Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Rick Kemp - Stimulus and Cascade? A response to Anna's questions

Stimulus and Cascade? A response to Anna’s questions

Hi Anna - great! Thank you for posting these very stimulating questions. Some thoughts in response to your first two, which I hope might complicate them in useful ways:

I think it’s really useful to conceive of creativity as involving the juxtaposition or merging of previously unrelated concepts, as you propose. Are you familiar with Fauconnier and Turner's theory of Conceptual Blending? If this is an accurate model, then we are able to maintain a sense of the features of source domain concepts at the same time as being aware of a new mental space that is formed which associates them. With this in mind, I think it’s useful to begin thinking of creativity in a networked or continuum sense (multi-dimensional, not linear) rather than as a binary (creating art  / receiving art). Of course, one of the challenges that I'm facing in thinking about this is the question of 'scale'  - observable behavior and its relation to brain activity.

A collaborative act of imagination
In theatre, I like to think of a successful performance as one in which audience members collaborate with performers in an act of the imagination. While audience members may appear to be passive, for the performance to be successful, they need to be active mentally and emotionally - and this engagement also leads to physical changes (heart rate, galvanic skin conductance, level of muscular tension, breathing patterns …).

'What happens next?’
Indeed, one of the precepts of performance is that we want to stimulate the audience to ask 'what happens next?’ and to provoke conjecture about this. The conclusions of this conjecture are sometimes confirmed, sometimes contradicted, sometimes modified. An effective balance between these three potential outcomes over the course of the drama is an essential ingredient of engaging the audience in the fiction - the pleasure of ‘I knew that was going to happen’ pales if it is not sometimes disrupted by 'Wow! I didn't see that coming!'

Mental initiatives in the blend
So we are seeking to stimulate active mental initiatives in audience members (narrative engagement) as well as to prompt emotional arousal.
Evidently, in one set of mental spaces the audience is aware of the 'paramount' reality of the performance space, other audience members, the biographical identities of the actors. In another set of mental spaces are the fictional environment, circumstances and personalities of the characters. The experience becomes a 'blend' of reality and fiction in which the audience members' imaginative activity takes place.

Engagement through empathy
I think you're right to point to emotional arousal as a prime pathway to ENGAGEMENT with these fictional circumstances. This principle would hold true in your airport/mother example (daily life) and also in an actor/audience member relationship. This then leads me to think of some of the strands of thought in embodied cognition, particularly those regarding mirror systems and empathy. I know that there is much debate over the nature of mirror systems ...  from a phenomenological perspective as an actor and director it is congruent with my experience that empathy can be aroused autonomically.

Behavior, categories and prototype
We get in to some deep philosophical waters when we talk about establishing authenticity in reality. In thinking about theatre, I prefer to use the term  'daily life,' instead of 'reality,' since actors' bodies are just as real when they are on stage as when they are doing their shopping. I think a big feature of establishing authenticity in both sets of circumstances is to do with perceived behaviors, and expectations of a 'normal' range of behaviors for a particular person, and for categories of people in differing environments. Emotional arousal ensues not only from visual triggers  (remembered face and associated memories) but also from movement patterns (posture, gesture, facial expressions). In this regard, I find Lakoff and Johnson's use of 'categories' and 'prototypes' helpful.  

Multiplicity of meanings
The creative 'activity' of an audience responding to a performance is indicated by the multiple interpretations that audience members can have of the same events, their varying perceptions of motivations and even outcomes. And perhaps we could say that one of the ways to distinguish between 'art' and 'entertainment' in broad terms is the potential for multiplicity of meanings in the former, and the tendency towards singular meaning in the latter...

Stimulus and cascade
So perhaps it might be useful to think of degrees of proportionality between stimulus and cascade rather than thinking of 'active' and 'passive'? Then the question might become -not only what differentiates, but also what are the commonalities.

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