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)
- 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.