Art as Experience
by John Dewey (1934)
We’ve had a lively discussion here over the past week and in the last post I polled my readers to see how many of you would prefer to continue the open discussion forum versus book review discussions. Most of my long-term readers encouraged me to continue the books reviews, so I will. However, I hope that you'll continue to feel free to discuss whatever concerns you about art. We learn from each other.
Over the past week I’ve been reading John Dewey’s seminal book on art theory entitled Art as Experience (1934). This book is based on Dewey’s lectures on aesthetics at Harvard, and is considered the most distinguished work ever written on the topic. You might think that it’s too dated since the book was written so long ago, but that’s not the case. He deals with timeless issues in the broadest sense.
I can’t begin to review this book in its entirety because it would take years. However, I would like to spend a week or two considering Dewey’s ideas on the things the most interest us.
I’ll begin by citing Dewey’s belief that the moral function of art itself is to remove prejudice, do away with the scales that keep the eye from seeing, tear away the veils due to wont and custom, and perfect the power to perceive.
We’ve spent a lot of time on this blog discussing the definition of art, but we haven’t explored the moral function of art. Perhaps it’s in that function that we may find a definition – one that encompasses the entire spectrum of what it is we deem as “art.”
In considering the moral function of art, we can also flip over this coin and explore what would be an immoral dysfunction of art (did I express that correctly??). By contrast, art would become dysfunctional if it’s confined by bias, intellectual blindness, tradition, and lack of imagination.
But, are we ever completely free of our biases and traditions in artmaking? Should we be free of them? Do these hamper or facilitate the progress of art (e.g. innovations)?
Is there a better description for the moral function of art?
Here’s something we haven’t yet considered on this blog. What do you think?