Friday, December 14, 2007

John Dewey's Art as Experience

I am pretty much whole hog in love with John Dewey and I am really not afraid to say so. I have been reading his book Art as Experience (1934) and it is basically one of the best things ever written. (But he rambles, you say. Sure, he does, but doesn't everyone?). In Chapter 1, "The Live Creature," he writes of a somatic connection to art that is possible when the conceptual and spiritual are not flattened over each other, but instead are wholly aware of their dependence of the body. That's right, people--the body. That's where the whole thing happens. He writes:

the trouble with existing theories [of art] is that they start from a ready-made compartmentalization, or from a conception of art that "spiritualizes" it out of connection with the objects of concrete experience. The alternative, however, to such spiritualization is not a degrading and Philistinish materialization of works of fine art, but a conception that discloses the way in which these works idealize qualities found in common experience. Were works of art placed in a directly human context in popular esteem, they would have a much wider appeal than they can have when pigeon-hole theories of art win general acceptance. A conception of fine art that sets out from its connection with discovered qualities of ordinary experience will be able to indicate the factors and forces that favor the normal development of common human activities into matters of artistic value.

I can't help but think that this idea is in every Dolly Parton song.

(I am in love with her too, but that is an older, deeper love.)

And I can't help but think that this is in Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling too--that faith means a surrender to the power of the body and its aliveness. Art that has this faith is never not alive, even when it should be dead given its past context.

Anyway, I think that you should read Art as Experience by Dewey if you never have. Maybe you will get an old copy, like the one I found in the library, with futura font. Futura font just makes every reading experience feel like you are a glamorous 1960s secretary, reading the great works on her lunch break. That's not a bad way to feel either. Most of those women were the great artists of our time.


Chicky Wang said...

Altieri has an article on this, called maybe "Suchness" or "Asness". I'll send it to you when I get back home.

Dorothea Lasky said...

Thank you! That would be wonderful!

Blog Archive