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Experiential knowledge and improvisation: variations on movement, motion, emotion.

Douglas, Anne; Coessens, Kathleen


Anne Douglas

Kathleen Coessens


In this paper we position improvisation as a way of knowing that is experiential, pivotal to the body's movement and growth in the world. Improvisation allows us to manage the constraints and freedoms of a world rich in possibilities, associations, and combinations. Improvisation, we argue, works across intuitive perception and intellectual analysis. We act and feel our way with whatever is to hand. The impetus is an urge to move from a point of stasis, to catalyse relationship: as we grasp the world, the world grasps us. Improvisation is a means of keeping going. Where in life it may be unselfconscious, in art it leaves a trace, the means to repeat the process but not replicate its experience. Improvisation provides us with a means to create new experience and new knowledge. We draw on selected artists including the Harrisons, Klee, Kaprow, Kurtag, Cage. As authors we take their work into our creative experience of musical performance and the visual arts. This is a research method that is experiential and generative in nature, articulating knowledge from the perspective of the maker/performer rather than that of the spectator. The research approach itself is therefore improvisational in nature. We draw on perceptions of improvisation in other fields including anthropology and psychology examining how far these inform artistic experience and test its assumptions. The question remains: Is improvisation a quality of all art? Can we speak in a precise way of forms of art (therefore approaches to life) that are improvisational and others that are not? What are the implications of this question for our understanding of knowledge more broadly?


DOUGLAS, A. and COESSENS, K. 2012. Experiential knowledge and improvisation: variations on movement, motion, emotion. Art, design and communication in higher education [online], 10(2), pages 179-198. Available from:

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Oct 26, 2012
Online Publication Date Oct 26, 2012
Publication Date Oct 26, 2012
Deposit Date Aug 18, 2014
Publicly Available Date Aug 18, 2014
Journal Art, design and communication in higher education
Print ISSN 1474-273X
Electronic ISSN 2040-0896
Publisher Intellect
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 10
Issue 2
Pages 179-198
Keywords Improvisation; Experiential knowledge; Artistic knowledge; Artistic research; Cultural improvisation; Artistic improvisation; Music
Public URL


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