Some kinds of artistic creation, like painting, are experienced across space - we understand them by organising all their elements visually at the same time. Others, like music or film or written narrative, unfold in a linear fashion and are experienced across time. Further, the pleasure we derive from them has its source not just in their subject matter, their content, but in how they unfold over time - how they speed up and slow down, the particular direction they take and the sequence in which their parts are presented.
If we reflect upon our aesthetic experience we realise that time as we experience it in artworks is far more intense, more "rich" with sensory detail and with feeling, than time as we know it in real life. In the best works of art not a moment is wasted: every word, every note, or every shot seems essential. By comparison with artistic time, real time is almost unbearably tedious in its aimlessness, vacancy and sheer sprawl. When we say we opened a book or put on a CD to "pass the time", we are actually saying something quite significant. One of the reasons why we need art is because it allows us not just to forget our own selves (as I argue here, here and here) but also to transcend the quotidian experience and slow time to which we are irrevocably yoked.
Of course, human beings possess the resources to fill time up, to infuse it with urgency and meaning, even without art. Those resources are the memory and the imagination, and they allow us to prepare our own homemade version of artistic time. Each one of us has a private corpus of memories of the most significant events of our lives, memories we are always reexamining and reinterpreting. What has transpired once in our lives is replayed hundreds of times in the private theatre of our minds, with the inessential details sifted out as they would have been in a work of art. And on the other hand there is the imagination, which takes unrelated elements or inchoate yearnings and, by shaping them into a sequence or a whole, creates the same satisfying richness that we derive from art.
It might be said that our memories and our fantasies are our private works of art, only occasionally sensed or glimpsed by others but constantly in our own sights. They are our way of overcoming the tyranny of the present moment, of substituting the inessential with the essential. Even more than in behaviour and in speech, they are where we are most fully ourselves. In fact, art forms like the novel are premised upon this idea, that the dredging up of a person's interior life reveals what is most essential about him or her.
Even so artistic time, itself a product of the human imagination, has a special glow. Putting down a book, or leaving a movie hall, we cross the border from one kind of time to another, and wonder if somehow our lives could not be freighted with the same richness and intensity. Of course, this is a chimerical wish: reality will never support it. But on the rare instances that we do manage to live for extended periods in a state of elevated feeling, we often find the only parallel for that experience in the intensity of artistic time. "I felt suddenly as if I could hear life's music", we say, or "It was like I was a character in a novel".