Art as Experience / Dewey Moreno

By: Gabriel

In his Art as Experience, John Dewey argues that if we are to recover a sense of the significance of an aesthetically rich life, we must consider the relationship between the aesthetic and experience itself. What is Dewey’s description of experience? How does his account contribute to our understanding of artistic creation and aesthetic experience? Our everyday lives are filled with all kinds of interactions from minor to major occurrences. For John Dewey we as humans have alienated ourselves from an aesthetically rich life. We do not cherish or pay attention to the experiences we live. “This task is to restore continuity that are works of art and the everyday events, doings, and sufferings that are universally recognized to constitute experience” (Dewey 525). Dewey implies that there is a break or hole between us and the experience that we should be recognizing. The task specifically means we must as one, each and every human being have their own experience with art. A “fresh insight” as Dewey calls it is blocked by the already made critiques, “unquestioned admiration,” on different art forms (Dewey 526). We must break away from these already made critiques to make our own unique experience with the art form. The person must create an admiration and appreciation for the art form using our senses depending on which type of art form we use for example. In “The Live Creature” a flower is used as an example for a person that knows nothing about flowers but can still say they smell nice or have good color without knowing any thing about the growth, soil, food, or any other type of knowledge that has to do with flowers. But the person who decides to look and study further into how flowers work will gain a better understanding and therefore create a greater experience through greater appreciation and admiration. One can basically live a better experience than others. This “personal enjoyment” in the sense that we live our own experiences takes place in a plethora of environments. Another good example would be a wedding where all kinds of culinary art forms are made available to its

guests. We all have our different tastes, likes, and dislikes. More senses are used than in the flower example. Taste, touch, smell, and sight are used to create our own experience with the culinary art forms served at the wedding. We do not need to be the artist, the chef to realize the food tastes or smells good but we gain a greater admiration and appreciation if we speak to the chef or study more into the recipe itself of the specific food in observation. Dewey goes deeper into the understanding of the esthetic by telling us we “must begin with it in the raw” (Dewey 527). He goes on to describe different situations involving the different senses of man and his/her actions and to question the purpose/reasoning behind it. A good example is a wood carver and the person purchasing a wooden sculpture. The wood carver will answer how he enjoys making art out of wood, maybe a bear sculpture, while the purchaser’s answer for purpose is just to decorate his home. The purchaser has no true appreciation for the art form the carver creates. For the purchaser the very break in the continuity of art and experience occurs. The carver finds himself in appreciation and admiration of sorts in his creation and everything that was involved in making that creation, the tools, the wood, and the carver himself (his hands and imagination to go into deeper detail). The very connection we seek to make is made between artist and work. Once the carver finishes the bear sculpture the purchaser can fix the break in the continuity by acknowledging all that was put into the work. It is at this point the purchaser is not necessarily the purchaser anymore but a spectator like us. He has the choice to have a genuine experience by using the senses to create a “fresh insight” (Dewey 526). The example with the wood carver is an occurrence that can happen in the present, that is the wood carver can create a wooden sculpture and you take it home with appreciation for the art form and admiration for the carver. But what about art forms from other centuries? Such things as “domestic utensils, furnishings of tent and house, rugs, mats, jars, pots, bows, spears,” things used as display in the home, for eating, and for hunting. (Dewey 529)

At one point these items were admired for there use in the human experience. What has become of them? For Dewey and us all of these things can be found on “pedestals” in museums (Dewey 528). Dewey then explains how art from past centuries was stolen during invasions just so a country could show off. Such examples as Napoleon’s spoils which are displayed in the Louvre (Dewey 530). With the growth of capitalism the rich too have been able to buy a lot of the art to surround themselves with, which can viewed another form of showing off. Do the museums, countries, and the rich have right to the art which they do not appreciate and/or admire? I answer no to this for the very reason that their reasoning is wrong. The simple idea of showing off alone proves that there is no appreciation for the art forms and to top it off the very idea to seek wealth from the art is too in bad taste. The better the art in the museum the more grants and such will occur for the museum while for the capitalist collector seeks for his art to go up in stock. And such the experience Dewey would want for the museum and collector fails. Dewey continues to criticize capitalism for its mass production of art forms for example a poster of Van Gogh’s Starry Night. Even though the entire world will be able to see the copy it is not the experience Dewey wants the viewer to have. “The mobility of trade and of populations, due to the economic system, has weakened or destroyed the connection between works of art and the genius loci of which they were once the natural expression” (Dewey 531). What exactly is the natural expression in terms of the nature of an experience? For Dewey we must go back to the senses of man and the environment in which he/she lives in (Dewey 535). “The first great consideration is that life goes on in an environment;” (Dewey 535). So we have the environment which is a broad term. For Dewey it is about the environment but more specific, “not merely in it but because of it, through the interaction with it” (Dewey 535). Dewey uses the example of a dog and owner. The very interaction and environment shared is an experience. Dewey understands

though that “life continues and if in continuing it expands, there is an overcoming of factors of opposition and conflict;” (Dewey 536). This world is not perfect and many experiences will not be joyful. A sort of alienation is created at times when things are not so perfect but “only when an organism shares in the ordered relations of its environment does it secure the stability essential to living. And when the participation comes after a phase of disruption and conflict, it bears within itself the germs of a consummation akin to the esthetic” (Dewey 536). One must recover from any conflict to gain the necessary understanding of an experience. For Dewey “emotion is the conscious sign of a break” (Dewey 536). Meaning that is when you learn to control or recover from the emotion during conflict that you will be able to live on and continue with positive experiences. Recovery can involve such things as reflection from the conflict. Many artists will go through phases of conflict with their art form yet well experienced artists will use the very “resistance and tension” as a cultivation “not for their own sake but because of there potentialities” (Dewey 536). One must learn to control the conflicts to bring out a true “experience that is unified and total” (Dewey 537). In “Having an Experience,” Dewey just reiterates what is already understood as an experience. Many occurrences throughout ones life where we have “real experiences” like a good example used in the text is a meal in Paris where one is driven to say “that was an experience” (Dewey 556). There is always that unity without any breaks is when we have a real and true experience. The experience flows in a way and we know because we live it. “An experience has a unity that gives it its name, that meal…” (Dewey 556). To have many experiences in life each has end at some point. Only when they “have done their proper work” can we say we have completed the experience (Dewey 560).

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