Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Numinous Experience

I've been thinking a lot about the "numinous" experience and art. I recently read The Poetry of the Museum: A Holistic Model of Numinous Museum Experiences by Kiersten F. Latham, which is a very complicated text on numinous, aesthetic, holy, awakening, divine experiences. It is grounded in theory and involves a love of Dewey's theories, some of which comes from Art as Experience, which we read in social theory this semester, but goes beyond it. It says "the term numen, best known in the field of religious studies, from Rudolf Otto (1958) who, in his book, The Idea of the Holy describes numen as a religious emotion or experience that can be awakened in the presence of something holy. Literally, it comes from Latin and means, ‘‘a nod or beckoning from the gods.’’ Metaphorically, it refers to a spiritual force or influence identified with a natural object, phenomenon or place"
This got me thinking about having an experience in a museum, and I've been wondering if having a numinous experience is rooted in previous knowledge, education, and understanding of a work of art, an artist, medium, art history, subject matter, or style. I'm curious if it is possible to have a numinous experience with a work of art that you know nothing about. Most numinous experiences I've had with art were rooted in knowledge that I had already acquired, such as seeing a work of art that I really loved from a slide in class in real life at a museum. I think the experience came from my appreciation that was already there and being struck with the real object, something created by an artist I admired. I do believe it is possible to have an aesthetic experience with a work of art you know nothing about, but what about numinous? Also maybe it is easier to have the said experience as a child than as an adult?
I am really curious about this subject. Some say they have had a numinous experience in front of Michelangelo's Pieta in St. Peter's for example, but is this because they know the story, the artist, the work, the religion, etc?
So my question is: Has anyone had a numinous experience that didn't come from prior knowledge? I am very curious about this.

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