Proprioception as an Aesthetic Sense

Barbara Montero (2006). Proprioception as an Aesthetic Sense. Journal Of Aesthetics And Art Criticism 64 (2):231-242.

The aesthetic senses are the senses by which we experience beauty, grace, and other aesthetic properties. Vision and hearing are commonly recognized as aesthetic senses, while smell, taste, and touch are not. Proprioception is 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. My claim is that proprioception is an aesthetic sense and that one can make aesthetic judgments based on proprioceptive experience. I will argue that, just as one can deem a painting beautiful based on one’s visual experience of the painting, one can deem a certain movement beautiful based on one’s proprioceptive experience of the movement. In addition, I posit that in a certain sense an observer can proprioceive the beauty of another’s movement. Although this may sound surprising, I argue that recent discoveries about the function of mirror neurons—neurons that are activated both when one performs a task and when one sees that task performed—as well as other empirical studies illustrating that when seeing others move we kinesthetically represent their motion, support the case and potentially pave the way toward a third-person proprioceptive aesthetics.

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