Music in the South
December 17, 2022 - June 11, 2023
Drawn from the permanent collection, the paintings, prints, photographs, and sculptures that make up Music in the South celebrate the culturally diverse, richly expressive traditions of the music of the South.
Music and the visual arts have both been shaped by the traditions, values, and attitudes of Southerners, especially in the realms of religion, community life, family relationships, and identity. The works of art in the exhibition reflect an array of Southern social and cultural contexts—from Appalachia and the rural Piedmont to New Orleans, the Black Belt of the Deep South, and the Carolina Lowcountry. These uniquely Southern settings have spawned equally unique musical forms.
Inspired by music, the visual artist may sense a great truth about how the world works and respond to it. For many Southern artists, the pursuit of truth is as satisfying as old-time fiddle tunes, blues, gospel, and bluegrass. Unlike art that must be performed, however, visual art can be enjoyed and appreciated independently of its creators. In the way that old hymnals use the word, it abides—unlike music, which, even in recorded form, lives only in a moment of time.
Musical idioms have passed easily across the region’s racial and cultural boundaries, inspiring freer, increasingly multicultural, modes of expression. The roots of Southern music—and the region’s culture generally—spring from two sources, European and African expressive traditions. Like the region’s foodways, speech, and visual art, Southern music is a product of creolization, a term used by folklorists to describe what happens when distinct cultural traditions converge to create something new. Just as Southern speech and accents differ in various parts of the region, its music also demonstrates the principle of variety within a unity of culture.
The photographers, painters, printmakers, and sculptors included in this exhibition remind us that creolization is an ongoing process, and, inspired by it, the South’s visual artists continue to celebrate its rich musical traditions.