The Aesthetic Experience: Being Fully Alive In the Classroom
The Aesthetic Experience
“The arts especially address the idea of aesthetic experience. An aesthetic experience is one in which your senses are operating at their peak, when you are present in the current moment, when you are resonating with the excitement of this thing that you are experiencing, when you are fully alive.”
This is Sir Ken Robinson’s definition of the aesthetic experience. When I heard it, I had to pause the video and listen to it again. And again. Then I had to transcribe it and read it repeatedly.
Watch the video here.
I know I have felt what he described. I have felt it in so many settings, in so many ways. It is the way I feel when I have become lost and immersed in a theatrical or cinematic experience. It is what I feel when I listen to music and close my eyes to concentrate.
I have felt this feeling outside of the arts. When a good friend of mine took me to the driving range, he described to me what a swing should FEEL like. We spent two hours making adjustments. Some very major, but some of them so minor. Shifting where my wrist was facing a few degrees, balancing my knees and feet to be parallel during the back swing, and keeping my head down with eyes concentrated on the ball.
In this instance, the focus is so intense and extreme, that I can only concentrate on the task at hand. Distraction isn’t even an option. It isn’t about success, or what comes afterwards, any reward I may receive or what I will become once I achieve a goal. There is no room for anything else when you are in an aesthetic experience. There is only room to be fully present and to be locked into the task at hand.
Can Learning Be an Aesthetic Experience?
Why should I tie this kind of experience to the arts or a physical experience? Has learning ever engaged me in this way? Have I ever been so locked into a learning experience that I had no room for anything else? In all my academic career, I must have surely been so immersed into the task at hand that I was fine tuning and adjusting my understanding and knowledge of the world. The answer is yes. I have had those experiences. But I have to search for them. I have to think hard to remember when I had these experiences.
Making Learning a Way to Come Alive
Now here is where I WISH so badly that I could just post pictures of the work that I do. Unfortunately because of confidentiality reasons I cannot, so you must trust me on this.
I have pictures. Thousands of them. Of children having this kind of focus. Of being so intent in the work that they do, and having no room for distraction as they engage in their learning experiences. They are four year olds, the wind distracts them. But when we are at work, this is not the case.
These aren’t pictures of children being cute or messy. I hate those pictures, they tell nothing and they are disrespectful to the capability of children. These are pictures of children in the thick of a learning experience where they are intensely making adjustments to ideas that they have and critically thinking about the task at hand.
There is a way for children to be actively so engaged in their learning that problems and distractions don’t get in the way. It requires great capability from the teacher. It requires the child and teacher to trust each other and to be comfortable. It requires incredible feats of collaboration. It is doable. I see it. Everyday.
In these pictures you see children who are having aesthetic experiences. They are as Ken says, “resonating with excitement.” They are fully alive. I see so many classrooms and remember so many of my experiences to be where I was being taught to listen, or repeat, or recite, or memorize. How could I resonate with excitement? How could I feel alive? Why is it that we wonder why so many children HATE going to school? Why aren’t we thinking about how to make children feel alive in the classroom?