Felt sense

Hye Joung Park 

In PIMDI ‘art’ is viewed not as an object, but rather as a sense-based approach to research and education. Richard Jordi (2011, p.192) recites the words of the philosopher and psychotherapist Eugene Genlin and defines the processes of experiencing as related to ‘felt-sense’: 

Gendlin says that human beings are their experiencing process, a process which is embodied and nonconceptual but whose implicit richness can be made explicit in words or concepts. Gendlin conceptualizes the bodily felt sense of a specific situation, problem or experience as the “felt-sense”.

We could view art making processes with this emphasis on the continuity of human experiencing. The British art museum Tate defines the term ‘process art’ as a form of art where the making of its art is a prominent aspect of the complete work (Tate, e.d.). As a result, the process itself becomes the subject of the work. The environmental psychologist Schroeder (2008) highlights the importance of incorporating our implicit, bodily relatedness to the world in decision-making and choice. By closely paying attention to our experience based on the understanding of this world-relatedness, we can make meaning through the art making process. 


Helsinki, October 2021: An old man in a wheelchair holds a chestnut in his hand that was brought inside the local senior center by one of the PIMDI participants. The experience of holding a chestnut evokes the old man´s memory, and he bursts out laughing. The old man´s response to a simple object is not just a recognition of an object from nature but a reminder of his implicit feeling of a situation and his experience. 

During the PIMDI Intensive weeks, participants were able to come across the implicit richness of ‘felt sense’ by emphasis on designing practices based on the sensory aspects of the experience. During the PIMDI intensive week in Helsinki the students worked in groups of four to prepare small workshops in two local senior centers. In one of the workshops natural objects were brought indoors for the elderly to touch, smell, rub, and even step on. The simple act of holding a thread together triggered movement among the participants as they felt the tug of the thread by others and responded accordingly. 

Photos from one of the workshops in a local senior center during the PIMDI intensive week in October, 2021. Photos: ? and Helene Illeris

The landscape architect Ram Eisenberg (2016) takes the idea of felt sense further by drawing a connection to the philosophy of Japanese stone garden making from the Heian era. Eisenberg defines Aware as a sensibility and responsiveness toward something alive as a core aesthetic of the Heian era. Based on the belief of nature being alive, Eisenberg has created a workshop called Stonesensing where the participants are encouraged to feel in silence how a placement of a stone on a tray filled with sand changes the situation and responds to it. The choice of the stone and its placement is decided by the first player and based on his/her feeling- it should feel right. The second player will “follow the request of the first stone” based on his/her Aware-ness created by the first stone´s presence. 

Relevance for the pedagogy of imaginative dialogue

By tapping into our innate ability to connect with our felt sense, we can access the vast reservoir of our accumulated experiences and build a connection with the non-human world. By focusing on what the object does- how it works, what it calls forward, how I relate to it- this kind of practice can work as a method of listening to the material world and can be developed into an initial phase of process art making. An imaginative dialogue between the artist and material, and even among the artists in a group, happens in a situation where this emphasis has been made.


Jordi, R. (2011). Reframing the concept of reflection; Consciousness, experiential learning and reflective learning practices. Adult education quarterly, 61(2), 181-197. 

Eisenberg, R. (2016). Stonesensing Evoking Meaning with Stones. 

Tate. (e.d.). Process Art. Art and artists.,Tate 

Schroeder, H. W. (2008). The felt sense of natural environment. The Folio, 21(1), 63- 72.