Stanford educator Elliot Eisner (1998: 7) writes with elegance about our forms of representation and has contributed to a meaningful taxonomy in this arena. His thoughts echo contemporaries like Howard Gardner and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi:
Education can be regarded as a process concerned with expanding and deepening the kinds of meaning people can have in their lives. The construction of meaning depends upon the individual’s ability to experience and interpret the significance of the environment, including the ways in which others in the culture have constructed and represented meaning. Forms of representation—visual, auditory, kinesthetic, linguistic, mathematical—are ways in which members of a culture uniquely “encode” and “decode” meaning. The meanings that can be secured from music, for example, have no identical counterpart in any other form.
Eisner, Elliot W. (1998) The Kind of Schools We Need. Heinemann: Portsmouth, NH.
The notion of the performance of physical skills is central to Howard Gardner’s “Multiple Intelligence” theory. His celebration of the “bodily-kinesthetic intelligence represents a radical departure from traditional IQ testing. Gardner (1993: 208-209) informs us that:
This divorce between the “mental” and the “physical” has not infrequently been coupled with a notion that what we do with our bodies is somehow less privileged, less special, than those problem-solving routines carried out chiefly through the use of language, logic, or some other relatively abstract symbolic system. This sharp distinction between the “reflective” and the “active” is not, however, drawn in many other cultures.
Gardner leans on Frederic Bartlett’s work on the coupling of performance with environmental cues and proprioreception:
Skilled performance must all the time submit to receptor control, and must be initiated and directed by the signals which the performer must pick up from his environment, in combination with other signals, internal to his own body, which tell him about his own movements as he makes them.
Gardner also introduces a more radical thesis by Bartlett who: goes beyond the sheer analysis of bodily skill in his intriguing claim that much of what we ordinarily call thinking—routine as well as innovative—partakes of the same principles that have been uncovered in overtly physical manifestations of skill. Gardner ’s observations on the artistry of expert performance and the subtle links between physiological feedback and awareness are worth quoting at length:
Over the years the highly skilled performer has evolved a family of procedures for translating intention into action. Knowledge of what is coming next allows that overall smoothness of performance which is virtually the hallmark of expertise. The periods of hovering or halting, which call for keen attention to environmental factors, alternate with periods of seamless fluency, where numerous component parts fall readily into place… the expert looks as though he has all the time in the world…
Gardner, Howard (1993) Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Tenth-anniversary paper edition. New York: BasicBooks.