Non-Gallery Art and Inexact Music

This is the third post in a series on the limits of art as a term.
Part One is here and Part Two is here.

When we say art, we’re often referring to paintings and sculptures and stuff–those well-established visual arts that are generally found in galleries, and that I therefore refer to as gallery art here on this blog. It’s an improvement over just calling those things art, I think, because it doesn’t lazily imply that film and television (and books and games and music and clothing and so on) are somehow not art.

It’s kind of like classical music. We generally understand that term to mean Bach and Mozart and Tchaikovsky and such, even though Mozart’s music is the only one of those three that is Classical-with-a-Capital-C. Bach’s music is Baroque, Tchaikovsky’s Romantic. But colloquially, classical music just indicates that Bach and Mozart and Tchaikovsky have more in common with each other than they do with Duke Ellington, The Beatles, and The Roots.

So fair enough. An imperfect term, but a fairly clear one, at least. Leonard Bernstein once tried to come up with a better, clearer, more accurate one, and he settled on exact music–as in, music that is supposed to be performed exactly as it is written on the page, as distinct from improvisation-heavy forms such as jazz, blues, and rock and/or roll.

But of course, Baroque music includes a fair bit of embellishment, interpretation, and improvisation. And it wasn’t until Beethoven that sheet music habitually included metronome markings, so it would be disingenuous to say that tempos were all that precise or uniform prior to the early 1800s.

Besides which, Bernstein could not have foreseen Techno. We now have multiple electronic forms that are more regular, more metronomic, and indeed, more exact than any “exact” music. So we may as well stick with classical music for the sake of clarity.

Because if we referred to that music simply as music, we’d be suggesting (with more than a hint of snobbery) that only “exact” music qualifies as music. Which would be supremely unproductive, for reasons that are hopefully self-evident.

So for the moment, gallery art. I’ll go with that, even if it’s unlikely to supplant art, despite art’s many problematic alternate definitions, which I’ll unpack in my next post.

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