Cognition and the Arts

Is creativity in the arts different than creativity in science? The one produces performance and enduring visual structure, the other produces theory, formalism, and experiment. The arts seems rooted in bodily experience, whereas science seems to soar beyond the tangible to the ethereal and mathematical. In a series of projects, we are looking at how cognition in arts such as dance and music can inform our views about how imagination works. Perhaps the two forms, art and science, are not as far as often thought.


In a study of super-expert dancers we explored a highly general phenomena: using bodies and other things as simulation devices to physically model things. Mechanics trying to understand a machine may sketch on paper an imprecise or distorted model. This helps them explore mechanical sub-systems or helps them consider physical principles, often better than looking at undistorted diagrams.



Riffing by a choreography is a term sometimes used to describe a form of improvisation where a choreography observes his or her dancers and appropriates their movement then using it as a base develops it further. By running someone else’s movement through their own body a choreographer may stimulate new ideas they might not have had just by watching or thinking about a movement.