Thursday, November 3, 2016

Two Student Comments on Collingwood

My Introduction to Aesthetics class has been discussing the Ross selection from Collingwood's Principles of Art.  I am often astonished by some of the thoughts they come up with.  Here are some thoughts on their thoughts, using their initials to refer to individual students.  I sometimes edit what they say to make more sense.  S.P.  "Collingwood emphasizes the difference [between] art and craft, whereas...Dewey would consider them to be on the same [level] as long as [they] experience.."  Dewey seeks to overcome the very craft/art dichotomy that Collingwood seeks to maintain.  But it is also true that Collingwood's view of craft takes out all possible creative element in craft, not seeing, in the way Dewey did, how a craft like car mechanics can give the mechanic "an experience" much like art.  Collingwood's dualism pushes him to see craft as something very much like what Dewey called inchoate experience.  Craft, for Collingwood, becomes a matter of simply applying a certain plan to materials in a mechanical way.  

However, on the plus side, although many would see Collingwood and Dewey as opposites since Collingwood is an idealist and Dewey a pragmatist/materialist, I see them as quite close, the one picking up whether the other leaves off.  Dewey, with all of his emphasis on the experience of the perceiver, does not, in a significant way, enter into the artist's studio and follow the creative process itself.  That is, although Dewey talks generally about the interaction between artist and her materials, and of the development between inception and final product, and even sees this process as expressive, it is Collingwood, the supposed idealist, who says "every imaginative experience is a sensuous experience raised to the imaginative level by an act of consciousness" (Ross 200).  He further writes:  "The transmuted or sensuous element in the aesthetic experience is the so-called outward element:  in the case under examination, the artist's psycho-physical activity of painting; his visual sensation of the colors and shapes of his subject, his felt gestures as he manipulates his bush, the seen shapes of paint patches that these gestures leave on his canvas.."  He adds that "every element [in the sensuous experience] comes into existence under the eyes of the painter's so far as he is a good painter...and every element in it is therefore converted into imaginative experience at birth..." (200)  Further the experience of the painter is to be distinguished from that of the aesthetically sensitive but not art-making observer of the world whose experiences are also transmuted by the activity of imagination. This person's experiences are poorer and less organized than the sensuous elements of painting, since the painter puts into his experience "the consciously performed activity of painting [the subject]":  he records the experience "of looking at [the subject' and painting it together."  (201)  That is, what he is recording on canvas is both the product of looking and the product of painting what is seen.  I think Dewey would approve of this and see it as a rich addendum to his own theory.  

J.T. observes interestingly that "Bell's definition of a good critic is similar to Collingwood's idea of an artist.  A critic must make someone feel it for themselves without telling them....[Similarly] an artist should [for Collingwood] cause the audience to experience an expression of emotion."  

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