Transmission in Motion


“Skilled Practice, Merging Thinking with Doing” – Mavi Irmak Karademirler

After the last Transmission of Motion seminar with Tim Ingold, I was left with a vivid picture of him, as he described his experience of playing the cello. His talk revolved around the notions of experience, creativity, and habit to question the differences of bodily automatisms and skilled craft. To understand the differences between habitual automatisms and the skilled/mastery automatisms, the instance of playing a musical instrument was the starting point to our discussion.

When playing the cello, every movement of the body with gestures the instrument gives a respond and moves creates vibration and sound. Hence the musical instrument becomes like an extension of the body. In other words, the player of the instrument becomes an “anatomical unity” with the instrument. To continue playing the instrument, the musician should maintain certain movements, which require an awareness of both the moves and the environment. In this environment, the instrument player is highly aware of his body although the movement carried at almost an unconscious level.

On the other hand, our habitual activities could be considered as engaged in a thoughtless way. However, when we think about the habitual actions and the craft, we view both acts as a sunk-in knowledge or as “tacit knowledge.” Thus, automatisms of habitual movement and skilled craft interpreted as the knowledge that sunk into the body. The theories of the embodiment according to Ingold, falls short in addressing the differences between the habitual automatisms and the craft or skilled work.

Between these two notions of thinking of doing, it is possible to argue that there is a different way of attending to the action itself. During the automatic activities, the moment that the practitioner focuses on the movements would interfere with the unconscious action and, therefore, would interrupt the flow of the performance. However, the skilled practice would additionally involve the ability to reflect on performance while engaging in it. The cello player would be then able to attend to his movements while evaluating how he plays the instrument. In this sense, thinking becomes a part of the action, and the attention becomes prevalent with the movement. Another skilled activity, for instance drawing, would then occur with a similar principle. As the hand draws, the pen becomes the extension of the body, and the attention merges with movement. Drawing occurs as if it is a conversation with the thing that is drawn while involves an immersion. The skilled practice, drawing, would entail focusing on the lines, curves, and shapes as the hand wander on the paper. In this relation, the attention and thoughts of the practitioner merge with the action itself.