Wednesday, 2 May 2012

The Framing of Experience

Did you ever see, hear, or read something that made you see the world differently? Something that made confusing experiences you had had before suddenly seem meaningful and as a small part of a larger play? How does that happen? How can something somebody else thought up and made make your life different? This is my partial answer. It may seem a bit heavy, but go through it and then apply it to the movie clip at the end, and I promise you will have an "Aha" experience yourself, similar to the one I had when I studied this.

In Counter-Statement, Kenneth Burke claimed that in a work of art is an interpretation of life, and “The thoroughness of the artist’s attack can ‘wear down’ the reader until he accepts the artist’s interpretation, the pattern of experience underlying the Symbol [work of art]” (176), but it was unclear to me exactly how this occurs and why a reader may even want to have their own understanding of life co-opted in such a manner. John Dewey’s work is very instructive in filling out this process. In Art as Experience, John Dewey writes about the experience of art: “What is evoked is a substance so formed that it can enter into the experiences of others and enable them to have more intense and more fully rounded out experiences of their own” (113). The work of art “enters” into the experience of the audience by making them participants in the experience. Rather than conveying the information of tragedy the work of art evokes emotions of pity and fear by taking the audience through a tragic aesthetic reality.

The appeal for the audience is that they can have “more intense and more fully rounded out experiences” because of how the artist invites a complete experience rather than the disordered bits and pieces of events which occur in normal life. As Dewey goes on to write, “That is what it is to have form. It marks a way of envisaging, of feeling, and of presenting experienced matter so that it most readily and effectively becomes material for the construction of adequate experience on the part of those less gifted than the original creator” (113-114). This is exactly why the artist can overwhelm the reader with his pattern of experience, because the artist can form experienced matter more completely than the reader himself, and thus gives him a more intense experience than what he could form by himself. It is implied that the more complete and intense an experience is, the more convincing and, I would claim, formative it will be. It is partially by completeness and intensity that we measure the meaning and importance of our experiences. Thus, it may be through experiencing the art someone else has made that we define our lives or frame our experiences. This is what happens in different degrees whenever one is effectively influenced by a work of art. 
I invite you now to let yourself be overwhelmed by this piece of art that I have found. It starts slowly and takes about 8 minutes, but I promise you that the experience of life it gives you will be worth living. 

 Notice how that film was able to give you the experience of life and death, love and loss, separation and reunion in 8 short minutes? It was a complete experience, presenting as something completed what we experience as relatively chaotic and incomplete. It was not a representation of all aspects of life, but it was a selection of life. It was also an interpretation of life as seen through the seasons and through the prism of separation and reunion with loved ones. It used experiences we all have had of separation, aging, and maturing, to form an interpretation of life in which I think we can all find something that resonates with us. Who would you like to see on the other side of that sea of reeds? Who have you seen pass beyond the horizon with you anxiously waiting for their return? If you were in any way moved by what was presented here, then you have experienced what I was describing, and you were allowed for a moment to experience life more fully, intensely, and complete.