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I Got Life! – Being fully alive in the aesthetic experience

Nina Simone – Ain’t Got No…I’ve Got Life – YouTube.

I haven’t been able to get this song out of head since watching this video over the New Year. It’s originally from the musical, “Hair”, and Nina Simone sang and recorded this song many times in her career, each time switching up the words to fit the moment.

I love watching her sing this in this video – the ease in her body, her effortlessness, her musical instincts so spontaneous and artful. And the song itself is such a fantastic reminder to come back to the body, and recognize one’s aliveness, no matter what else is going on.

“I got life!”, she sings. And I, too, feel alive. It reminds me of another video I watched – a TED talk given by the Brit, Sir. Ken Robinson. I quote:

The arts especially address the idea of aesthetic experience. An aesthetic experience is one in which your senses are operating at their peak; when you’re present in the current moment; when you’re resonating with the excitement of this thing that you’re experiencing; when you are fully alive.

Wow. What a great definition of the aesthetic experience. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the power of the creative arts therapies, right? If you can be fully alive in the therapeutic process, then there is tremendous potential for real transformation. So, what has this got to do with Nina Simone singing this song? Listen to it – the beginning lyrics are like the list of sufferings that our clients come in with. And, the work of the therapy can be to bring them back into contact with their inestimable selves, like the second half of this song does – their bodies, their creativity, their beauty. To experience being fully alive, even when they are feeling at a loss.

 

2 Comments

  1. Brian Abrams

    Another great essay! Thank you for this.

    To your very thoughtful comment: “If you can be fully alive in the therapeutic process, then there is tremendous potential for real transformation” … I would add that, when this happens, there already has been real transformation. Some insist that one must wait for “generalization” beyond the arts in order to witness their transformational value–however, from an arts-centered perspective, the arts (and the aesthetic experience/relationship), the dichotomous idea of the arts as a means to health falls away, and allows for an understanding of engagement in the arts themselves AS health, already addressing human potentials across the various dimensions clinicians sometimes call “domains” of health.

    The song “I Got Life” isn’t a song about having life–it IS, itself, the shared experience of having life. And, yes, Nina Simone had a way of sharing that experience particularly well!

    1. Suzannah Post author

      Thank you for this, Brian. I absolutely agree with you, and your comment actually helps me want to speak more clearly about the idea of transformation as I want to articulate it. Because, of course, there is value in being fully alive in music; in being “transformed” by music in the here-and-now. Maybe I mean here something more akin to the “reconstructive” potential, in a psychotherapeutic sense, when music is appropriated for inner health, and experienced from a fully alive place. It doesn’t only happen just because a person is fully alive in the music, but, with the guidance of a skilled therapist that can help focus and hold them in this re-constructed place. Thank you for the dialogue!

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