Art About Music: “Chinese Musicians” (Anonymous, Chinese, 19th c.)

This painting is of two drummers, but it’s the stark, blank space framing them that catches our attention the most. The space has no borders and it’s almost without depth as well, save for the faint shadows next to female drummer who stands. She sways with a small tom tom strapped over her left forearm, holding long thin drumsticks in each hand with a sideways grip. There’s a small red dot in the middle of her drum’s head, showing the way and matching the color of the drum’s shell and her sleeves. He sits crosslegged on a square mat (without shadwows) with a larger drum balanced on his feet, beating the drum using a matched grip. His left hand strikes the drum on its well-worn beating spot, while his right hand waits for its turn to fall directly downwards. 

The drummers are proximally close, playing together and slightly smiling both, but don’t need to look at one another. What does their music sound like? Maybe he’s playing the downbeats as she waits for her offbeats? Their combined sound is a two tone drum talk, a high-low hocketting like a cut out against silence.  

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