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clyfford still | museum
Abstract oil painting with bare canvas, red, black and a little white, yellow, orange, and grayish blue paint
Clyfford Still, PH-401, 1957. Oil on canvas, 113 x 155 in. Clyfford Still Museum, Denver, CO. © City and County of Denver / ARS, NY

International Museum Day: A Musical Celebration

Museums around the world are celebrating International Museum Day by offering activities and events around a special theme. This year, the celebration centers around the idea of Museums for Equality: Diversity and Inclusion. What better represents this theme than music, an international language that is part of every country, culture, and community?

Kids and their parents play instruments in an art gallery
Families create music in response to one of Clyfford Still’s paintings on a family tour.

Music was one source of inspiration for Clyfford Still throughout his life. As a child, his mother taught him to play the piano. As an adult, he often listened to classical music as he worked. Beethoven was Still’s favorite, but his diverse record collection included many other styles of music like jazz, blues, folk, Native American, Native music of Mexico, and spirituals.

Group portrait with Clyfford Still and classmates in Bow Island, Alberta (c. 1915-1920). Still appears on the far left, back row, resting an acoustic guitar on his knee. Unknown photographer, courtesy the Clyfford Still Archives.

Activity: Looking with Our Ears

Clyfford Still said, “I want to be in total command of the colors, as in an orchestra. They are voices.”

Clyfford Still, PH-1090, 1978. Oil on canvas, 94 x 156 inches (238.8 x 396.2 cm) Clyfford Still Museum, Denver, CO

First, take a look at PH-1090 (above) created by Still in 1978. See a larger image from our Online Collection. As you look, think about the following ideas:

  • If this painting was a piece of music, what kind of music would it be?
  • Would the music be loud or quiet? Fast or slow?
  • If the colors were voices, would they sing in unison or individual parts?
  • What sounds would each of the colors make?

Next, explore one of the playlists featuring examples of the music from Clyfford Still’s personal record collection. Spotify Link  or YouTube Link

Do any of the songs you hear reflect your ideas about the painting? Remember, there is no right or wrong interpretation. When we look at Still’s art, we bring our own ideas, emotions, and meaning to it, and our interpretations may change over time.

If you’d like to continue exploring possible relationships between Clyfford Still’s art and music he may have heard, find a painting in our Online Collection and ask yourself the questions above again. Can you find two paintings that “sound” similar? What about two paintings that look similar but “sound” different?


Activity: Your Family Portrait

Families are so important in our life, and in times of uncertainty, families can help us build strength and resilience. Across our communities and around the world, there are differences in how we define family, as well as how families live, dress, cook, and play. Your family, however you define it, probably has musical favorites as well. We all have music that is connected to our histories, cultures, and traditions. Sometimes hearing a song can take us right back to a special time and precious memories.


  • Paper and any mark-making tools you have around the house (pens, pencils, markers, paints, etc.)
  • Experiment with using materials you already have or recycled objects you could repurpose
  • A special piece of music that reminds you of your family

Activity Steps:

  • Play the music that reminds you of your family as you work on your portrait.
  • Think about how you want to depict your family as you define it. Consider the following questions as you plan:
    • Will your drawing be representational (showing your family as they actually look) or abstract (depicting them using colors, lines, and shapes)?
    • Who or what will you include in your portrait?
    • What will the subjects in your portrait be doing?
    • Is it a special celebration or an everyday scene?
  • Decide how you want to involve your family in creating your portrait-maybe you will create something collaboratively, or maybe each person in your family will make their own portrait.
  • As you work, think about special memories or feelings that come up.
  • When you finish, share your artwork on social media with #StillInspired and #InternationalMuseumDay. Tell us what music you were listening to as you made your portrait!

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