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The aesthetics of imperfection re-conceived : improvisations, compositions and mistakes.

Hamilton, Andy (2020) 'The aesthetics of imperfection re-conceived : improvisations, compositions and mistakes.', Journal of aesthetics and art criticism., 78 (3). pp. 289-302.


Ted Gioia associated the “aesthetics of imperfection” with improvised music. In an earlier article, I extended it to all musical performance. This article reconceives my discussion, offering more precise analyses: (1) The aesthetics of imperfection is now argued to involve open, spontaneous response to contingencies of performance or production, reacting positively to idiosyncratic instruments; apparent failings in performance, and so on. Perfectionists, in contrast, prefer a planning model, not readily modified in face of contingencies. (2) Imperfection is not toleration of errors and imperfections, as Gioia assumes, but a positive aesthetic, as in Japanese wabi‐sabi. Imperfections can become new styles or kinds of perfection—and so true imperfectionism is a constant striving for new contingencies to respond to. (3) A subtler, more complex relation between composition and improvisation is proposed, in which both have broad and narrow senses. Composition involves (a) works, usually desk produced and notated; or more generally, (b) putting things together in an aesthetically rewarding form. Thus, improvisation is a (broad sense) compositional method. (4) Improvisation and composition are interdependent; both involve structure and spontaneity. (5) Imperfectionism is an aesthetics of performance—of compositions as well as improvisations. Improvisation is no risker, or prone to mistakes, than performance of compositions.

Item Type:Article
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Publisher statement:© 2020 The Authors. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of American Society for Aesthetics. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Date accepted:19 February 2020
Date deposited:18 February 2020
Date of first online publication:13 August 2020
Date first made open access:18 August 2020

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