Music in the art gallery or music turning up as (sound) art

Activity: Talk or presentationInvited talk


“Music has traditionally been understood as the art of sounds, just as painting has been considered the art of colours (on a surface) or sculpture, the art of materials and volumes. But in the recent decades, visual artists, sculptors, architects, poets, performers and different kinds of conceptual and multimedia artists seem to have co-opted sounds as a medium, since they have been practicing and presenting in art venues what has been named “sound art”, a set of diversified practices, works or performances that use sound, that areabout sound, but that are not considered “music” in the conventional sense. And although the term – “sound art” - is rather vague and contentious –seldom embraced by the artists themselves –, curators, art critics and gallery owners have often clung to it as a way to promote artists and practices where sound is used as a medium or its semantic content. Subsequently, attempts have been made to distinguish “music” from “sound art”: because of their different nature, considering that music would camp on the temporal arts (Zeitkünste) while sound art would camp on the spatial ones (Raumkünste); or because of focusing on different objects, music being the art of tones (Tonkunst) and sound art, the art of sounds-in-themselves. However, the quick realization that time is essential to the ontology of sound and temporal flux to the ontology of sound artworks (Cox) or the existence of several (counter-)examples of a “non-cochlear sound art” (Kim-Cohen) would end up offering easy rebuttals. And, of course, anyone slightly familiar with the evolution of modern art knows that a manifold of synesthetic correspondences and experimental crossovers between music and the different arts had already put disciplinary boundaries into question, at least since the early twentieth-century avant-gardes (Futurism, Dadaism, Surrealism, etc), a fact that undermines those theoretical efforts or at least blurs the distinctions. To complicate the issue to a second order of difficulties, some contemporary artists (with arguably some well-known forerunners, like Duchamp, Yves Klein, La Monte Young or Nam June Paik) have recently brought music – in the traditional sense of organised sound in time – to the art gallery. Not merely with the purpose of using the gallery as a different venue or a different audience for the typical execution of a composition, but instead using music simply as another time-based medium – the same way as artists resort to film, dance or performance nowadays – or music as a cultural reference to express their creative ideas. The focus would therefore no longer be in the execution of purely musical ideas but in plastically or conceptually exploring music as a medium, an environment or a cultural (social and political) phenomenon. In other words: music becomes the medium and sometimes “the content of contemporary art” (Kelly). Considering this new trend in contemporary art will be a good opportunity to address the conceptual challenges of talking about “music as (sound) art”, while discussing the possible (dis)similarities between (different definitions of) music, non-musical sound art, music about (or inspired by) art and art about music – distinctions that will inevitably disclose some grey areas but that may also bring some light on contemporary philosophical issues concerning sound and music.
Period10 May 2023
Event titleART Aesthetics Research Torino Philosophical Seminar
Event typeSeminar
LocationTurin, ItalyShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • Aesthetics
  • Sound art
  • Music