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Durham University

The Department of Philosophy


Publication details for Professor Andy Hamilton

Hamilton, Andy (2020). The Aesthetics Of Imperfection Re-Conceived: Improvisations, Compositions And Mistakes. Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 78(3): 289-302.

Author(s) from Durham


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.