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What is Proprioceptive Art?

Many works of art are predominantly visual or auditory in nature (visual arts such as drawing, painting, photography or performing arts like music). Only some art works (happenings, fluxus, performance) might also crucially involve the audience’s own physicality and thereby intentionally provoke the recipients’ perception of their own body, i.e. their proprioceptions.

Could there be works of art that are either primarily or predominantly proprioceptive in nature: i.e., that have the perception of one’s own bodily movement, position in space, balance, muscle tension, pain, temperature, energy and stress levels, etc., at their core: Is proprioceptive art possible?

Keynote on PropArt. Dubbed english version.

Is Proprioceptive Art Possible?

A Research Project

[Please note that this text’s aim is to help the project getting started, to gather ideas. This fairly preliminary work is by no means the project’s end product!]

Many works of art are predominantly visual or auditory in nature (e.g. drawing, painting, photography or music). Mixed forms are also common (e.g. opera, theatre, dance). The so-called chemical senses (smelling/tasting) are hardly ever addressed and only some works of art (happenings, fluxus, certain performances) involve the audience’s own physicality and might thereby also – together with vision and audition – intentionally provoke the recipients’ perception of their own body, i.e., their proprioception.

This project poses the radical question whether there could be artworks that are essentially proprioceptive in nature, i.e. that have the perception of one’s own body’s movement and position in space, balance, muscle tension, stretching, pain, temperature, energy and stress levels, etc., at their core (while paying less attention the other senses). In addition to theoretical considerations which show the plausibility of a positive answer, potential examples for this art form will be given.

The text is organised in six sections. The first, (1), concerns general individuation criteria for sense modalities (seeing, hearing, etc.), the second, (2), specifically addresses proprioception. The third, (3), qualifies proprioception as aesthetic sense. Section (4) characterises proprioceptive art, (A), as a practice the primary or only focus of which is aesthetic proprioception; a practice which, (B), qualifies as art. Now, is such art possible? Core section (5) argues that certain existing aesthetic proprioceptive practices are indeed art. Since factuality entails possibility, the question whether proprioceptive art is possible is thereby answered positively. The final section, (6), looks at open questions and makes some observations.

(1) Different sense modalities (cf. Ritchie & Carruthers 2018: 355) consist of different detector mechanisms that each transduce a range of sensed physical properties into an informational signal to the central nervous system. These mechanisms have evolved to represent these properties and the signals are utilised by the organism to guide (intentional) action. Sense perceptions might be representations with (nonconceptual) content which have a mind-to-world direction of fit. Some also have a notorious specific phenomenology.

(2) Proprioception, specifically, is the often (but not always) subconscious perception of stimuli within the body: spatial orientation, one’s body’s movements, sense of equilibrium (via gravity and the vestibular system); position of our limbs and one’s posture or muscle tension (via mechanosensory neurons); pain, thermal sensations, or itches (via nociceptors and thermoreceptors); energy and stress levels, heartbeat, shortness of breath, etc. (via visceroception).

William Forsythe “White Bouncy Castle”. Photo by Dominik Mentzos

Often the terms „interoception“ or „kinaesthesia“ are used for proprioception and sometimes just a subset of the above is labelled „proprioception“. I take the term to mean all of these sensations/perceptions. A common factor is the detection of one’s body’s internal states, not the detection of features of the body-external world.

(3) Barbara Montero (2006) has argued that proprioception can be an aesthetic sense:

„One can make aesthetic judgments based on proprioceptive experience. One way professional dancers claim to evaluate the aesthetic qualities of their movements is by feeling (that is, proprioceiving) what is right. The dancer can feel that this particular way of movement is better than the other way: it is more exciting, or graceful, or brilliant, or any other number of aesthetic qualities that bodily movements can manifest.“

Montero 2006; also compare to the works of Richard Shusterman, for example Shusterman 2008 or 2012: esp. item 5; and, importantly, chapters 2.3-2.5 in Benovsky’s 2020: 10-25); cf. Schrenk 2014: 108, 111

(4) Now, a proprioceptive artwork would be, (A), a practice the primary or only focus of which is aesthetic proprioception. This practice has, (B), to qualify as work of art. ‚Primary or only‘ is added because, since we are embodied creatures, just about any practice (e.g. looking at paintings in a museum) involves our bodies and, thus, this practice will inevitably be accompanied by proprioceptions. Yet, these are not the primary or only focus of that practice. (Note aside that dance might qualify but is predominately considered a visual art.) Consider yoga or certain forms of meditation practices, martial arts or climbing (cf. Conroy 2015; Nguyen 2018): here, often, the primary or only target is proprioception.

Regarding (B), note that it is notoriously difficult to define ‚art‘. The next section is dedicated to handle this obstacle.

(5) Institutionalism is the theory of art which says that objects, performances, practices, etc. qualify as works of art if they are sanctioned by art schools, museums, galleries, etc.:

„A work of art […] is (1) an artifact [performance, practice, …]  (2) upon which some society or some sub-group of a society has conferred the status of candidate for appreciation“

Dickie 1969: 254; my addendum

For Institutionalism, art is a convention-bound social practice. Danto’s concept of the ‚art world‘ and the respective sub-group of a society who are knowledgeable about artistic theory, art history, etc., is an integral part of Dickie’s idea (cf. Danto 1964).

Now, examples will be given for which holds that, (A), they are a practices the primary or only focus of which is (aesthetic) proprioception, plus: the art world „has conferred the status of candidate for appreciation“. Thus, they, (B), qualify – by the lights of Institutionalism – as works of art.

(Caveat: Surely, Institutionalism is but one theory to demarcate art from the non-art, and can, therefore, just serve as an example. Yet, we think that no matter what theory of art one holds (Levinson’s Historical Definition (1979) or Weitz’s family resemblance claims (1956)) we believe we can give good reasons, also within the framework of those theories, why various body practices are proprioceptive art.)

Disclaimer: this is not a depiction of Carsten Höller‘s installation “Test Site”. Photo by Niallkennedy „Up the slide“

To mention but a few works of art that are, by the lights of Institutionalism, art: Carsten Höller’s Test Site (2006) a giant slide in London’s Tate Moderns on which the artist himself remarks:

„The state of mind that you enter when sliding, of simultaneous delight, madness and ‘voluptuous panic’, can’t simply disappear without trace afterwards. In this sense the ‘test site’ isn’t just in the Turbine Hall, but is also, […] in the slider […] who’s stimulated by the slides: a site within.”

Höller 2006; my italics

An essential part of Höllers artwork is that the participating audience’s sense of equilibrium, spatial orientation or gravity is disturbed, muscle tensions and the raise of stress levels and heartbeat rate are experienced. Consider also ‚Welt ohne Außen‘ at Gropius Bau Berlin, an exhibition by curators Thomas Oberender and Tino Sehgal whose self-ascribed primary or only focus was „embodied aesthetics“, „bodily practices“, „full-bodied engagement and practice“ (Website Berliner Festspiele 2018). Proprioceptive art can, of course, be found much earlier in the Body Art of the 60s and 70s: Take, for example, Bruce Nauman’s corridor sculptures which trigger an increased (claustrophobic) self-perception and challenge the physical and physiological reactions of the recipients. Most notable is also Naumann’s 1974 work Body Pressure.

See our work in progress examples page here.

(6) In proprioceptive art, one’s own body becomes an instrument for an unmediated perceptive output and input. This transcends the subject-object divide of the art work and its audience: The performer of proprioceptive art is (necessarily) his or her exclusive audience.

Proprioceptive artworks enable us to feel our bodies aesthetically from within, joined with a positive affirmation of being embodied creatures.

Research Questions

Definition / Explication:

  • What is “proprioceptive art”? Which artworks and aesthetic practices fall under this definition and which do not?

    A working hypothesis:
    Something x is a proprioceptive artwork* if x is a practice, artefact, or a combination thereof which
    (1) appeals only or primarily to its recipients’ proprioceptive senses and
    (2) which qualifies (by some preferred art theory) as a work of art.

    * or, to be ontologically neutral, “an instantiation or performance of a proprioceptive artwork”
  • Are there artworks, which already fulfil our tentative definition of “proprioceptive artwork”? If not, is it possible to create a proprioceptive artwork?


  • What kind of ontological entity is a proprioceptive artwork? Does it need the interacting recipient for the artwork to exist/to be realised?

    While Saraceno’s “in orbit” and Höller’s “test site” are works of art that involve artefacts (a net to climb in; a slide to slide down), there might be proprioceptive artworks which do not involve an artefact but consist merely in a practice. The question what ontological status we grant artworks that require the (inter)action of person to be realised is a difficult one, but not one specific to proprioceptive art only: the same question arises for musical or performative works of art.


  • Is architecture proprioceptive art?
  • Is there a kind of massage that could be? (cf. Benovsky 2021)

Sense Modalities

  • Why is it that most artworks appeal to the auditive or visual senses?

    The answer to this question will have biological, psychological, sociological and historical components. There are, of course, also practical reasons for the dominance of sound and visual perception: our relative excellence in the visual and auditory skills (as, for example, compared to our poor sense of smell), our ability to converse with relative precision about the respective phenomena (as opposed to taste where almost only wine connoisseurs have gained the necessary vocabulary and expertise), the ease of reproduction and dissemination of the artworks, the possibility to enjoy the artworks at a distance, etc.
  • Both in our daily lives and the art world the sense of sight and sound are primarily appealed to: Why is that so? And can proprioceptive art be the foundation of a new appreciation for and mindfulness of the sense of one’s own body?
  • Should it turn out that proprioceptive artworks, as we defined them, are not realisable: What is missing in the sense modality proprioception, that other senses (seeing, hearing, etc.) have, so that what is seen and heard can be art, but what is ‘proprioceived’ cannot? (cf. Benovsky 2020)
  • We usually presume that our visual and auditive sense data have representational content: they represent objects and events in the external world. Do proprioceptive experiences have representational content? Can they misrepresent?

    Phantom limbs, phantom pain, distortions of one’s body scheme seem to be examples where our proprioceptive sense is misrepresenting.

Aesthetics and Features of Art

  • Is it a necessary precondition for the possibility of proprioceptive art that proprioceptions are (or at least can be) aesthetic sensation? (Cf. Montero 2006)

    Works of art typically exhibit some of the following features (adapted from: Adajian, T 2008). Do proprioceptive artworks possess (some of) them? How do they possess them? Artworks:
    • possess positive, usually perceptual, aesthetic properties: typically, artworks are arrangements that are intended to have the capacity to afford experiences of aesthetic character, for example to invoke joy and pleasure
    • are expressive of emotion
    • lack any practical use
    • are meaningful, i.e., have the capacity to convey complex by representational, mimetic, expressive, and formal properties
    • are formally complex and coherent
    • are artefacts or performances which are the product of a high degree of skill and expertise
    • have non-aesthetic, ceremonial or religious or propagandistic functions
    • are intellectually challenging
    • exhibit an individual point of view
    • are original
    • are the product of an intention to make a work of art
    • belong to an established artistic form
    • are socially mediated
  • Proprioceptive artworks pose a new challenge to art criticism: How can proprioceptive experiences be properly described and how can their aesthetic value be measured? Are these experiences intersubjective at all?

The Body: Existence, Being in the World, and the Self-World Delineation

  • If there are proprioceptive artworks that don’t involve an artefact, but merely consist of a body practice, then they may transcend the subject-object divide of work and audience: The performer of proprioceptive art is its exclusive audience. This raises ontological problems (What kind of entity is the proprioceptive artwork?) and also challenges regarding the dissemination of the artwork (see above). However, it could be a unique chance for artistic expression, too.
  • The lived embodied experience of being in the world is crucially (if usually subconsciously) a proprioceptive experience. This essentiality of proprioception makes it predestined to be at the heart of works of art that question our (material) being and existence, and explore the experience of living with, and in, our body. Proprioceptive artworks might be uniquely suitable to shake our self-image and stretch the boundaries of our concepts of self.
  • Since the body – our own body! – is so central in proprioceptive art: Are there differences of appreciation of such artworks for different body shapes and abilities or sexes (gender) that exceed those existing for the visual and auditive arts?

Sociology / Psychology

  • In art, the inclusion of proprioceptive elements (or, at least, active physical participation), is currently en vogue. Why is this so?

    People might be tired of the virtual, the digital, the merely mediated. Clearly, the museums also benefit from the adventure and event character of the fairground style attractions proprioceptive artworks might be. These artworks serve as crowd-pullers.

    The rise of proprioceptive art in current years could be a sub-phenomenon of the experience society (a term coined by sociologist Gerhard Schulze), i.e. a parallel phenomenon to the rise of the experience economy. Researching the motivation of both artists and recipients to produce and interact with proprioceptive artworks could bring further insights to this topic. Similarly, as proprioceptive art lets the recipient focus on themselves, there could be interesting interconnections to the increasing popularity of practice of mindfulness, both as a psychotherapeutic tool and as a cultural practice.


Adajian, T (2008) ,The Definition of Art’, in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition), Zalta, EN (ed.),

Beardsley, M (1982) ‚The Aesthetic Point of View’, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York.

Benovsky, Jiri 2020 ‚The Limits of Art. On borderline cases of artworks and their aesthetic properties’, Heidelberg/Berlin: Springer.

Benovsky, Jiri (forthcoming) ‚Erotic art as proprioceptive art’, in British Journal of Aesthetics.

Carù, A., & Cova, B. (2007) ‚Consuming experience ’, London, UK: Routledge.

Conroy, Christina (2015) ‚The Vertical Tango: The Aesthetics of Rock Climbing’, Presentation at the International Association for the Philosophy of Sport, 43rd Annual meeting, Cardiff, Wales, September 2–5, 2015.

Danto, A. (1964) ‚The Art World’, The Journal of Philosophy 61: 571–584.

Dickie, G. (1969) ‚Defining Art‘, American Philosophical Quarterly 6(3): 253–56.

Höller, C. (2006) Interview here

Levinson, Jerrold (1979) ‚Defining Art Historically‘, Journal of Aesthetics 19: 232–250 Familienähnlichkeit.

Lukas, S. A. (2008) ‚Theme park‘, London, UK: Reaktion Books.

Lynn, S. (2006) ‚Fantasy lands and kinesthetic thrills. The Senses and Society ‘, 1:3, 293-309, DOI: 10.2752/174589206778476289.

Montero, B. (2006) ‚Proprioception as an Aesthetic Sense‘, The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 64:2.

Nguyen, C. Thi ‚The aesthetics of rock climbing‘, The Philosophers‘ Magazine 31.12.18:

Ritchie, J. B. & Carruthers, P (2015) ‚The Bodily Senses‘ in OUP HB Perception.

Schrenk, M. 2014 ‚Is Proprioceptive Art Possible?’ in Graham Priest and Damon Young (Hrsg.): Anthology on the Philos-ophy of Martial Arts. Routledge (2014) 101–116.

Shusterman, Richard (2008) ‚Body Consciousness: A Philosophy of Mindfulness and Somaesthetics‘, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Shusterman, Richard (2020) ‚Merleau-Ponty’s Somaesthetics‘, Critique d’art [Online], 37 | Printemps 2011, Online since 14 February 2012, connection on 28 November 2020. DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-6245.2009.01343.x.

Spence, C. (2020) ‚Senses of space: Designing for the multisensory mind‘, Cognitive Research: Principles & Implications (CRPI), 5:46. DOI: 10.1186/s41235-020-00243-4,

Spence, C. (2021) ‚Sensehacking: How to use the power of your senses for happier, heathier living‘, London, UK: Viking Penguin.

Weitz, Morris (1956) ‚The Role of Theory in Aesthetics‘, The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 15.1: 27–35.

For the the exhibition „Welt ohne draußen“ see here

Proprioceptive Artists*

* Note that these are our own suggestions. We do not wish to imply that the artists listed here have ever used the label “PropArt”.

Feel free to send us more suggestions to, as the list is still under construction!

Till Bödeker

Vali Export

Ann Hamilton

EJ Hill

Carsten Höller

Robert Morris

Numen/For Use

Tomás Saraceno

Franz Erhard Walther

Amanda Williams

Erwin Wurm


Jiri Benovsky

Erotic Art as Proprioceptive Art

The philosophical discussion about erotic art has often been understood in terms of the possibility of erotic art as a form of visual or auditory art. In this article, I focus on erotic experiences qua proprioceptive experiences and I defend the claim that, under the right circumstances, such experiences can bring about proprioceptive artworks.


Svetlana Chernyshova

Bodies in Motion. Enactivist Reflections on Art and its Shifts in Understanding in the Context of Proprioception

How can artistic works be understood that address our body in its ‚body schema‘? What distinguishes these works and what shifts do they initiate? Based on concrete artistic works, these questions will be explored in the context of the lecture by drawing on phenomenological and, above all, enactivist approaches. The discussion will focus on the theoretical implications of talking about ‚proprioceptive art‘ in the sense of an ‘art form‘ or ‘category’. How does this relate to installative, performative and participative art? And what rethinking movements result with regard to what we understand as reception aesthetics?


Ksenia Fedorova

Distributed Self: Artistic Tactics of Sensing Across and Beyond the Bodily Boundaries

The history of networked art (from telematic performances of the 1960s to works by Stelarc, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, David Bowen and many others) offers a plethora of tactics to reveal the connections between the individual human and nonhuman entities. In today’s era of ubiquitous computing the discourse of remote sensing acquires new critical and political dimensions (e.g. in the work by Jenifer Gabrys). Yet, it is still important to see how the intensification of connectedness works at the phenomenological and aesthetic levels, namely in regard to the perception of the self and the boundaries of the self. I will analyze a number of artworks based on various sensing media in the context of the theories of distributed, situated and extended cognition in order to define features of proprioception characteristic to contemporary media defined world and discussing how the new technologies reconfigure our experience of the self.


Corinna Kühnapfel

Empirical Aesthetics for Installation Art

Over the last two decades experimental aesthetics has offered important behavioral and neurophysiological insights into the perceptual, emotional, and cognitive processing of visual art. Although being an equally and increasingly prominent art form that provides psychologically interesting conceptually challening and emotionally moving experiences, installation art has not yet been a frequent subject in empirical aesthetics.

A main issue limiting current knowledge on art experience with installation art are paradigms which focus on disembodied visual aspects, neural activity, and generic response in the lab, that do not grasp the in situ and embodied qualities installation art offers: Compared to two-dimensional visual art, which requires a focus on formal and compositional aspects of objects in front of the viewer, installation art, as an artform noted to evoke and require use of the body, also requires juxtaposition of context, space, as well as one’s body and interaction.

To address this gap, I suggest somaesthetics, according to which art experience is not mainly based on the object and its visual attributes, but also on the aesthetic experience of one’s own body, proprioception and kinesthetics, to be included into a fruitful empirical aesthetics study of installation art. On that account, I propose to empirically assess whether and how awareness of one’s body, and appreciation thereof is an integral part of the experience of installation art and perhaps key to its enjoyment, as well as, with regards to proprioception as a modality for self-reflection, key to the unlocking of ‘profound’, reflective, awe-inspiring, or even transformative experiences.


Barbara Gail Montero

The Proprioceptive Art of Choreography

Great choreography is a treat for the eyes, but is it also a treat for the body? In this talk, after touching on the role of proprioception in choregraphing a dance, I explore some of the ways in which a choreographed dance can be appreciated via proprioception in the body.


Markus Schrenk

Is Proprioceptive Art possible?

Many works of art are predominantly visual or auditory in nature (visual arts such as drawing, painting, photography or performing arts like music). Only some art works (happenings, fluxus, performance) might also crucially involve the audience’s own physicality and thereby intentionally provoke the recipients’ perception of their own body, i.e. their proprioceptions.

Could there be works of art that are either primarily or predominantly proprioceptive in nature: i.e., that have the perception of one’s own bodily movement, position in space, balance, muscle tension, pain, temperature, energy and stress levels, etc., at their core?

My talk will be an introduction to the workshop’s theme and its most pressing research questions. Is proprioceptive art possible?


Ludger Schwarte

Proprioception – Aesthetic versus Artistic Practice

My talk will address the difference between aesthetic and artistic practices. I will ask which aspects of a proprioceptive practice would make it an aesthetic practice, and which, in difference to these, would make it an artwork. Do the examples we have of art works involving proprioception qualify as art works because of proprioception or is it merely also involved, but not constitutive for it being art? What would be an example for a practice that is artistic because it is based on proprioception? It will be clear that if we address this question, neither institutional nor experiential approaches to art are sufficient.


Charles Spence

Proprioceptive Pleasures

While once the preserve of the fairground/theme park ride – everything from the helter skelter to the dodgems (Lukas, 2008; Lynn, 2006), the notion that ‘proprioceptive pleasures’ may have artistic merit has recently been brought to the fore by artists from Carsten Höller (with his Test Site; at the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall) to the work of Cildo Meireles. At the same time, there has also been a growing interest in foregrounding the proprioceptive/vestibularly-experienced body in both contemporary architectural practice (Spence, 2020) as well as playful workplace design (Spence, 2021). While proprioceptive awareness typically co-occurs with tactile, kinaesthetic, and vestibular awareness/sensations, it is nevertheless intriguing to see the foregrounding of what have been essential ‘silent senses’ in an artistic/architectural sense, and can be seen as fitting within broader trends around embodied cognition and ‘edutainment’ (Carù & Cova, 2007).


Juliane Zetzsche

Proprioception in Visual Art

While proprioceptive sensory input is often clearly detectable and experienced in participatory art forms, it has been virtually overlooked in artworks that have been hitherto described as primarily visual.

Yet, although phenomenologically perhaps less obvious, physiologically there is much to suggest that proprioceptive input is often present in, and crucially shapes, responses to works of visual art. In fact, recent discoveries in neuroscience challenge the unquestioned primacy of vision, not only in responses to performative art, but also to the so-called visual arts. There are indications that, surprisingly, the visual elements in the aesthetic experience of a work of visual art are overrated and the contribution of the bodily senses, and here especially of the proprioceptive perceptual apparatus, is unduly neglected.

Hybrid Workshop

The workshop “What is Proprioceptive Art?” is a kick-off event of an interdisciplinary research project, which poses a radical question: Could there be works of art that are (either primarily or predominantly) proprioceptive in nature: i.e., that have the perception of one’s own bodily movement, position in space, balance, muscle tension, pain, temperature, energy and stress levels, etc., at their core?

Bringing together experts of different disciplines – especially philosophy of art, aesthetics, and art history – the workshop is meant to connect researchers joined by an interest in the phenomenon of proprioception and its relevancy in the art world.

Missed the workshop? Rewatch the lectures here.


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