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Contribution to Book
Perceiving Live Improvisation in the Performing Arts
Perception, Cognition, and Aesthetics
  • Aili W. Bresnahan, University of Dayton

This chapter will explore the ways that live improvisational performances by professional-level actors, musicians, and dancers, take place at both cognitive and sub-cognitive levels in ways that are relevant for understanding perception and appreciation of the performing arts. First, evidence from cognitive science will be used to show that improvising, as in a dance or a music jam session or a scene in theatre, may involve physical responses that occur before we are conscious of the event to which we are responding. Second, this chapter will demonstrate how understanding these cognitive processes can help us to pinpoint why live improvisational performances have aesthetic value. Next, this chapter will consider the extent to which critical appreciation involves the enrichment and supplementation of perceptual experience with interpretive practice. Like the improvising performing artist, the audience member, too, has cognitive processes that occur before conscious articulation of what they have perceived. This means that evaluative judgments of live improvisation in the arts, like the improvisatory decisions that are made by the performers in the performances that they are judging, are not made at the purely perceptual level.

Publication Date
  • improvisation,
  • performing arts,
  • perception,
  • appreciation,
  • cognitive science

The document available for download is the author’s accepted manuscript of Chapter 6 in Perception, Cognition and Aesthetics, Dena Shottenkirk, Manuel Curado, Steven S. Gouveia, Eds. (Routledge, 2019).

It is provided in compliance with the publisher's policy on self-archiving. Permission documentation is on file. To order the version of record, use the link provided.

Citation Information
Aili W. Bresnahan. "Perceiving Live Improvisation in the Performing Arts" Perception, Cognition, and Aesthetics (2019)
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