‘Art as fulfilment’: Gadamer and ways of experiencing time

In Belfiore and Bennett’s superb book The Social Impact of the Arts (2008), they delineate eight ‘functions’ of art, within which are numerous sub-categories. One of their identified functions is that of ‘personal well-being’. It was in this chapter that I came across a quote by Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900-2002) that I thought was very relevant to 53 Million Artists as it is about time, which is a reoccurring theme emerging in the data analysis.

In Gadamer’s essay The Relevance of the Beautiful (1986: 41), he distinguishes between two “fundamental ways of experiencing time”:

In the context of our normal, pragmatic experience of time, we say that we ‘have time for something’. This time is at our disposal; it is divisible; it is the time that we have or do not have, or at least think we do not have. In its temporal structure, such time is empty and needs to be filled. Boredom is an extreme example of this empty time. When bored, we experience the featureless and repetitive flow of time as agonizing presence. In contrast to the emptiness of boredom, there is a different emptiness of frantic bustle when we never have enough time for anything and yet constantly have things to do […] These two extremes of bustle and boredom both represent time in the same way: we will fill our time with something or we have nothing to do. Either way time is not experienced in its own right, but as something that has to be ‘spent’. There is in addition, however, a totally different experience of time which I think is profoundly related to the kind of time characteristic of both the festival and the work of art. In contrast with the empty time that needs to be filled, I propose to call this ‘fulfilled’ or ‘autonomous’ time.

In the pilot phase of our research, nearly everyone felt they did not have time to do the creative challenges, despite being given permission by their organisations to dedicate work time to a creative practice. This view of time that is to be ‘spent’ exemplifies Gadamer’s view, where there is a frantic bustle of seemingly never-ending tasks to do, yet is actually ’empty time’.

Gadamer goes on to argue that the temporal dimension of the festival and the arts represent a case of ‘fulfilled time’ whereby the experience of it fulfils “every moment of its duration”. This is reminiscent of mindfulness, where the focus is not on the sense of time passing but being present in the moment. Gadamer explains, “The calculating way in which we normally manage and dispose of our time is, as it were, brought to a standstill.”

It is one of 53 Million Artists’ main tasks to challenge and ultimately change the predominant view of time into one more in line with Gadamer’s sense of ‘fulfilled time’ where being in the moment of a creative practice rids us of a sense of urgency, stress, and the need to organise and manage time to be ‘spent’ in a productive way.

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