Acursory glance might suggest that it should be simple for artists and scholars of art to find an appropriate way to appreciate one another. In a certain sense, their work is ultimately dedicated to the same tasks […] However, appearances here are deceiving.  Spitta, p. 4

What musicologist and Bach biographer Philipp Spitta described in detail in 1892 are the differences that separate artists and art scholars from one another – a debate that continues in musicology today. As Spitta suggests, scholars and artists do follow many comparable steps in their work: Both start with a topic, an open question or an unusual observation and then begin to gather information and sort through what they find. Both develop an idea of which aspects are worthy of further examination. They conduct comprehensive research, develop theses, draw conclusions, generate new knowledge and think about how best to convey all of this to the public. But it is here that they go their separate ways.

When it comes to their work, the paths of artists and art scholars must never converge. To prevent mutual harm, clear boundaries must be drawn between the two fields. However each side can certainly extend the results of its work to the other across this dividing line.  Spitta, p. 13

While humanities scholarship pursues the ideal of describing the content studied as precisely as possible, discussing it from different perspectives and placing it in a historical or systematic context, artistic work typically pursues an ultimate goal: the selection of an idea to be realised. Complexity, if desired, must be anchored in the work itself, for example in the aesthetics or in the form of presentation. Art has the ability to confront and provoke, stimulate thought, introduce theses, state information (whether true, false or invented) and draw conclusions, while also presenting and mirroring the research itself, its systematisation or the envisaged concept – or it can simply entertain.

Miriam Akkermann

The art lies in finding the balance

JAM #27 — Role Changes

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Pure curiosity? Why the public is interested in science
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The art lies in finding the balance
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Role Changes – 8 Vignettes
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The question is not which perspective or approach is »better«. Despite all of their differences, both are branches of the art world and they are closely intertwined and directly affect one another.

The work of the scholar is but a part of the whole that the artist does not and cannot know. […] Any deeper mutual influence can only lead to the atrophy of the best aspects that the artist and scholar […] carry within themselves.  Spitta, p. 5f

Spitta’s attitude is based on an idealised notion of art as a self-contained whole and the belief that researchers must maintain distance from their object of study. While some continue to advocate for a strict distinction between art and art scholarship to this day, interest in collaborative research is growing on both sides.

There are also individuals who feel at home in both worlds, who have studied and tried their hands at both fields and who alternate between creating and examining art – an endeavour which is certainly not without its challenges. For it is rarely intended that someone draw on both fields, let alone move back and forth between them. In general, individuals are expected – and indeed encouraged – to assume only one role. Time and energy are required to fulfil either of these roles in a professional manner, and this becomes even more pronounced when slipping from one role into another. Such transitions additionally require liminal spaces, which are typically not envisaged as part of everyday work and must be actively created. The risk associated with making a (clear) decision to (intentionally) relegate one of the two fields to the status of a hobby is at least equal to the effort required to maintain an active home in both fields.

But changing roles also opens up new spaces of thought that make it possible to do more than simply look at art through new eyes. The ability to switch perspectives reveals new angles for approaching other topics and invites reflection, which in turn can clarify academic work and inspire artistic creation. Nevertheless, in order to do justice to one position in all of its facets, it is surely necessary to sometimes forget about the other. In such moments, this is a far cry from a shift in perspective and Spitta’s reservation holds true – at least in part. The art lies in finding the balance.

Quelle: P. Spitta, »Kunstwissenschaft und Kunst«, in: Zur Musik. Sechzehn Aufsätze, Berlin 1892, P. 1–14.


Miriam Akkermann is a junior professor of empirical musicology at the TU Dresden. She was a member of Die Junge Akademie from 2015 to 2020.