Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Frisson: A Crossroad of Body, Mind & Spirit

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Do you ever get goose bumps from music or movies?

When performing or simply appreciating an art, many people experience something called “frisson”: seconds-long thrills up one’s spine that can also result in cutis anserina, AKA goose bumps.

Jason Daley posted a great article in Smithsonian Magazine in 2016 summarizing research done on the subject, titled What Happens in the Brain When Music Causes Chills?. He also referenced an interesting piece written by PhD candidate Mitchell Clover, who studied under Dr. Amani El-Alayli at Eastern Washington University, titled Why do only some people get ‘skin orgasms’ from listening to music? in The Conversation.

So? What’s so big about “frisson”?

Frisson is a French word for “thrill”. In this context, it’s the thrill of excitement. When it seems like life is all about our problems, worries and what we lack, frisson can bring back a sense of awe and wonder. It can connect us to others and our true selves- what really thrills us. To me, that’s huge.

Art by definition is aesthetic. Sure, there is a concrete object (a painting, music score, video, book, etc), but that thing’s purpose is to affect the mind and spirit of the person receiving and interacting with it. Chills and goose bumps prove that art also directly affects the body.

Hmmm...connections between body, mind and spirit. Sounds familiar. And important.

Other causes of goose bumps include uncomfortably cold temperatures or when we become frightened. Why do these 3 different stimuli lead to the same body reaction? Those little bumps on your skin are a reminder of how it all connects. Our minds. Our bodies. Our spirits. Within ourselves but also with others’ minds, bodies and spirits. That's a key. They may be separate, but yet they can work together in a flow. I wrote of this in Boxes.

When things work together, they build to something beyond the parts.

What art gives you that thrill?

If it’s been a while, go out and live it again! Dance. Read. Observe. Craft. Perhaps it’s time to find something new that will get that electricity flowing. Whether you get goose bumps or not, we all benefit from soaking in artistic expression. Artists need audiences. Audiences need artists. We all develop in the process of performance and immersion.

I was reminded again of the immensity of artistic talent and expression in the world this week when I caught episode 23 of  Fantastic Duo 2, a Korean show for amateur singers who compete to sing with a professional. Just like similar US shows, it’s a joy to see the skills that exist out there at this very moment. It’s a goose bump wonderland. It reminds us of the beauty and potential in life.

I took this essay’s illustration photo while listening to Taeyang’s Eyes, Nose, Lips (OK, maybe I did hum along on the chorus line, too). I get goose bumps quite often- not surprising since I love to live in my head, to visualize, and to imagine connections and possibilities. Those activities, according to Mitchell Clover’s article, appear to increase your odds of experiencing frisson and goose bumps.

Taeyang may do nothing for you, but from Bach to Adele to Iron Maiden, there’s tingle-inducing art for all, if we look. Right now, I can picture you doing a search, hitting play and sitting back to enjoy something, with a smile on your face.


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