The Myth of ‘Just do it’: Thought and Effort in Expert Action preface

CHAPTER 10. The Aesthetic Experience of Expert Movement

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CHAPTER 10. The Aesthetic Experience of Expert Movement

The awareness of tension and relaxation within his own body,

the sense of balance that distinguishes the proud stability of

the vertical from the risky adventures of thrusting and falling

these are the tools of the dancer.

Rudolf Arnheim (1966: p. 261)

I find considered movement deeply pleasurable. I always have and I continue to—movement that has a purpose, that I think about. That’s one of my great pleasures in life

Fergus Early (Lansley and Fergus, 2011: p. __)

The idea for writing a book on the role of thought, effort, and self-focus in expert action, as I have mentioned, was prompted by an objection the philosopher and avid golfer Bob Child made after a talk I had given on the idea of proprioceiving aesthetic properties. I was arguing that proprioception—the sense by which we acquire information about the positions and movements of our own bodies, via receptors in the joints, tendons, ligaments, muscles, and skin—is an aesthetic sense, that is, a sense by means of which we experience beauty, grace, and other aesthetic properties. Child wanted to know how a dancer on stage could have the aesthetic experience of her own movement, since focusing on highly-skilled movements trammels their performance. If experts are to perform at their best, he averred, they can’t focus on what they are doing, and thus they cannot have the sorts of aesthetic experiences I attribute to them. This objection stumped me at the time, and, indeed, as it was presented during an interview for a position at Child’s college, I can see that in retrospect I was lucky to have gotten the job. However, I now have the answer I would have liked to have given.

Philosophers sometimes say that one man’s modus tollens is one woman’s modus ponens—well, perhaps this is not quite what they say, but it is close enough—and although Child thought that my view that dancers experience aesthetic pleasure proprioceptively must be wrong because experts cannot focus on their own bodily movements, I now hold that one reason to think that experts, or at least expert dancers, focus on and conceptualize their movements, rather than just doing them, is that via proprioception, they experience various aesthetic properties of their movements – that is, they experience their movements and positions as beautiful, graceful, powerful, precise and so forth.119 As Child noticed, if a dancer is aware of the aesthetic properties of his own movement, then he is attending to his movements. Yet since, as he saw it, self-reflective thinking, awareness, and monitoring of one’s own movements interferes with performance, dancers must not have such awareness. That was his modus tollens. Child, however, I now think was wrong: Dancers, as I shall argue, are aware of aesthetic properties of their movements via proprioception and thus their minds are present and focused on their movements—my modus ponens.

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