Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

The Turn to Experience in Contemporary Art: A Potentiality for Thinking Art Education Differently

Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

The Turn to Experience in Contemporary Art: A Potentiality for Thinking Art Education Differently

Article excerpt

In this article, I wish to consider the concept of "experience"-especially the manner in which it is pursued and given form in art practice and theory at the present time. For Michael Oakeshott (1933), experience is the most difficult word to manage in all of philosophic vocabulary; and, he said, it must be the aspiration of any writer uninhibited enough to use it, "to escape the ambiguities it contains" (p. 9). Of course, there is some merit in trying to live in and with these ambiguities rather than trying to escape them-something that many artists are increasingly doing. For that reason, I am interested in the ways in which these artists, many of whom are committed to collaborative and collective modes of art production, are conceptualizing and pursuing experience as a way of living in the world. It seems to me that they have become less interested in translating and conveying experiences through symbolic forms and more interested in creating experiences by putting in place conditions that lead to actual experiences. One might suggest that this practice and perspective is a radical turn away from the purpose that Leo Tolstoy (1898/1960) envisioned for art1-a purpose that has made its presence felt in art education for over a century. For isn't it fair to say that, for decades, many students in art education classes have been invited to represent an experience already had, which is an act that occurs independently of that experience and, for the most part, demands representational capacities that have little to do with it? The act of representing an experience experienced at another time is, of course, the living of an entirely new experience. If this turn to experience in contemporary art, then, is a radical turn away from a Tolstoyian notion of art, it is, we might say, a turn toward what art does best; that is, in the words of Nicolas Bourriaud (2005), "[it] restores the world to us as an experience to be lived" (p. 32).

Recent works by artists Marina Abramovic, Ricardo Basbaum,TheasterGates, Carsten Höller, Lee Mingwei, and Eddie Peake for instance are examples of the shift that I describe here. While the work and making practices of these artists are oftentimes identified as residing within the participatory art genre,2 many of their works and the conditions of their production are concerned with being more than merely participative, interactive, and collaborative. It seems to me that much of their recent work, some of which will be discussed later, is concerned with the promise and potentiality of experience; that is, with what experience does and how it is and can be agentic in itself. Further, while much of this recent work (and especially the specific works that will be considered here) "lackfs] an independent, self-contained existence" (Barad, 2007, p. ix), it appears to me that it functions from the understanding that participation does something other than simply provide an experience: Participation activates a shift in the one who experiences at the moment of experiencing, with the result that one is made different or becomes other than one was prior to participation (Grosz, 2011; O'Donoghue, 2012). Of course, it is not the case that one does not bring to experiential artworks certain expectations, sense-making practices, and analytical frames that shape-in part-how one will engage and interact with them. Rather, the point here is that one is made different by participating in such works that seek to activate an experience of one kind or another. Indeed, these works seem to function based on this very condition. Moreover, possibilities for existing and living in the world emerge when one is open to the possibilities that participation in these works offers. For that reason, we might say that experienceproducing artworks operate in the realm of possibility and potentiality. To use the words of Maxine Greene (1991), we might even suggest that experiential artworks "may, now and then, move us into spaces wherewecan create visions of other ways of being and ponder what it might signify to realize them"(p. …

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