Double Standards

I am curious as to why different forms of art are treated differently. Art can be thought of as the creative output in painting, literature, dance, and music. I could easily make the argument that acting is also an art. In addition to each of those broad categories there are smaller segments. In the case of dance: ballet, ballroom, or swing dancing and for literature there are all the genres just within the novel category in addition to poetry, biographies, and play-writing. And yes, I know I barely scratched the surface for both dance and literature.

The differences in how the general public views art and how they view music are particularly interesting although I think the advent of mad technological developments could alter the present dichotomy.

When I was a teenager and I bought a brand new album I generally knew, due to extensive radio play, that I loved 1 song on the album but what happened when I got it home and listened to it a few times was far more important. I usually listened to a new album in a particular way. The first time I played it I would read any accompanying material the musician had thoughtfully provided, admire the art or photography, and skim the lyrics for whichever song was playing. Then I would start drawing or working on whatever art project I had going while I listened to the album 1-3 more times in quick succession. If I liked roughly ½ of the album once I got to hear the other 8-11 songs a few times I considered it a successful purchase. If the only song I ended up liking was the reason I bought it in the first place it was a disappointing purchase and I was unlikely to spend money on the group again – no matter how much I might like their new radio sensation.

Now, imagine going to a small gallery show. And really think small here – essentially a tiny storefront that only has enough space to show about 12 medium-sized canvases. Some people will step into the room make a quick scan and be done. (This is frequently what I do in art museums. See below*) Other people dutifully walk along the displayed paintings stopping occasionally to look at this painting or that title card. Then they smile and nod at the shopkeep and/or artist and head to the door. In a busy neighborhood they might immediately head into another store or gallery. There is no second approach. No repeated exposure. They’ve gone in cold and only once and then they make a decision (like or love or not) about the whole show. All 12 pieces are unique. They could be considered the visual version of an album but they are known as a body of work instead of completely separate entities. Each painting could be a hit on it’s own just like any song on an album but reviewers talk about the whole show – they don’t just rave about one piece like the radio might just play one song. Every visual artist only producing bodies of work is the equivalent of every album being like Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” or “Tommy” from the Who. And if every album was like that those two wouldn’t be nearly so special, eh?


* I frequently walk quickly through whole rooms of art museums. But the art museum is the equivalent of compilation album of top 10 songs. You know, the pop radio hit of the 80’s or 90’s or whenever. All of them were well known and you could sing along with any of them but right now you really want to hear Heart-Shaped Box by Nirvana so you skip ahead.