Bicycles, 24x18", oil on board. Work in progress.
I often work with music playing (either on headphones or in the background.) However, when concentration is required, silence is necessary. When I compose a painting, or when I work on a passage that requires just the right strokes, I have to have silence. I find that if I don't, my thought processes aren't as deep or involved: clearly part of my neural system is occupied elsewhere.
Another interesting item: the more "realistic" the painting technique, the less concentration it requires. The portrait I just completed (see previous post) I did with headphones in almost the entire time. In fact, it almost required music, since the rendering itself is a somewhat mechanical and tedious undertaking. However, on the piece above, I'm relying much more heavily on the bits left unsaid. This style is the jazz of art. It's in the interstices that the viewer fills in information. Think of it like a sentence written in such a way that the reader only gets a few of the words, but the blanks suggest something much more powerful. Jenny Saville is a master of this type of jazz-art. Richard Schmid also does it very well, and there are students of his (or students who emulate elements of his style) like Jeremy Lipking, Tony Pro and Casey Baugh who also attempt that balancing act in certain pieces.
Make no mistake: it is a balancing act. A damned difficult one.
By the way, this is the direction I'm heading in: an attempt to leave the spaces in between for the viewer to fill in, to produce emotion while leaving the raw power of brush-driven paint on the canvas as unmodified as possible.