Monday, April 9, 2018

Dewey's Aesthetics as presented in the Ross Anthology explained

What I am going to discuss here is the material that comes after the discussion of "an experience" as it appears in Dewey's Art as Experience.   Dewey says that art denotes a process of doing and making and this involves making things out of materials.  Thus we should not ignore what he refers to as the skilled action aspect of art, the execution.  "Esthetic" on the other hand refers to experience as appreciative, perceiving and enjoying.  This is the standpoint of the consumer of the work of art.  But the distinction between the artistic and the aesthetic is not real separation.  We should not, for example, see art just as skill or a matter of technique.  To perfectly execute a work of art you must take into account the experience of the perceiver, and this requires an imaginative effort that machines, for example, could not bring about.  Again and again in reading Dewey one is struck by the way in which each of several elements are related to form the whole of art.  There is the artist, the materials, the subject matter, the making activity, and the audience.  At one point he says that artistic craftsmanship must be loving of the subject matter.  But it also must be loving of the materials.   We will see more about materials when we discuss the medium of art.  And, of course, an artistic work must be framed for the enjoyment of others.  Something is artistic when the perceived result has controlled the very process of production.   So when we talk about expression we are talking both about the process and the result.  The object should not be seen in isolation from the process of production.  This implies that we should not ignore what the individual artist contributes.  Also, what is expressed presents material by way of personal experience.  Material comes from the public world and then it transformed by way of the artist for the appreciation of others.  

Dewey makes a strong distinction between scientific and artist meaning.  Scientific meaning does not supply experience.  It only gives us the set of condition under which an experience may be had.  For example it can tell us how to bring water into existence by combining hydrogen and oxygen.  It does not however explore the inner nature of things, unlike art.  Nor does it constitute experience in the way art does.  Dewey holds that a even a city can express itself, as for instance in its festivals.  I think of the annual carnival in Mazatlan, Mexico.  The city can then become an expressive object.  However it is more typical to think of the individual arts in terms of their respective media.   As I suggested above, the work of art only is complete in the experience of the audience members.  And so we must take into account the artist, the meaning, and the audience member (real or just imagined).  The artist in making her work has to think of the audience member and vicariously become that person.  As a somewhat strange aside Dewey notes Matisse's quote that a work of art is like a new-born child:  it needs time for understanding.  This brings in one more factor in the nature of art.  It is not only the artist, the subject matter, and the audience, but also the work of art itself which must be seen as part of the dynamic work of art.  The artist then approaches the work of art after it is completed almost as though it were an object in nature - another source of inspiration.  Beauty, then, on this account, is not to be seen as anything like a platonic Form, but rather as the name of the aesthetic quality that comes with expression in a specific medium.  So, to sum up, the artist assimilates the materials of art and then sends them again out into the world:  the material of art is not then private although it is individual.  It is how it is rendered that makes it fresh. 

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