Embodied artistic thinking

Gunndís Ýr Finnbogadóttir

An inherent part of planning learning activities for imaginative dialogue has become the creation of space for embodied-artistic-thinking practices. This means that the focus has been on working experientially, creating situations for movement of the body and sensing what is inside and outside of it, while also making sense of this through language. Eugene Gendlin (1962, p. 345) explains this as “a body-sense of meaning”: [The] body senses the whole situation, and it urges, it implicitly shapes our next action. It senses itself living-in its whole context – the situation. 

Gendlin also points out that there is nothing mysterious about this body-sense of meaning, as it is a process we experience every day but lack the language to name. At the beginning of our stay in Iceland in September 2022 we met Guðbjörg R. Jóhannesdóttir, an environmental philosopher who specializes in methods developed by Gendlin and uses them in teaching and research. During her talk she said that “all thought begins with sensation”, with a felt sense, “thinking that does not forget that we are perceiving bodies, it thinks with the sensing of experience from the inside” (Jóhannesdóttir, 2022). She goes on to claim that “[e]mergent thinking is thus not calculative or already known, it is thinking that emerges out of the not yet known; it emerges out of the situation or landscape that the thinker and the thought are immersed in” (Jóhannesdóttir, 2022, n.p.).

In imaginative dialogue, we have tried out different ways of listening and to sense in ways that alters our everyday viewpoints. Jaana Erkkilä-Hill explains artistic thinking as thinking that:

[..] frees us from result orientated way of thinking and acting and enables us to enter a free space of seeing and listening the world around us. The artistic approach to the world is not so much about creating something out of one’s imagination as about seeing and listening to signals that come from the world around us and then interpreting and giving a communicable form to those signals. Artistic thinking is about seeing the invisible and about listening to the inaudible. (Erkkilä-Hill, 2017)


One example of this is found in the early exercises developed for distance collaborations in 2020-2021 during the Covid19 pandemic. Although the PIMDI participants were in different places, we attempted to gather for short moments and to feel the common ground beneath our feet.In the exercise Listening Walk participants share their choice of place and a poem in their own language. They make recordings of their exploration and reading of the poem. Each participant is conscious of their differences and listens to the recordings of others without forming judgments. While listening, a connection manifests itself between oneself, the other, and the surroundings.

Pictures from all of those participating in the Listening Walk on line in December 2020.

Relevance for the pedagogy of imaginative dialogue

Embodied-artistic-thinking creates space for inner and outer listening and thinking, which is important at the beginning of an imaginative dialogue. Because of its complexity and its uniqueness for each individual, and how it affects the way our values are shaped, it is important in educational setting to create spaces for this kind of thinking. 


Gendlin, E. (1962). Experiencing and the creation of meaning. A philosophical and psychological approach to the subjective. The Free Press of Glencoe, New York.

Erkkilä-Hill, J. (2017). Walking on water, living adventurously: Travelling Laboratories for Artistic Thinking. In T. Jokela, & G. Coutts (Eds.), Relate North: Practising Place, Heritage, Art & Design for Creative Communities (pp. 132-149). Lapland University Press.óhannesdóttir, G.R. (2022). Sensing and thinking from within. Invited talk. Iceland University of the Arts.