Art and Adventure

In the sections on the site about art I have argued that art making as a phenomena is highly experiential. One of the aims of this site is to make connections between the experience of having an adventure and the experience of making art.

Broadly my proposal is that although there are differences, there is sufficient commonality to make combining the two, as both practice and theory. This could be seen as a source of cross fertilisation and offers opportunities for developing new forms that display heterosis, or hybrid vigour.

Heterosis can only occur with organisms that are closely related. It may seem at first glance, that the development and deployment of wing suiting, or high mountain alpinism has little in common with sitting by a river and doing a sketch. In truth, adventure seen as extreme physical experiences, has little to with art.

Some artists however, have made art in a way that would be entirely familiar to an adventurer at a physical level.

Adventure as Art

In 1975 two men set out on adventure journeys. Bas Jan Ader took off from the east coast of America in a small sailing boat to cross the Atlantic, and Richard Long undertook a series of treks in the Himalayas. 

These physical journeys were undertaken as real physical adventure. But both men did this as art. Bas Jan Ader was working on a performance called ‘In search of the Miraculous’ when he died at sea sometime in 1975-76. See here and here. Richard Long was shortlisted 4 times over 40 years for the Turner prize for his outdoor art. He has made many trips to the Himalayas but much of his art involved adventure much closer to home. On his website he describes his work as ‘Art made by walking in landscapes, photographs of sculptures made along the way, and walks made into textbooks’. Images of the range of his works can be found here.

A simple google search revealed no artists, other than Ban Ader who died doing art, whereas adventurers and participants in extreme sports have died in their legion. 11 have died on Everest in the first half of 2019. Misadventure and physical hardship are important parts of adventure sports that are largely absent in most art making.

But whist virtually no artists die making art, some artists do explore misadventure and physical endurance through art.

Art as Adventure

Probably the most famous is Marina Abramovic. In an article called ‘Walk Through Walls: Marina Abramović on Art, Fear, Taking Risks, and Pain as a Focal Lens for Presence’ here the trauma that drove her art is discussed. A broader look at her art is here, and a Ted Talk by her here. This video starts with her performance Rest Energy form 1980

Other performance artists make art at the extreme edge of what is physically possible. These are people like Stelarc, Orlan, Joseph Beuys, Ron Athey and Franko B seen here in an Italian video used his own blood as a work of art. Whilst these artists present extreme physical hardship, the performances are well planned and the outcomes must be planned.

Shared Experience

Performance is discussed elsewhere in more detail but Marina Abramovic discusses, ‘What is Performance Art?’ here and a lot of what she talks about is the way performance art differs from theatre in that the consequences of actions in performance art are real. She sheds blood, Macbeth does not.

But the same difference exists within adventure. Jeb Corliss going off Table Mountain, or Alex Honnold on El Cap or surfing Nazare is not the same as taking your GoPro on ZipWorld Velocity a guy on a Go Ape ropes course or going to surf school.

However you describe art or adventure there will be artists or adventurers who operate at the extreme edges of what is possible.

In ‘Defining Extreme Sport: Conceptions and Misconceptions’ by Rhonda Cohen, Bahman Baluch and Linda J. Duffy, the authors conclude

“From a scientific perspective there are difficulties when setting out to examine extreme sport due to a lack of consensus on the tenets of extreme sport.”

I have argued elsewhere that there is a similar lack of consensus over what defines art. Gombrich says there is no such thing, Roar suggest you make art best when you free your mind from what it is.

I trained in science and the arts. I have worked with the arts and outdoor adventure as experiential learning. When I get time I do strange things in the name of art, wading through bogs or walking along footpaths. This seems little different in many ways to wading through bogs and walking along footpaths as art or as adventure. These two things are linked. But the place to find linkage is not in the outliers of art and adventure but in the middle ground and in the inner world of experience.

Finding Middle Ground Through Experience

My proposal is to let go of seeing the activities taking place at the edge of art and adventure that are different, and feel for the experiences that are in the middle that are the same.

From personal experience supported by reflection and journal keeping, I suggest the following are things that one would find in both art and adventure.

  • Journeys of uncertain outcomes.
  • Strong elements of liminality.
  • Activity contains elements of ritual, play and performance.
  • The crossing of boundaries.
  • Curiosity and imagination is rewarded.
  • Doing, looking, listening and being in your body is rewarded.
  • Skill is rewarded.
  • Overthinking is detrimental.
  • The act of doing brings opportunities for new experiences.
  • When opportunities are discovered, they are often disguised as difficulties.
  • Experience emerges out of the context in which action takes place, so the act of finding a path makes the path available.
  • There is a direct connection between outer and inner experiences.
  • One enters a state of flow.
  • Reflection and reflexivity are key components at the individual level and are present at a group or collective level.
  • Practice can be experienced at the individual and group level and this forms an active component of the experience and the outcome.
  • Practice can bring communitas or significant shared experience.

Whilst the actual physical actions through which this occurs in art and adventure vary the inner experience is common.

I reiterate what I said on the top page on Experience and suggest that for the purposes of bringing art making to experiential, outdoor and adventure learning, a way can be found to use the arts to enhance the learning experience.

By making art, participants and practitioners learn how to learn from experience. The elements of the experience common to art making and experiential and adventure learning can become a vehicle through which to process experience in a way that is congruous with the experience.

This is a theme in the idea of arts as research. The art made and the experience of art making becomes research and a way to gain knowledge of the world. Art making and the art made as experience, as adventure, tells us something about the experience because it is the experience. If we want research data about the experience of experiential, outdoor and adventure learning, making art as experience can provide that data if we see art making as a way of gaining knowledge or art as knowledge. The art is experience and research about the experience.

Using my own arts practice, I will explore these commonalities, and share this through my blog.

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