U is for Unattached Aesthetic Experience

| March 18, 2014

Impressive physical feats (ballet, for example) push the performer up against limitations and restrictions of movement in the body and surrounding space, endeavoring to make the body do something extraordinary given its confines and restrictions. The grueling hours of mind (and body)-numbing training involved are well-known as the necessary sacrifices required for meaningful, engaging experience (as seen here, in the documentary First Position)

Some movement, such as the free fall of skydiving, however, implies complete freedom in unrestricted or empty space, using a different but equally taxing set of learned movements.

This time, the ability to let go of everything is precisely the goal.  However, just to remain in such unrestricted space requires intricate, calculated movements. Thus, the very feeling of complete freedom described here is actually achieved by greatly limiting motion to precise, miniscule movements, rendering the performer, perplexingly, perhaps even more confined in free space.

Here, freesolo climber Alex Honnold provides another example of such movement juxtaposed to such “freedom” in space:

In fact, in these cases, his life depends on them. Moving a finger or toe in the wrong direction could be catastrophic.

In Art as Experience, Dewey writes that “[t]he live being recurrently loses and reestablishes equilibrium with his surroundings…[t]he moment of passage from disturbance into harmony is that of intensest life” (p.23). For Dewey, any experience that we can designate as an experience has an aesthetic dimension. In fact, it is an aesthetic quality that makes it an experience, that is, an experience that has a sense of unity and which stands out from the inchoate continuum of experience. Such aesthetic dimension is very basic, so basic that is shared by any experience that is not merely inchoate and which has a unity. It does not refer, therefore, to the special kind that we assign to the experience of creating or witnessing art as aesthetic experience. There is, however, a continuum between special aesthetic experiences like experiences involving works of art and experience in general in that they all share an aesthetic dimension. The main point in Art as Experience is to establish this continuum, while drawing significant distinctions.

“Reestablishing equilibrium,” “the moment of passage from disturbance into harmony” (ibid.) are the moments when an experience finds its aesthetic quality, when it reaches a point of consummation. The aesthetic becomes that which connects experiences of art with what we normally call religious experiences, if we interpret the latter as moments of passage into harmony of the self with its environment (which in many cases entails the relationship of a self with itself).