Here’s a random and short observation I wanted to share with you. I have been subscribed to the e-flux newsletter for a long time now to stay informed about what’s happening in the art world, and being a man of music first and of art after, I cannot help but notice how self-aware protagonists of art can be. Not a week goes by without another exhibition opening or another book being published that tries to reboot our understanding of what art is or should be.
It could be my ageing eyes, but I don’t see such extensive (yet eloquent) self-gazing in other threads of the arts. This made me go to Google and see if my observation could be supported by data. Here are the results of my lazy, intuitive, non-scientific research:
1. “What is contemporary art?” – 73,100 results
2. “What is contemporary music?” – 15,800 results
3. “What is contemporary dance?” – 11,400 results
4. “What is contemporary literature?” – 6,950 results
5. “What is contemporary architecture?” – 5,650 results
6. “What is contemporary theatre?” – 1,470 results
Not bad, eh? What to make of this? Are people desperate to know what contemporary art really is? Are they clueless? Or does art change its appearance as much as Lady Gaga does in one video?
Let’s have a look at how other contemporaries fare:
- “What is contemporary opera?” – 3 results (perhaps the answer to this question is so simple it is not worth writing about)
- “What is contemporary design?” – 28,300 results (between music and art: the proof that designers are half artist, half rockstar)
And last but not least:
- “What is contemporary?” – 508,000 results (and a very good question indeed: I mean, what really is contemporary, man?)
Having given this a longer thought, one hypothesis for the Google difference (besides perhaps the innate critical attitude of art) could be the differences in economic ecosystems of art and music. Whereas contemporary art is sold by bundles at fairs, auctions and in galleries, contemporary music is struggling to find an audience for its concerts and recordings. It would be interesting to compare the economics of it all. My feeling is that a) there is more money flowing around in avantgarde art than in avantgarde music, and b) that this creates a (supply of and a demand for a) peripheral infrastructure for symposia, books and special interest groups. If this is true, is avantgarde art then in better condition than avantgarde music? Following this thought, and looking at other domains in the economy, I would say there is more R&D involved in contemporary art than in contemporary music, creating a widening gap between the two in terms of vitality and adoption.
But this is just ungrounded speculation, without any clear definitions of all the terms or sets of data to wade through. I wish someone smarter and more experienced would help me organise my thoughts and give me some directions. I think there is something valuable to learned from the comparison between contemporary art and music.
Therefore I decided to post this anyway.