Direct experience – an approach to creative practice

Master’s thesis title:
Experience directe comme processus de creation (transl. Direct Experience as Process of Creation) (2009)

My master’s thesis is an analytical and critical inquiry into the aesthetic experience of personal art works that explore the boundaries between art and everyday life in relation to process-oriented and intervention art projects of the 20th and 21st century. By investigating the relation between the experience of art and the roles of artwork and author I point towards a consequence that modern (abstract) theoretical discourse poses on aesthetic experience: a gap between artist, artwork, and observer. In attempting to reduce this gap I develop and enunciate direct experience as an approach to creative practice.

Taking three of my own artworks, which demonstrate experimental situations for physical and social engagement, as a starting point, I explore the influence of spatial qualities and affects of participative interaction on my artistic work. A critical analysis of these projects led me to identify the approach of direct experience, which I define as a lived act that touches the human subject in its totality of mind and body. It is inspired by research in the field of cognitive science on embodied reflection (Francisco J. Varela, Eleanor Rosch and Evan Thompson, The Embodied Mind, 1993). In this regard, I draw a connection between the problem of the separation of body and mind, the field of scientific research, which Varela describes as being “abstract attitude” (Varela, The Embodied Mind, p. 25) and the field of artistic practice. By doing so, I defined the term abstract thinking as a way of thinking which favors the “isolation” of mind and body (John Dewey, Art as Experience, 1934). As a result, abstract thinking is a possible root to the separation of body and mind because it contributes to the creation of an insurmountable distance between artist, artwork and observer.

Moreover, my master’s thesis, presents a critical reflection on the framework of process- oriented and intervention art practices as being situated within, and outside of, the context of art. My thesis further investigates the theoretical discourse around the method of direct experience related to the practice of other contemporary artists such as Francis Alys, Chris Burden and Sophie Calle. I contrasted the creative approach of working from within an abstract attitude (which I consider to be based on the implementation of preliminarily-conceived concepts) with the approach of direct experience. By doing so, I show how the latter transforms the spectator’s experience of art. In particular, direct experience holds the potential to dissolve the boundaries between artist and recipient because sharing direct experiences itself then becomes the artwork.

Here an excerpt (in French)

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