Dennis Baker


Artwork and Writings

MMusic and Personal Identity

There are two painting series that I hope to be displaying this Fall, both dealing with personal identity. Each of the works you see here are about are an exploration of identity and participation with music.

Let’s begin with simple listening – we have all experienced how music can transform our state of mind, elevate our mood or bring us to tears. Does that experience have the potential to change who we are, our actual identity, in a very real sense? I have learned to embrace the notion that who we are at any given time is fluid – dependent on our interactions with others and our environment, our impulses and our thoughts. Indeed, much of our entire existence can be thought of as flowing within a spectrum. Issues like this happen to be a part of our national discussion – think racial identity and gender fluidity.



Next, if we engage the musical experience more deeply through performance, “becoming one with the instrument,” then I believe who we are, our actual identity during that time, cannot be fully expressed without including the instrument. In other words, does our sense of physical existence extend beyond our bodies? I think it does and have learned that many people who are intensely engaged with sports like surfing and mountain climbing feel this deeply.

So how does one express this concept through painting? A couple of years ago I took an interest in Cubism, an art form created in France around 1908 by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. They were carrying on explorations started by the impressionist, Paul Cézanne. He spent the end of his career trying to express on canvas something more than just a static view of the image below him. The question was how to depict the spirit of a three dimensional image on a two dimensional surface. Cézanne and then these two disciples chose to instead express ‘non-containment’, allowing the image to leave the surface using the viewer’s interaction… and sometimes multiple perspectives giving Cubism its distinctive look such as the image at left by Picasso.

It was sometime after I began to study Cubism that I realized how much it paralleled with the study of Zen. Both challenge our concept of autonomy. Cubism is the artistic challenge to traditional perspectives of personal autonomy and form. Zen challenges us to observe the world around us closely so that we may learn to engage our lives fully in the present with more compassion and perhaps less autonomy. My paintings are a result of these studies.

The two small paintings on wood panels, Jazz Base and Spanish Guitar, were created while listening strictly to their respective music genres. The larger work on canvas was created while listening to Bach’s Cello Suites. Music, instrument, performance and performer are translated into relationships of volume, space, mass and emotion where all effect identity.

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