does how much resolution is desired. Not everyone requires tidy endings: boy gets girl, princess her prince, evil defeated, goodness triumphant; many prefer less predictable outcomes, and some relish a completely open-ended finish.

Music is no different. In terms of composition (a writer of music is, after all, called a composer) what matters is what fulfills the listeners’ desires. There are whole genres that rise to the art of discord. Tricky stuff. Nina Simone’s changing cadence mixed with unpredictable instrumentals can make your heart beat faster with excitement – or totally repel you. The smooth sounds of Kenny G can calm your frayed nerves – or bore you to tears. What is it you need, and what else are you open to?

So, how much aggression is enough to stimulate your heart? How much serenity to soothe your agitated soul? And, you may be wondering, how does any of this apply to composition in human relationships?

Recently a friend and I were observing the dynamics among several couples we know well. We acknowledged that



to have passion, to care deeply, is often likely to ignite a conflict – and we all hate conflict, right? Wrong. Passivity can be a cruel punishment; phrases such as “whatever” and “I don’t care” can hurt as quickly as a raised voice. One woman we discussed has a tendency to throw absolute tantrums to get what she wants – yelling, foot-stomping, the works. While her ever-gentle husband takes it all in stride, it annoys the heck out of us. We know the difference between passion and tantrum, why doesn’t he? Well, it works for them – maybe she has excellent apologizing skills we don’t know about.

Another couple glides through life without a perceived ripple; they go along with whatever the other suggests or peacefully go their own ways in order to avoid stating a difference of opinion… or any opinion. Constant serenity. No fire. That’s what works for them and that, we agreed, would drive us crazy!

We discussed a woman who was leaving her mate because she could not stand one more “do whatever you want” and another who was leaving hers because she would not tolerate another day of what she perceived as being bullied.

It all illustrates that the question of balance is personal. What artist, writer, musician, sweetheart, business partner, teacher or friend best touches you there, inside, like no other can? Who strikes your balance? Knowing this is as important as knowing who doesn’t.

Try this: the next time you hear music that irritates you or study a painting or sculpture that doesn’t please you, ask yourself why. Pay attention to the composition – and then decide just how much discord, or harmony, you’re open to. Then open up or move on. Mindfully. Artfully.


Tara O’Neill, a lifelong, award-winning, artist has been an area resident since 1967. She holds degrees in Fine Arts and English from the University of South Florida and is currently represented by Blue Mangrove Gallery on Marco Island. Visit her at

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