Saturday, April 18, 2015
Austin Jones Final Blog Post #1 Section H01
John Dewey and Art as Experience
This first blog post covers the philosopher John Dewey’s book Art as Experience. Dewey’s philosophy on art is substantially different in that the overall point he is trying to make is that “art” is not merely the product of an artist’s work, as it is traditionally defined. Rather, “art” is an experience, either the experience of creating the artistic product or the experience we have while appreciating the artistic product.
In the first chapter of his book, Dewey works to destroy the boundary between art and everyday experiences. Previous philosophers and art critics have set up art on a pedestal of sorts so as to distinguish art from other crafts, such as making an ornate table or building. Dewey criticizes these theories for their separation of art from community life. Art can be appreciated in many day-to-day activities, such as cooking, dancing, reading, and even playing a game. Anyone that is engaged in a process is artistically engaged, such as an artist, or scientist, or teacher. This is where experience plays in. The actual process by which someone accomplishes a task can be art.
Because his use of the word “experience” can sometimes be confusing, Dewey attempts to differentiate between “experience” and “an experience.” Experience is continual, because we as humans are always involved in the process of living. However, experience itself is not “an experience.” An experience is had when any task is satisfactorily accomplished. This can apply to finishing a painting, completing a board game, or even writing this blog post. What’s interesting is that Dewey states that the importance of the experience is inconsequential; what is important is that an experience was had. Furthermore, the experience is driven by emotion. When an experience is concluded, such as when an artist finally accomplishes his work, he is emotionally moved not only by the outcome of his works, but by the experience of having worked on this product and successfully expressed himself.
From here, Dewey moves on to talk about expression. Expression is not spontaneous, at least not in the artistic sense. For something to be artistically expressive, it must have taken time and effort to create. Artists must sift through all their past experiences, and pull different meanings and lessons from them. The process must be filled with introspection, reflection, and editing. Art is at its finest when there is a combination of past and present experiences.
From expression, the expressive object (final product) is produced. Dewey criticizes other theories that simply focus on the expressive object, separating it from the process by which it was created. Dewey believes that the product and the process are linked, and to only know one is to miss the point of the overall work. To only analyze the expressive object would leave you clueless as to all the influences and outside experiences that fueled the artist’s imagination. To only know the process would leave you with no appreciation for the expressive object. To fully understand and appreciate the work of art, both the work itself and the process behind it must be looked at as one piece of art. The expressive object is therefore representative of the nature of the artist’s experience.
Dewey goes on to discuss the nature of art’s form and how artists channel their energy to create art, but the highlights of his theory have been covered here. He is most remembered for how he links art with everyday life. If there is one thing you learn from this blog post, I believe Dewey would want you to understand that art is present every day. Art is found in conversation, in studying, even in teaching philosophy. Dewey’s theory teaches us to appreciate our lives as enriched by art by changing our perspective of what art is. This approach to life really does make everything seem a little more meaningful, and a little less chaotic. I highly suggest you take the time to read his book, or at least read an overview. Maybe you’ll come to appreciate art in your everyday life too!