Embodying Knowledge – the Power of Experience

One of the major things I’ve experienced during my NoFo-studies is the power that lies in embodying knowledge (See Mark Johnson Embodied Knowing Through Art in Research in the Arts, Ed. M. Biggs & H. Karlsson). How physical experiences affect my thinking and my feeling and thus influences my (artistic) possibilities. Having experienced things like what we did in Kunkkula (walking 50 meters in one hour) has deeply affected me as a person and as an artist. Furthermore it has also introduced me to a new way of artistic development work. While I’ve previously seen eexercising (conscious repetition of certain exercises, patterns, passages etc.) as the main way to improve myself as an artist and a musician, I now see experiencing as another means, by which it is possible to improve my skills and abilities. For me, the main difference is that while exercising demands numerous repetitions (with gradual development) of the same exercises, experiencing doesn’t need to involve repetition in the same way. Experiencing offers a strong and direct effect and makes an instant difference, even if it sometimes takes some time to digest the experience, and really understand the implications and effects of it. With experience, the major difference is between before and after, between not-having and having the experience. Between having not having done something, and having done it. With exercising the effect comes with time, gradually. With experience, the important thing is not how experienced you are, but that you are at all experienced. Having done something once means the knowledge about it is actually in your body. In this sense experience becomes body instantly, experience is embodied knowledge. This also means that doing something (e.g. music) becomes a way of thinking about it, and more so than talking about it would be. The act of doing becomes a cognitive act.

Repetition in itself, can of course also be a kind of experience. Playing the same tune 200 times in a row is a very different experience from just playing it 20 times, or twice. Playing without stopping for one hour is also a very different experience from having one hour of effective playing time spread out over an hour and a half.

Another aspect of experiencing is that (at least in my experience) its effects are much more unpredictable than the effects of exercising. Of course (good) practicing also gives (side) effects that you can never predict, but at the heart of exercising is the prediction: ‘I am doing this because I want to develop that.’ By contrast Experience offers ‘I am doing this to see what happens’. Exercise is guided by specific ideas about what areas (in your playing) to develop (e.g. specific technical aspects of playing, a specific melody or passage etc.), whereas creating experiences is guided by a general curiosity, or in some cases an idea, but a much wider one, about what to deal with (fear, for instance).

The drastic and direct effect of experiencing can of course not replace exercising, but it is a powerful complement that offers other possibilities for development. If nothing else, using experience as a method for musical development is a way of strengthening the music/self-integration.

Extensions

Body is experience is body is experience or doing is thinking
I have found that many times there is a great difference between having done something, and not having done it. The important thing is not how experienced you are, but that you are at all experienced. Having done something once means the knowledge about it is actually in your body. In this sense experience becomes body instantly, experience is bodified knowledge. This also means that doing something (e.g. music) becomes a way of thinking about it, and more so than talking about it would be. The act of doing becomes a cognitive act.

Thoughts after finishing reading Cook: Music, Imagination, Culture
From a letter to a friend:

“[…]musicology and music analysis […] has got very little to do with how we actually listen to music and what it does with us as humans. I often tend to use books and reading as a way to understand the world around me. Somehow I want to think that ‘all’ I need to know is to be found in books (and hence in the thinking of other people). There was something in this book that made me think that there is no point in reading about people’s theories about this and that (in music). The only thing there is, is experiencing, reflecting and developing, all based on my own very subjective perception and closely connected with intuition.
 And probably that goes for life as well, even if I still believe that there is a lot to learn about life and what it means to live as a human being through reading novels.”
The book itself ends with a conclusion pretty much similar to this video: http://vimeo.com/54763818

5 thoughts on “Embodying Knowledge – the Power of Experience

  1. “The drastic and direct effect of experiencing can of course not replace exercising, but it is a powerful complement that offers other possibilities for development.” This is great thank you, Jo

  2. Pingback: Music-self integration | Folk as Art

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