1. The sense of the term experience as discussed
below will run as an undercurrent throughout this entire text and clearly
guided many of the decisions I made in organizing this trip. It is a sense
close to that which helped Victor Turner move away from the more positivistic
methods of anthropology toward his sense of dramatic fields and "performance.....
[a]s the proper finale for an experience (Turner, From Ritual to Theatre:
The Human Seriousness of Play, New York:PAJ Publications, 1982, 13).
Expanding on the work of the German hermeneutist, Wilhelm Dilthey, Turner
found Dilthey's notion of "formal categories" of experience useful--
[Dilthey] conceded that any distinguishable "manifold," whether a natural
formation or organism, or a cultural institution, or a mental event, contains
certain formal relationships which can be analyzed. Dilthey called these
the "formal categories": unity and multiplicity, likeness and difference,
whole and part, degree, and similar elementary concepts. As H.A. Hodges,
writing on Dilthey summarized: "All the forms of discursive thought, as
analyzed in formal logic, and all the fundamental concepts of mathematics,
can be reduced to these formal categories. They are a network within which
all thought about any subject matter must be enclosed. They are applicable
to all possible objects of thought, but they express the peculiar mature
of none of them (my emphasis [Turner's]); and, as without them nothing
can be understood, so nothing can be understood with them alone"
(my emphasis). Dilthey goes on to argue that experience, in its formal
aspect, is richer than can be accounted for by general formal categories
(From Ritual to Theatre, 12-13).
I myself have found two particular thinkers' notions of experience helpful
in gaining a useful sense of the limitations of formal categories
in speaking of experience, particularly that of the experience of art.
The first is the German hermeneutist and educator, Hans-Georg Gadamer and
the second is John Dewey, American pragmatist and educator.
In German there are are two words for experience- erlebnis and erfahrung.
Erlebnis (Dilthey's preference) is used to discuss the idea of experience
as isolated and categorical. Erfahrung, in contrast, is used to indicate
the experience as ongoing and cumulative. Erlebnis is something you have;
erfahrung is something you undergo. The singular, categorical nature of
erlebnis makes the subject of the experience something which itself can
be categorized, analyzed, and studied. (This, for example, is, in effect,
what the study of aesthetics, as practiced by those aestheticians influenced
by the position toward art taken by the Enlightenment and, later, by the
Romantic thinkers, has done to artworks. The vocabulary created by these
practitioners facilitates discussing art in terms of the object and its
qualities, in terms of an experience of an abstracted set of criteria,
much in the way that the objects studied by physics are discussed.
See also Geertz's anthropological take on "aesthetics" in note 4.)
In erfahrung, however, the subject is transcended and the experiencer
participates in an "event of meaning," an event in which she involves her
own horizon, or lebenswelt, and all it contains, and through which her
horizon is widened. In this sense, for example, the experience of art becomes
constitutive of the kind of knowledge which results in the broadening of
one's horizon ".....by overturning an existing perspective, which we can
then perceive was erroneous or at least narrow" (Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth
and Method, New York:Crossroads Publishing, 1989, xiii). This
sort of experience, then, is that by which we participate in our own self-formation.
Gadamer goes to great length to make the difference between the two
terms clear, for, as with method, he clearly sees the problem created when
the arts embraced the more scientifically applicable erlebnis rather than
exploring the more interactive, integrative erfahrung. The true experiencing
of a piece of literature, for example, involves our own horizon, but, in
true hermeneutically-circular fashion, the experience also alters our horizon,
expanding it in new directions which, in turn, allows us to embrace new
And also only in this manner do I learn to gain a new understanding
of what I have seen through eyes conditioned by prejudice. But this implies,
too, that the prejudgements that lead to my preunderstanding are also constantly
at stake, right up to the moment of their surrender- which surrender could
also be called a transformation. It is the untiring power of experience,
that in the process of being instructed, man is ceaselessly forming a new
preunderstanding (Gadamer, Philosophical Hermeneutics, Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1976) 38.
Rhetorician Wayne Booth expresses, and perhaps clarifies, this same
notion-- "It is not, then, that in identifying we stop thinking our
own thoughts but rather that 'our own' thoughts now become different from
what they were. The author's thoughts have at least in part become ours"
(Booth, The Company We Keep, Berkley: University of California Press,
1988) 140. And, in becoming ours, gives us new ideas to think with which,
in turn, make us open to yet more new ideas.
John Dewey, in Art As Experience (New York: Perigee Books, 1980),
also makes a distinction between two types of experience, although his
is between the rather random, episodic nature of our generalized minute
to minute experience and that of an experience-
Such an experience is a whole and carries with it its own individualizing
quality and self-sufficiency. It is an experience.........In such experiences,
every successive part flows freely, without seam and without unfilled blanks,
into what ensues. At the same time there is no sacrifice f the self-identity
of the parts...... In an experience, flow is from something to something........
The unified nature of experience, as both Gadamer and Dewey explain
it, is the reason that the generally accepted approach to art, especially
in education where the art survey course, when even offered, has replaced
the more hands-on, experiential course, is contrary to the very nature
of art. That is, the objectification of the work of art is a result of
isolating, in Dewy's words, the intellectual from the emotional and practical
and the denial that the allure of the intellectual comes from the integrated
experience that is art-
This unity is neither emotional, practical,
nor intellectual, for these terms name distinctions that reflection can
make within it.......Yet the experience was not a sum of these different
character; they were lost in it as distinctive traits. No thinker can ply
his distinctive traits save as he is lured or rewarded by total integral
are intrinsically worthwhile (36-7).
In a work of art, different acts, episodes, occurrences melt and fuse
into unity, and
Dewey characterizes this unified "conversation" as esthetic and
portrays all experience which has unity as well as an impetus toward some
sort of closure as aesthetic. Even "thinking-"
yet do not disappear and lose their own character as they do so- just
as in a general
conversation there is a continuous interchange and blending, and yet
not only retains his own character but manifests it more clearly than
is his wont (37).
If a conclusion is reached, it is that of a movement of anticipation
and culmination, one that finally comes to completion. A "conclusion" is
no separate and independent thing; it is the consummation of a movement........Hence
an experience of thinking has its own esthetic quality..............the
experience itself has a satisfying emotional quality because it possesses
internal integration and fulfillment reached through orderly and organized
movement. What is even more important is that not only is this quality
a significant motive in undertaking intellectual inquiry and in keeping
it honest, but that no intellectual activity is an integral event (is an
experience), unless it is rounded out with this quality........In short,
esthetic cannot be sharply marked off from intellectual experience since
the latter must bear an esthetic stamp to be itself complete (38).
Both Gadamer and Dewey's understanding of experience is that it is ongoing,
integrative, and constitutive. For Gadamer, genuine experience is hermeneutical,
that, is, recursive and self-reflective, in that it is constitutive of
knowledge, but also functions to provide an individual with "a new horizon
within which something else can become an experience for him" (Gadamer,
354). Dewey prefers to speak of experience as constitutive of meaning,
a notion with which I'm sure Gadamer would agree. However, both men do
speak of the negative aspect of experience; that is, that each new experience
is not simply added to previous experiences, but, rather, results in a
restructuring of previous experiences. As Dewey says- "For 'taking in'
in any vital experience is something more than placing something on the
top of consciousness over what was previously known. It involves reconstruction
which may be painful" (Dewey 41). Gadamer also speaks of this "reconstruction-"
This latter- 'experience' in the genuine sense- is always negative.
If a new experience of an object occurs to us, this means that hitherto
we have not seen the thing correctly and now know it better. Thus the negativity
of experience has a curiously productive meaning. It is not that we see
through a deception and hence make a correction, but we acquire a comprehensive
knowledge (Gadamer, 353).
But finally, for both thinkers, the most important part of the nature
of an experience is that it is, "like breathing....a series of intakings
and outgivings" (Dewey, 56), with moments of rest, of reflection, in between,
but nonetheless a continuous "undergoing" which was prepared for through
previous experience. But it also makes possible each next experience. "The
truth of experience always implies an orientation toward new experience.
That is why a person who is called experienced has become so not only through
experiences but is also open to new experiences.... The dialectic of experience
has its proper fulfillment not in definitive knowledge but in the openness
to experience that is made possible by experience itself" (Gadamer,
2. Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation
of Culture (New York:Basic Books, 1972) 45, 50.
3. Jerome Bruner, Actual Minds, Possible
Worlds (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986
4. Geertz also applies his interpretive anthropology
to art in the essay "Art as a Cultural System" (Local Knowledge:
Further Essays in Interpretive Anthropology, New York: Basic Books,
1983), which I find to be a very clear expression of some of the issues
I deal with further on in the text.
To some degree art is everywhere talked about in what may be called
craft terms....This is especially true in the West where subjects like
harmony and pictorial composition have been developed to the point of minor
sciences....But what is more interesting and I think more important is
that.....in the West, some people have managed to convince themselves that
technical talk about art, however developed, is sufficient to a complete
understanding of it (95-96).
As an anthropologist, Geertz sees art not as a set of abstracted sensibilities,
but rather, as a cultural system rendered through signs and symbols which
serves the purpose of representing to ourselves how we feel- "For Matisse,
as is no surprise, is right: the means of an art and the feeling for life
that animates it are inseparable" (98). Preferring to think of art
as primary documents that are the embodiment of societal conceptions seeking
expression, Geertz sees the commonality among all the arts in all the places
that one finds them in the fact that "certain activities everywhere seem
specifically designed to demonstrate that ideas are visible, audible, and-
one needs to make up a word here- tactible, that they can be cast in forms
where the sense, and through the senses the emotions, can reflectively
address them" (119). As a cultural system, art therefore functions in terms
of the models of- models for dynamic- -
One could as well argue that the rituals, or the myths, or the organization
of family life, or the division of labor enact conceptions evolved in paintings
as that painting reflects the conceptions underlying social life..... Like
the incised lines on Yoruba statues, the color ovals in Abelam paintings
are meaningful because they connect to a sensibility they join in creating......
5. The phrase dialogical principle is most
closely associated with the Russian linguist Mikhail Bakhtin. However,
the notion that language, and more importantly, dialectic, plays the fundamental
constitutive role in the creation of both the individual and the community
has been expressed across disciplines by any number of thinkers;
note Wittgenstein's language games, Hiedegger's stance, Gadamer's conversation,
Harre and Gillett's discursive psychology, Lakoff and Johnson's conceptual
metaphors, Kuhn's paradigms, Vygotsky's world structures, Feyerabend's
science talk, and so on. Simply put, "Being that is understood is language"
(Gadamer, Truth and Method, 1960). Or as Bakhtin puts it,
"All understanding is dialogical."
innate capacities for response to sculptile delicacy or chromatic drama,
these responses are caught up in wider concerns......and it is this
encounter with the locally real that reveals their constructive power.
The unity of form and content is, where it occurs and the degree it occurs,
a cultural achievement, not a philosophical tautology (101-102).
The signification of discourse and the understanding of this signification
by the other (or by others).....exceed the boundaries of the isolated physiological
organisms and presupposes the interaction of several organisms, which implies
that this third component of verbal reaction has a sociological character........
No utterance can in general be attributed to the speaker exclusively; it
is the product of the interaction of the interlocutors, and, broadly speaking,
the product of the whole complex social situation in which it has occurred.
(as quoted in Mikhail Bakhtin:The Dialogical Principle by Tzvetan
Todorov, Minneapolis:University of Minnesota Press, 1984.) (30)
The extreme of this position is that intersubjectivity precedes
subjectivity. The scope of this paper does not allow for an exploration
of the disprovability of this position; however, even assuming a moderate
version, that all knowledge is dialectically created, does require pointing
out that many of the refinements that have been launched from this position
include an acknowledgment that discourse may be construed as all symbol
systems, that is, that we engage dialectically with not only others but
paintings, music, literature, advertising, music videos, fashion, and,
of course, performances of all kinds. Bakhtin himself makes this connection
in his study of Rabelais and the cultural act known as carnival.
But the most broadly conceived sense of performance comes out of anthropology
and most particularly, the work of Victor Turner (see also note 7). Recognizing
the performative aspects of all social acts, Turner was instrumental in
encouraging a move to doing fieldwork on the goings-on in the "house-yard,
marketplace, and town square...." as performances. (I hope
it is clear that this is what I, in part, had in mind in setting out on
this little adventure--not merely to attend to my students as if they were
performing for me- the ethnographer- but to enhance their own participation
in and awareness of the performance. Stealing a bit from Jerome Bruner,
Wayne Booth, Suzanne Langer, Martha Nussbaum, et al, I also tried to enhance
the who you hang around with aspect of the trip. That is, if our dialectic
with symbol systems is constitutive of who we are, then the content of
those symbol systems does matter. [And how we choose to talk about them
does matter.] My appreciation of this fact is what led me to include the
performances, the four student facilitators, Dr. Karnezis, and the time
spent in the Newberry ,although what the Newberry ended up actually
meaning to the students was not only a surprise but a learning experience
6. David H. Fisher, "Public Art and Public
Space," in Soundings: An Interdisciplinary Journal (Spring/Summer,
7. Bruce Kaperfer, "Performance and the
Structure of Meaning and Experience," in The Anthropology of Experience,
ed. Victor W. Turner and Edward M. Bruner (Chicago: University of Illinois
Press, 1986) 189.
8. Martin Heidegger, "The Origin of the Work
of Art," in Basic Writings, ed. by David F. Krell (San
Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1993) 168.
9. In his seminal essay "The Rites of Passage,"
Arnold van Gennep posited three distinct moments in a rite of passage--
separation, margin (or liminal), and aggregation. Working with this framework,
Victor Turner concentrated on the liminal period, noting that "the state
of the ritual subject (the 'passenger') is ambiguous," a state which has
"few or none of the attribute of the past or coming state." Liminal states
serve as both a source and/or place of instability, a "betwixt and
between" which allows a person to be "not this, not that," (for example,
the liminal period during a male puberty rite allows a male to be both
not-boy and not-man at the same time) and an economy of symbolic reference
with the opposed states being represented by one object, act, or place.
Both Van Gennep and Turner allow that "rites de passage are not confined
to culturally defined life-crises but may accompany any change from one
state to another.......Rites de passage, too, are not restricted.....to
movements between ascribed statuses. They also concern entry into a new
achieved status, whether this be a political office or membership of an
Viewing the field trip through this perspective, I think it is clear
that for those open to the event, a rite of passage, of sorts, may have
taken place. The separation state occurred with the students' boarding
the cramped, uncomfortable van and pulling away from spacious, air-conditioned
Sauk "signifying the detachment of the individual or group either from
an earlier fixed point or a set of cultural conditions (a 'state')." That
is, while at Sauk, students are used to putting forth little effort
in pursuit of knowledge (this mode often contains behaviors they have been
trained into by our educational system) and often do not see themselves
capable of creating knowledge. This then would be the "state" from which
they were separating.
Entering the space of the Newberry then functioned as the liminal
state-- no longer passive students, they were also not yet active learners,
but rather, "betwixt and between." The Newberry itself functioned as the
pivotal symbol by evoking the sense of sites used specifically for "learning"
(just as Sauk is) juxtaposed with its structural distinctiveness
evoking a sense of "gravity" and "tradition," and, in its function as a
research library, a site where knowledge is struggled for through one's
own efforts. This was perhaps subtly reinforced by the fact that, regardless
of not being allowed to use the comfort and anonymity of the associates'
lounge, we still made the library "work" for us by struggling against the
gaze of others and bad acoustics.
The return to a more stable state, but with a new sense of status
or cultural state, may have occurred for some as soon as we walked
across the street to view the installment. I feel this to be true of Laurel
and Jenny. For others, returning to Sauk may have foregrounded their new
state or more clearly given them a site for expressing new behaviors.
[All quotes are taken from Victor Turner's "Betwixt and Between:
The Liminal Period in Rites de Passage," The Proceedings of the American
Ethnological Society (1964) as reprinted in Reader in Comparative Religion:
An Anthropological Approach (fourth edition) , ed. William A. Lessa
and Evon Z. Vogt, (New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1979) (234-5).]
10. Unfortunately, Phil did not get that particular
quote or its context on tape. However, he did record a speech which captured
much of what the two women were trying to express to Laurel and Jenny.
The women, Joyce and Marie, were sisters who lived two blocks from
Washington Square Park. Both were dressed in shorts and cotton blouses
with daytime make-up on. Laurel reported to me that when Phil asked if
he could turn the camera on, Joyce, the one whose conversation appears
below, sat up, crossed her legs, and turned slightly toward the camera
and away from them. Laurel and Jenny both noticed that she also began speaking
a little more what they called formally. On the tape, Joyce appears to
be speaking toward the installation, often gesturing toward it. Her hands
worked the space in front of her as if pulling the words out of the air,
forcing them to work for her. There is a slight flatness to her speech.
She spoke, for the most part, rapidly with few clear cut end stops.
|Something that couldabeen...
money that coulda been
utilized to a more pr..
productive measures something that couldabeen....
uh, utilized to do something more
together, you know,
inaunified manner than, than, -
manner than this here, you know. (Snaps her
right hand toward the installation..)
I think its really a waste of a lot of material
that coulda been used better.
you know what I'm saying?and I think it should
have had a little more focus and insight than...
Ithinkitwasjusta spurof themoment thing hadsomemoneyallocated
letsdosomethingquickbeforetheysnatchitback...uhtype of scenario,
I really do.
I haven't seen anybody utilizeit or whatever.And
nine times outaten, in this particular area,
you know, you get up there somebody's gonna
think you a nut....
(Laurel: "Oh really, to go up there and do
that?" Gestures toward installation)
Sure, sure, sure....(overtop of Laurels interjection)
You know, this is not a outspoken area over
here, you know.
It used to be you know I hate to....
I been over here for forty years and I've
watched it go through a-
I've watched the peoples' attitudes in the
community change, you know,
get divided over social issues, fears,
a lotathings that people have put in people's
minds, you know,
about certain ethnic groups and this that
and the other,
andIcansee maybe howitcanbeused
to bring some kind of camaraderie together
to get somebody to do something together you
know inaunified fashion,
but just to get up there to speak, to be speaking
I think that's kinda facetious. (She stares
at the installation)
NnnnI really do.
I think it's really a waaaaste of time.
11. In his article "Public Art and Public
Spaces" (see note 6) David Fisher presents Suzanne Lacy's sense of
what she calls "new genre public art." Lacy, who was a participant in the
"Culture in Action" projects in 1994, distinguishes between "public art"
as a term used "to describe sculpture and installations sited in public
places" and new genre public art -- "visual art that uses both traditional
and nontraditional media to communicate and interact with a broad and diverse
audience about issues directly relevant to their lives--[it] is based on
After rehearsing and rebutting the arguments against the funding
of public art, Fisher himself offers the following suggestions for a new
type of public art which-
.......might move social awareness towards healing the wounds caused
by unreconciled differences.
For the most part, I agree with both Fisher and the various voices he
engages with in his article (Lacy, Seyla Benhabib, Suzi Gablik, Murray
Edelman, Hannah Arendt, among others). And if we look at the two particular
works that were included on our trip, each captured some, if not all, of
both Lacy's and Fisher's vision. Again, however, I would point out that
both still hold to a notion that "artists" make art and that the new twist
occurs in asking the various communities for their input. The question
I would put to both Fisher and Lacy is-- how would the quality and nature
of the input change if the community that was being engaged 1) saw
art as something everyone, themselves included, did, and 2) knew the "lingo,"
so to speak, because of their own background? This may seem to be a very
naive notion. And it is certainly one that flies in the face of the "art
survey" approach to the topic. But it is also one shared by a number of
prominent educators and art historians and critics, not the least of whom
is Rudolph Arnheim and Howard Gardner (see bibliography for representative
works by Gardner and Arnheim). Whether it be because of the research
showing the cognitive value (Gardner, Rauscher, Sloboda, Seashore) of practicing
the arts or because of a deeply held sense of the cultural (in the
anthropological use of the word) enrichment and constitutive powers (Arnheim,
Edelman, Nussbaum, Bruner, Gadamer, Cook, Booth) of engaging with the arts,
these folk persuasively argue for a reintroduction of the arts in both
education and public life.
This art must be noticeable, demanding public attention rather than
serving as an unobtrusive background for other public activities. It should
be an art that seeks to represent actual differences within society
creatively rather than to depict or create a common taste. Finally, it
should be a type of art not consumable as a private experience apart from
the social and cultural context of its place (43).
On this topic, I must give Joseph Beuys, already evoked, the final
Everyone is an artist....I am
really convinced that humankind will not survive without having realized
the social body, the social order, into an artwork.
They will not survive.