The Language (or not) of Form

Part of what drew me to Professor Boyer’s call “what do (should) artists know” was that it seems to pose at least two significant questions.  The first being what, if anything, can be taught to students of the arts at this time, or how can we teach principals to artists now; and, linked to this, what constitutes “knowledge” or what does it means “to know” something; and I am considering it, from the perspective of this conference, from how we might approach the teaching of the arts within higher education and academia. I would hope to pry open each of these ideas in order to consider new ways of approaching the teaching of the arts; something that has always seemed a little suspect in higher education; and to challenge academia’s notion of what counts as knowledge (part of what has made the arts, or “art”, suspect.)

And I do, in fact, think that artists know a great deal, but that some of this knowledge, and ways of knowing do not fit particularly well within the ideas of research that structure today’s institutions of higher education. Since much of the training in the arts is the passing on of knowledge, and not the “production” of knowledge, then what an artist knows often gets loosely named as “craft” or technique (techne)– something that can be turned into “schools” but their own; like “cooking” or “art” and not part of knowledge that gets produced at universities. It still seems like most of the published, written material that comes out of the arts at universities are books about how to make it as an artist. 

When thinking about the questions being posed four short teaching vignettes came to mind. 

The first and most significant being a story relayed to me by a colleague at Carnegie Mellon after he found out that I had worked as a fabricator for the former head of of Architecture at Cranbrook, Dan Hoffman, at the architecture office that he ran for several years after stepping down from teaching.  Dan was dedicated to a material exploration of architecture where forms were generated through the dissection of material, or in some cases “immaterial”, conditions (reflected in things like the lamp dissecting a beam of light, or the canopy created by the pressure from bolts on a slab of steel) My colleague in Pittsburgh told me that Dan had come to his college for a semester as a visiting architect, and that the architecture students had been confused and dismayed when the first thing that Dan did was have a palette of bricks delivered for each student, and where, without further explanation, Dan asked them to move the bricks one-hundred yards and to restack them in whatever way they would like.

I also remembered inheriting a group of advanced undergraduate painters, and after watching them work, decided to go over the different types of paint brushes and what they were good for. Typical stuff, the round brush for this type of mark, the flat brush for a calligraphic mark, a long hair to hold more paint, and so on.  At the end they thanked me and told me that no one had ever told them why there were different brushes. 

A third memory about telling my beginning painting students, when showing them how to mix oil paint, that it was a little bit like cooking; then realizing that they probably had not cooked.

And finally a short comment that has stuck with me when a colleague, coming to join a visiting artist dinner after teaching her class on book-making, said simply “they (the students) don’t know how to use their hands.”

To return to Dan Hoffman, I was always struck by his attention to the body as a knowing material in his teaching.  While you might “know” the dimensions of a brick through an equation or drawing, that was not really knowledge of a building block of architectural structures, and what better way to get to know the weight and feel of a unit of construction than to carry a pallet of the bricks across a distance and to consider how they might be restacked? Hoffman asks that you physically experience a material, that that was a form of knowledge, but also that you go through, follow through, with a process, respecting the idea of process and the work that would be architecture.

Linking bricks to the teaching of paint-brush types; I wonder if somehow we have stopped teaching these things because they sound a little strange in higher education, a little rudimentary; but in fact they are part of a (non-discursive vocabulary?), abstract yes, but if that is the sensory language that one wishes to use, then we might have to go into the peculiarity of the devices for mark-making; It is something that I think Dan Hoffman understood, that we keep bypassing these ways of experiential teaching because we assume that everyone already “knows” it; or that it doesn't seem fit for higher education; or that it does not seem to be a part of contemporary art discourse; but part of what  I would propose is instead considering how we might re-inject these models of “knowledge” or “knowing” with the types of meaning that makes them important and filled-with-potential, as  ways of knowing and discussing the human condition that open to attention.  As art has increasingly entered the university, it has taken on the concerns of the university, modeling itself to fit into prior concepts of “research,” and it has become increasingly dry and useful, being forced to justify itself as helpful social practice, or as some creative link to technology and science, and I am not entirely opposed to these methods, just aware that these justifications might come at the expense of what I think art is really good for, the generation of feeling and emotion.  So I am trying to conceive of how we inject a discourse of “emotion” and of physical embodiment and experience.  Basically to find other ways to push back against the demand of classical “research.”

Tim Ingold, in his book “Making: Anthropology, Archeology, Art, and Architecture,” based on a course he has developed of the same name, begins to make an argument for a type of embodied learning (that I think I am trying to get at a little bit here); where real knowledge comes from a close attentiveness to materials, and the way they respond to process.  In the book Ingold describes the aim of the course being “to train students in the art of inquiry, to sharpen their powers of observation, and to encourage them to think through observation rather than after it. Like hunters they had to learn to learn, to follow the movements of beings and things, and in turn to respond to them with judgment and precision.”–which sounds very much like the making of an artwork to me. He goes on to describe his development of the course; “it is wrong to think of learning as the transmission of a ready-made body of information, prior to its application in particular contexts of practice.  On the contrary we learn by doing, in the course of carrying out the tasks of life. In this the contribution of our teachers is not literally to pass on their knowledge, in the form of a ready-made system pf concepts and categories with which to give form to to the supposedly inchoate material of sensory experience, but rather to establish the contexts or situations in which we can discover for ourselves much of what they already know, and also perhaps much that they do not.  In a word, we grow into knowledge rather than having it handed down to us.”  This growing into knowledge seems a natural fit within the teaching of the arts, where many things are learned by doing.  Sure, there is information being passed along, but one, I think, would never consider a drawing class as a space where a powerpoint was projected with some slides showing how to make a “drawing.” You learn what drawing is from drawing, much of the knowledge would be figuring out how to make your hand do what you want it to do.  We could talk about “touch” but it would only be understood from practice and response.  

I believe that the arts are well poised to take on experiential, responsive learning, and that there has to be a way to make a space for this kind of knowledge. Ingold describes one “class” experience, pulling from a history of architectural and material investigation, where student brought pieces of wood to put together as a doorframe at the entrance of the footprint of the ruins of a former dwelling, claiming, as Dan Hoffman understood “As this little exercise proved, for there to be an interior and an exterior one must go in and come out, rather than crossing from side to side. The spaces of dwelling are not already given, in the layout of the building, but are created in movement. That is to say, they are performed. ‘In a kind of double movement’...It follows that most fundamental architectural experiences are verbal rather than nominal in form. They consist not of encounters with objects­­ – the façade, door frame, window and fireplace – but of acts of approaching and entering, looking in or out, and soaking up the warmth of the hearth. ‘The doorhandle’ is the handshake of the building.’ It bids us welcome.”  These sentiments are echoed and expanded in Elizabeth Grosz’s framing of art through a Deleuzean lens in “Chaos, Territory, and Art;” stating “This cutting of the space of the earth through fabrication of the frame is the very gesture that composes both house and territory.” These type of articulations, rather than being a passing-on of knowledge, are statements that open up the potential of physical, aesthetic experience–both asking us to be sensitive to the physical world and challenging us to be creatively responsive to it.  Grosz will go on to say “Deleuze understands that the first gesture of art, its metaphysical condition and universal expression, is the construction or fabrication of the frame.”


These frames are forms and form itself, the embodied and durational experience of form that I would consider as an aesthetics of experience, in its very difficulty of description, seems like a fertile territory for the research of art and our experience of art.  Form, for me, includes the sensing body taking in the full physical condition of an experience, and I think that it might open up to questions of how we “know” things, or where we locate knowledge.  Forces are acting on us to produce meaning, they are bodily and environmental, and not all meaning is to be found in the content we receive, but in how we receive information.  In McLuhan’s subtle study of form and content in media, now over a half-century ago, he framed it simply as “the medium is the message.” Opening to the idea that forms are acting on us in powerful ways because we are taking them in sensorily, and because of this, often un- or under-consciousness.  And I would guess that this is how much art impacts us.  When I hear that disturbing, and over-cited, phrase “I don’t get contemporary art” I am struck that our culture has been taught to look for meaning only in content and resolution, and may be closed to the possibility of experiencing something.

In a time driven by content we might need to work to develop a language of form.  McLuhan sets the table with “the medium is the message,” talking about something like light that impacts not just knowledge, but belief–but our mode of the delivery of content has narrowed ever-further to a back-lit screen at around 3 by 5 inches.  How might we develop a language of form that enable us to understand the conditions of the smart phone as a form that artist must contend with, and perhaps work against?  Form is the tool of experience, and as McLuhan suggested, it goes largely unnoticed, but this is the very “space” that artists work in and with.

Alongside McLuhan, more recent writing and curatorial projects like “Formless: A Users Guide” by Rosalind Krauss and Yves Alain-Bois have worked to articulate the vocabulary of form.  Whole sections look at the potential meaning embedded in the conditions of the horizontal and the vertical, and, utilizing the writing of Bataille, it is never just formal, but these conditions are also political as they relate to social hierarchy, sensory hierarchy, and belief systems regarding the human and animal. I think we can work to bring this complexity of language to other embodied art experiences, where we can only really understand and consider something like scale, tactility, etc. in relation to the human body. How can we work to articulate size; understanding that it has social meaning, but more importantly that it has to do with the body of the maker in relation to a thing but also the body of the audience around or in front of that thing: in a way that might be considered like Ingold’s description of the “threshold.”

Another place where “form” is being developed as a tool for reconsidering texts is in Literary Criticism, and it it might be exciting to think of how some of that way of framing the questions around form might expand other creative disciplines.   In her book “Forms: Whole, Rhythm, Hierarchy, Network” Caroline Levine utilizes the term “affordance,” borrowed from Design Theory, to begin to open up the ways that she sees forms operating, explaining “Affordance is a term used to describe the potential uses or actions latent in materials and designs.  Glass affords transparency and brittleness. Steel affords strength, smoothness, hardness, and durability.  Cotton affords fluffiness, but is also breathable cloth when it is spun into yarn and thread.  Specific designs, which organize these materials, then lay claim to their own range of affordances.  A fork affords stabbing and scooping.  A door-knob affords not only hardness and durability, but also turning, pushing, and pulling (a hand-shake?).  Designed things may also have unexpected affordances generated by imaginative users:  we may hang signs or cloths on a doorknob, for example, or use a fork to pry open a lid, and so expand the affordance of an object.”  “The advantage of this perspective” Levine goes on to say “is that it allows us to grasp both the specificity and the generality of forms–both the particular constraints and possibilities that different forms afford… What is a walled enclosure or a rhyming couplet capable of doing? Each shape or pattern, social or literary, lays claim to a limited range of potentialities.  Enclosures afford containment and security, inclusion as well as exclusion.  Rhyme affords repetition, anticipation, and memorization.  Networks afford connection and circulation, and narratives afford the connection of events over time.  The sonnet, brief and condensed, best affords a single idea or experience, a “moments monument,” while the triple-decker novel affords elaborate processes of character development in multiplot social contexts. Forms are limiting and containing, yes, but in crucially different ways.  Each form can only do so much.” Levine offers a powerful tool to those who make things.  As she goes on to say “Affordances point us both to what all forms are capable of–to the range of uses each could be put to, even if no one has yet taken advantage of those;” proposing a way to use this way of thinking on the front end of creation, rather than only the the tool of the literary theorist; deconstructing texts posthumously.  I think that if we could work between a walled structure and a rhyming couplet, then we might be able to guide students of the arts to forms that help them think about where they might want to focus their attention and how to work more sensitively with their material and process, and with some understanding of the “constraints” of a form, artists might be able to make more complex art that responds to and utilizes the limitations of different forms rather that feeling frustrated by those limitations?  Perhaps something akin to the way Richard Nash describes of the technology of the book “The lack of video, the lack of audio, the lack of ways to change the forking outcomes of plot (what is rather crudely referred to as “interactivity”) is a feature of literature not a bug…”

I think that form has the wonderful capacity to suggest that there are other ways that we “know” things than those handed down from institutions.  I often think of Samuel Beckett, essentially a writer, as the most influential artist on the studio-artist of the late twentieth century, and whose influence on what we call “conceptual art” can be felt today.  In Beckett’s interrogation of the forms, materials, and durations of various conditions, he becomes a model for how we might consider the affordances of forms, and as artist take on ever-evolving media and technology, he gives a blue-print of one approach to treating things artistically and fighting against the the nature of entertainment, and I think that he does this by noticing how different conditions play on our senses, and by consistently pushing against the edges of our expectations of different mediums. In Catherine Choing’s essay “Nauman’s Beckett Walk,” describing the influence of Beckett’s thinking on Bruce Nauman’s practice, she enumerates in each artist’s practice, form essential becoming the content, or meaning of the work.  Describing the play Waiting for Godot Choing notes “Waiting for Godot contains an intermission. The curtained stage marks the space of possibility and anticipation, which make all the more resonant the maddening recurrences on the stage of Act 2: "Next day. Same time. Same place," and Vladimir's first words to Estragon, "You again!" (WaitingJor Godot, p. 430).3" Thus, the curtain falling at the end of Act 2 signals no end, but a lingering nonfinality, the suspense of a pause hovering between.” In this way, the audience might become acutely aware of the architecture of a theater, uncertain of whether they entered the play late or are leaving early, and the sense of duration that really becomes the existential “meaning” of Waiting for Godot. One can see this echoed in Nauman’s looping videos where he “names such a format "this circular kind of story." It goes back, he says, to Warhol films that really have no beginning or end. You could walk in at any time, leave, come back again and the figure was still asleep, or whatever. The circularity is also a lot like La Monte Young's idea about music. The music is always going on. ...It's a way of structuring something so that you don't have to make a story.1" Or better yet, so that the meaning is not meant to be found in a narrative arc.

Beckett seemed acutely aware and able to articulate both the forms that he was working through and the senses that they worked upon; describing “All That Fall as specifically a radio play, or rather radio text, for voices, not bodies. I have already refused to have it "staged" and I cannot think of it in such terms. ... It is no more theatre than End-Game is radio and to "act" it is to kill it. Even the reduced visual dimension it will receive from the simplest and most static of readings ...will be destructive of whatever quality it may have and which depends on the whole thing's coming out of the dark.” Touching this time on darkness, akin to McLuhan’s light, as being a formal condition, and a condition of reception.

“When Beckett was proposed the transference of the stage play Act Without Words to film, he similarly replied, "If we can't keep our genres more or less distinct, or extricate them from the confusion that has them where they are, we might as well go home and lie down." And Choing will expand “Ironically, however, the very means that Beckett uses in order to keep his genres "more or less distinct" rely on a technique of studied confrontation, if not confusion…Beckett's medium consciousness resides, then, not in forming clear lines of demarcation but in creating constant friction, always implicating "other zones of sensing"” Something that Ingold will also try to describe in “Making,” claiming “It is precisely where the reach of the imagination meets the friction of materials, or where the forces of ambition rub up against the rough edges of the world, that human life is lived.” Finally described so clearly by the sculptor Urs Fischer “each work begins with a quick sketch, but as soon as I start to work with materials, something goes wrong. for example, the thing won’t stand up and my irritation about that then leads to something else. my work never ends up looking the way I had intended. I don’t consider those sculptures unsuccessful something else just developed while I was working. it’s a two-way street. your thoughts determine the images, and it is the images, in turn, which determine your thoughts.” It might be this friction that moves the works towards art, a condition that makes the audience acutely aware of their environment, versus the potential dangers of entertainment and escapism.  So Beckett, writer and play-write, who first will have characters wait, then immobilize the characters on stage with wheel-chairs, trash-cans, half-burial in sand, and end with just a talking mouth on stage, when given radio, the medium of pure voice, uses almost no dialogue, challenging us to become acutely aware of our own bodily circumstance.  As contemporary artists approach new media and technology for realizing art, it seems that the articulation of their affordances might allow artists to respond more sensitively to working through different forms.


In looking for a more complex language around form and content, I think we could build a richer conversation around aesthetics–a realm that, due to its attempt at universals, and having been coopted under the auspices of the beautiful and sublime, ended up being a poor fit under the demands of postmodernity, and in its some-what shady condition of describing “feelings” and sensations, ended up being a little to loose for academia– or, as Susan Buck-Morss describes it in her essay “Aesthetics and Anaesthetics,” generated in an attempt to understand Benjamin’s last section of the “work of art” essay, “So little does aesthetics have to do with theintrinsically philosophical trinity of Art, Beauty, and Truth that one might rather place it within the field of animal instincts.16 This is, of course, just what made philosophers suspicious of "the aesthetic." Even as Alexander Baumgarten articulated "aesthetics" for the first time as an autonomous field of inquiry, he was aware that "one could accuse him of concerning himself with things unworthy of a philosopher."'  The complexity of lived experience made aesthetic inquiry, as Fredrick Jameson remarked “a kind of sandbox to which one consigns all those vague things. .. under the heading of the irrational. . . [where] they can be monitored and, in case of need, controlled (the aesthetic is in any case conceived as a kind of safety valve for irrational impulses)." But I think that with both ideas of form and issues of aesthetic experience, that we may have thrown the baby out with the bathwater, and forget that aesthetics is really just an attempt to describe feelings and how things affect the senses. To watch Burke attempt to describe the conditions of the sublime, or Freud’s attempt to explain the unucanny, is to witness someone trying to think through the lived experience of abstract feeling; and, as Cixous will note, regarding Freud, we often learn more about the writer than the condition being written about.  But this, to me, is the open line of inquiry, the “following” that Ingold mentions, I think probably by way of Latour, that feels like the place where the experience of art creates dialogue.  Buck-Morss goes back to map a history of the the aesthetic that might open it as a methodology where, as Ingold suggests “we grow into knowledge rather than having it handed down,” laying out the etymological meaning of the word "aesthetics,"... The Greek Aisthisi is the sensory experience of perception. The original field of aesthetics is not art but reality—corporeal material nature…"Aesthetics is born as a discourse of the body." It is a form of cognition, achieved through taste, touch, hearing, seeing, smell-the whole corporeal sensorium. The terminae of all of these-nose, eyes, ears, mouth, some of the most sensitive areas of skin-are located at the surface of the body, the mediating boundary between inner and outer. This physical-cognitive apparatus with its qualitatively autonomous, nonfungible sensors (the ears cannot smell, the mouth cannot see) is "out front" of the mind, the world hence encountered prelinguistically,'2 prior not only to logic but to meaning as well… however the senses are trained in the moral refinement of "taste," The senses maintain an uncivilized and uncivilizable trace, a core of resistance to cultural domestication.1 This is because their immediate purpose is to serve instinctual needs” If the arts are not about affecting the senses and creating sensation, then I am not sure what they are good for.  And the uncivilizable trace is part of the power of art, that it will not fully conform to a rational relation to “knowledge.” As Grozs claims “Art is of the animal to the extent the art is the consequence, the unexpected, unpredictable effect, of the coupling of a territory with a body, and the extraction of qualities, whether sonorous, visual, or tactile, framed through the constitution of a form.” In any case, this could be a complex and open dialogue and debate about bodily experience, and instead of its lack of certainty and universality being a bad thing, maybe that is where it becomes a good fit with knowledge production in the form of discussion about sensory conditions? 

I wonder how do we talk about these (un-articulable) pre-linguistic conditions, and, more specifically, how can we teach to the senses, of getting in tune with with sensory experience and the ability to develop a discourse around the sensual in the halls of academia.  There are already challenges from within to Academia’s claims to the field of “knowledge” from Post-human, Animal Studies, and others, defying the hierarchy of what constitutes the scope of communication, that students and teachers of the arts might take advantage of. Relating to these other “new” academic disciplines, Buck-Morss suggests another reason that “aesthetics,” may be perceived as too “soft” a discipline for academia, links to questions of gender that have been given voice through post-human and animal studies–“Yet present feminist consciousness in scholarship has revealed how fearful of the biological power of women this mythic construct can be. The truly autogenetic being is entirely self-contained. If it has any body at all, it must be one impervious to the senses, hence safe from external control. Its potency is in its lack of corporeal response. In abandoning its senses, it, of course, gives up sex. Curiously, it is precisely in this castrated form that the being is gendered male-as if, having nothing so embarrassingly unpredictable or rationally un-controllable as the sense-sensitive penis, it can then confidently claim to be the phallus. Such an asensual, anaesthetic protuberance is this artifact: modern man.” We still have to define these other forms of knowledge, we still, if in an institution, work within structures–I do not see this as an inherently bad thing, it forces us to consider what we are actually providing in an education.  In my own experience studying and teaching some basic aesthetic texts to graduate students, I feel like it can open up thinking about where one might want to focus both the making of the work, and articulate the possibilities for reception of the work, asking us to consider what kind of conditions might allow us to be receptive to these big feelings of the sublime, the uncanny, the abject, and suggesting that these experiences can change us, make us more empathetic to other’s experiences. And I like the danger implicit in trying to describe feeling, it might live at that uncivilizable edge that many great works of art balance, having the potential to float away into the overly-lofty, or fall flat as (silly) When Grosz speaks of vibrations and rhtyhms, she is just a hair away from “good vibrations;” good art bringing a “good vibe.”

In thinking about something like a recent Richard Serra sculpture; or more to the point, his hanging sheet of steel, the experience of weight and density cannot come from a picture.  I suppose it could be asked whether it comes from the knowledge of the weight of steel, but I do not think that, in the sculptures themselves, that is the experience.  The sense of weight is palpable, a sensed presence that creates as sense of fear and deep awareness of space and the body in space.  We could move out of the realm of sculpture and into the field of interior design, but our articulation would not move that far from massive slabs of steel in a Serra, to a preference for wood, or wondering what the proper proportion for a room might be.  In these cases, space is deeply related to being in a sensing body, say, unlike the “golden mean” which attempts to rationalize these things, they are, first and foremost, aesthetic experiences, that can only be understood and examined by “being there.”  Similar to understanding “Waiting for Godot” through the body in time and space.  Of course, you don’t “get” a Richard Serra, you feel the body in a space and around a material, in fact you become acutely aware of what it is to be a body moving in space and in a shifting perception, you might begin to feel the ties between vision and mass?  One of the questions that I presume is being asked by this panel, and a really interesting question, in fact imperative in the increasingly virtual time that we live in, is how can we “teach” this way of knowing?  What tools can we develop for the discussion of aesthetics, as Buck Morse previously defined, ways of knowing, and what is to be gained from this nuanced reflection on the body in physical space?

Certainly one way where we might open up a discussion about what it means to “know”, or ways of knowing, is in this realm of aesthetic experience–a theoretical paradigm that calls for universals, but never finds them.  This is the very territory of discussion rather than the passing down of knowledge, asking where does my knowledge intersect with my bodily/sensory experience.  Am I being coy and academic to suggest that I can feel (in my body, my nervous system, bypassing the cognitive…) the weight of a Richard Serra by having my body in position to his sculpture?  Do I need a knowledge of steel and weight and body mass, or is it simply (not simple) an aesthetic experience; and, to carry on,  what would be wrong with having a “pre-knowledge” that might amplify, or with someone like, say, Gonzales-Torres, simply allow me to enagage the work in a more meaningful way; and, who needs to be with work in a meaningful way–if you are working that hard then does it mean that the work is having no sensory impact, in which case it would work better as a book? Need to be a different form?


This paper was begun under very different circumstances than it was finished.  It seems a little funny to be talking about form and content, and aesthetics under our current circumstances.  Originally I had not planned on using Buck Morss’ far reaching essay for anything but her thoughtful history of the “aesthetic,” but in thinking back to the impetus for the essay, the last section of Benjamin’s “work of art” essay, I cannot help but think that there are some important connections to current history.  In the last section of the “work of art” Benjamin claims “the logical result of Fascism is the introduction of aesthetics into political life,”and that “all efforts to render politics aesthetic result in one thing: war.” Benjamin cites the Futurists Manifesto and suggests that our senses have been altered by technology (by the industrial revolution and the factory) and concludes that “our alienation from our senses “has reached such a degree that it is capable of experiencing its own destruction as aesthetic enjoyment…” Buck-Morss goes on clarify “Benjamin is saying that sensory alienation lies at the source of the aestheticization of politics, which fascism does not create, but merely "manages." We are to assume that both alienation and aestheticized politics as the sensual conditions of modernity outlive fascism-and thus so does the enjoyment taken in viewing our own destruction.” Finally concluding that Benjamin “is demanding of art a task far more difficult –that is, to undo the alienation of the corporeal sensorium, to restore the instinctual power of the human bodily senses for the sake of humanity’s self-preservation, and to do this, not by avoiding the new technologies, but by passing through them.

While the anesthetizing, the de-aestheticizing, of the twentieth century citizen was tied, for Benjamin, to industry and the brutal conditions of the factory (i.e. the Marxist alienation of labor, but also literally the way that the factory brutalized the senses); again expanded by Buck Morss, who always, like Benjamin, understands that the body and belief are deeply connected– “Exploitation is here to be understood as a cognitive category, not an economic one: The Factory system, injuring every one of the human senses, paralyzes the imagination of the worker. His or her work is "sealed off from experience"; memory is replaced by conditioned response, learning by "drill," skill by repetition: "practice counts for nothing."” This seems like an apt description of our own reduced sensory experience–the injuring of the human senses “paralyzes the imagination…” It seems that we have not become more sensate and that, in fact the same conditions might apply now, except that it is media and technology itself that has led us away from the aesthetic, or anesthetized us to the embodied senses … So maybe the teaching of the arts can be a place where we find ways to me more sensitive; sensitivity really being the thing that has come under attack– being too sensitive to otherness, too sensistive to language, and on…  As one politician recently analogized the protests surrounding the recent travel ban as akin to pulling a band- aid off quickly…  So perhaps, as teachers of the arts, we might be able to return students to their bodies as sites of knowledge, or perhaps as stated before by Buck-Morss “In this situation of "crisis in perception," it is no longer a question of educating the crude ear to hear music, but of giving it back hearing. It is no longer a question of training the eye to see beauty, but of restoring "perceptibility."

Finally, it is interesting to consider that one response to the futurist and WW2 was da, da, da, da, that repetition that becomes pure non-sense, and eventually a rhythm to defy sense, linking to Beckett and Nauman’s use of repetition to defy expectations about where we locate “meaning.” Something Becket will eventually describe as the work of the arts “to find a form that accommodates the mess, that is the task of the artist now.”


Ingold, T 2013, Making:Anthropology, Archeology, Art and Architecture, Routledge, New York.

Levine, C 2015, Forms: Whole, Rhythm, Hierarchy, Network, Princeton University Press, Princeton.

Buck-Morss, S 1992,Aesthetics and Anaesthetics: Walter Benjamin's Artwork Essay ReconsideredOctober, Vol. 62, Autumn, pp. 3-41