By John Dewey (1934)
Image: The Potato Eaters, Vincent Van Gogh
I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday! It's time to return to Dewey's book (and also to my diet and the gym). I've been pondering this passage and think it's a good one for discussion:An attempt has been made to support the distinction between substance and form in works of art by contrasting “fineness” with “greatness.” Art is fine, it is said, when form is perfected; but it is great because of the intrinsic scope and weight of the subject matter dealt with, even though the manner of dealing with it is less than fine.
Are we to conclude from this that “greatness” (substance) in a work of art is more important than its “fineness” (form)? Does this mean that the artist’s primary concern should be weighty subject matter even if it’s at the expense of form?
I ask these questions because I’m confused by artists who value technique over content. While mastery of technique is a worthy goal and works of art that are technically perfect make our jaws drop, is it enough? Have these artists failed to meet a higher goal – that of self-expression? By this, I mean that perhaps, as famed art critic Arthur Danto believes, "For something to be deemed a work of art it must have meaning." By extension, we could infer that in order for a work of art to be deemed "great" it must have meaning.
What’s your opinion?