Dewey's on my side

While the 3rd chapter of Art As Experience got off to a slow start, mid-way through I discovered a number of passages that could serve as a starting point for class discussion. The first several pages broadly explore the nature of emotion in relation to experience; the following quote on page 43 jumped out at me.

“…emotions are attached to events and objects in their movement. They are not, save in pathological instances, private. And even an “objectless” emotion demands something beyond itself to which to attach itself, and thus it soon generates a delusion in lack or something real.” (43) 

Lack is one of those “reserved words” in psychology and the psychoanalytic theories of Lacan and Freud, and its interesting to see the term used by Dewey in relation to experiences & emotions.

 Another quote I was excited by - I find the choice of the word “dye” to conjure powerful imagery.

“Emotion is the moving and cementing of force. It selects what is congruous and dyes what is selected with its color, thereby giving qualitative unity to materials externally disparate and dissimilar. It thus provides unity in and through the varied parts of an experience…”  (44) 

On the subject of expressing emotions, Dewey clearly privileges the role of art -

“Where should we look for an account of such an experience? Not to ledger-entries nor yet to a treatise on economics or sociology or personnel-psychology, but to drama and fiction. Its nature and import can be expressed only by art, because there is a unity of experience that can be expressed only as an experience” (44)

I buy it, give me more Dewey.

“The outline of the common pattern is set by the fact that every experience is the result of interaction between a live creature and some aspect of the world in which he lives.” (45)

Do I see a tie-in between the Live Creature and companion species? This makes me wonder about other live creatures that could serve as a companion species outside of the animal kingdom. You all know what I’m talking about - yes, fungi.

The last quote I’ll share can be found in the middle of page 47; Dewey praises the complexity of the work of a painter, claiming that,

“the production of a genuine work of art probably demands more intelligence than does most of the the so-called thinking that goes on among those who pride themselves on being “intellectuals.” (47)

I interpret Dewey’s choice of the word “genuine” as an implicit statement that he, like everybody else, has inherent preferences and biases, based on one’s environment and experiences. He, like everyone else, is subjective in their artistic taste. In any case, Dewey loves artists, and is on my side.





Resources on Biological Determinism, Evolutionary Psychology

Sudhu writes:
How do we create truly new experiences? Why are we so hung up on creating new things, rather than appreciating already established “good” experiences? This seems to speaks to humans’ desire to be surprised (is this biological determinism?) as we discussed in relation to horror movies’ inspiration of genuine fear responses in a viewer.
A number of good overlapping questions here. Sudhu hints at a ecological basis for novelty-seeking behavior here, and for resources on that I would point to Wojciech Pisula’s Curiosity and Information Seeking in Animal and Human Behavior (Boca Raton: BrownWalker, 2009), which not only addresses (as its central topic) Sudhu’s question about novelty-seeking behavior, but also has an interesting chapter overview of debates on what it means to be genetically, biologically, and sociobiologically “determinist” in the history of the comparative psychology discipline. He refers often to E Toback’s (1978) “The methodology of sociobiology from the viewpoint of the comparative psychologist,” in A.L. Caplan (ed.) The sociobiology debate: Readings on ethical and scientific issues (New York: Harper and Row)…which (though I haven’t read it), seems to be a watershed moment, in which behavior psychologists break free from a reductive “Behavior -> Survival -> Reproduction” triangle.


What drives novelty-seeking impulses in our audiences as artists, and what is our responsibility or opportunity in those impulses… more specifically, what drives us toward what we fear (which is just one kind of novelty-seeking behavior), and what are artists ethical responsibilities around that drive? Do horror artists manipulate (or capitalize on) fear in ways that amplify it deleteriously? Great questions I don’t know the answer to.


The term ‘biological determinism’ is only meaningful in opposition to similarly reductive terms “social determinism” or “cultural determinism,” but I think as we’re finding from Haraway, the distinctions are reductive. It does make sense to delineate certain kinds of arguments, in their own contexts, as biologically deterministic: for example, Lawrence Sumner’s casual hypothesis, in remarks at a conference on diversifying the Science and Engineering workforces, that women and men perform differently in math and sciences, and that the reasons for any difference in performance are at least partially related to the biology of sex. There’s a great (and thorough) chronicle of that controversy at the Anita Borg institute, which includes a number of important analyses of biological determinism and where it gathers its social value and its ideological impact, quite apart from its presence in any rigorous inquiry about biology.

A few other links can be found at this (not thoroughly up-to-date) “Women in Math” resource site hosted by the University of Oregon.


on Dewey: experienced and the experiential - helen park

I felt that Dewey could be placed in conversation with Brian Massumi, particularly in regards to concepts dealing with the experience as felt, sensated, embodied affect. Dewey spoke to the experience of art and the aesthetic in regards to more ‘traditional’ media, whereas Massumi’s writings on the body and the experiential could be an updated response to this, addressing new forms of embodiment and aesthetic experience in the digital age.

Dewey writes of a necessary unity for an experience to be whole or constituted as experience in itself: “An experience has a unity that gives it its name, that meal, that storm, that rupture of friendship…This unity is neither emotional, practical, nor intellectual, for these terms name distinctions that reflection can make within it” (38). I felt that throughout this essay, Dewey kept pointing to a certain kind of knowing through experience that is not “emotional, practical, nor intellectual” and that this is what Massumi refers to as proprioception, a bodily sense. Experience is sensated and perceived through the body’s movement through space. There is also a sensory feedback as the body experiences, senses, produces its own affect. There is a sensory recursiveness, beyond only emotion or intellect into something other, the proprioceptive. 

Dewey writes, “Physical things from far ends of the earth are physicially transported and physically caused to act and react upon one another in the construction of a new object. The miracle of mind is that something similar takes place in experience without physical transport and assembling. Emotion is the moving and cementing force” (44) — Also here I found a conceptual parallel to Peirce’s firstness (emotion), secondness (physical force), and thirdness (relationships created). Dewey writes about ‘mind’ and ‘emotion’ but where is the body? Placed within a historical discourse, there is an interesting conversation happening here in regards to understanding our experience in art as it has changed over time and invention; from painting, sculpture, architecture, to pixels on a screen, the design of responsive environments, and virtual spaces through game design or internet based interfaces. In the latter, still we need pattern and structure - chaos is mapped, scanned, coded, or interlaced - in order for experience to be comprehended. Mind, emotion, and ‘purely’ cognitive sensation give way to bodily sensation, proprioception, the embodied experience. In this paradigm, what kinds of new experineces are we having? What new affordances appear? What do these new experiences do for proprioceptive experience and sensation, while still affecting the mind and heart?  


Sudhu Tewari – some rough thoughts on Dewey

“Struggle and conflict may be themselves enjoyed, although the are painful, when they are experience as means of developing an experience…” (Dewey 41)

This brings me again to my idea that all art is based on the manipulation of expectation (as yet a theory not fully formed). As music and art have developed, we have become more accepting of a variety of experiences, we have developed expectations for a wider variety of experiences. How do we create truly new experiences?  Why are we so hung up on creating new things, rather than appreciating already established “good” experiences? This seems to speaks to humans’ desire to be surprised (is this biological determinism?) as we discussed in relation to horror movies’ inspiration of genuine fear responses in a viewer.  I am certainly interested in having new experiences, and for that to happen it seems that my expectations must be challenged.


“…the conception of conscious experience as a perceived relations between doing and undergoing enables us to understand the connection that art as production and perception and appreciation as enjoyment sustain to each other” (Dewey 46)

 “Art denotes a process of doing or making. This is as true of fine art as of technological art…Every art does something with some physical material, the body or something outside the body, with or without the use of intervening tools, and with a view to production of something visible, audible, or tangible.”

“The word “esthetic” refers, as we have already noted, to experience as appreciative, perceiving and enjoying. It denotes the consumer’s rather than the producer’s standpoint.” (Dewey 47)

”Writer, composer of music, sculptor, or painter can retrace, during the process of production, what they have previously done. When it is not satisfactory in the undergoing or perceptual phase of experience, they can to some degree start afresh. This retracing is not readily accomplished in the case of architecture – which is perhaps one reason why there are so many ugly buildings” (Dewey 51)

Feedback loops. Something is done, the artist steps back to perceive, consume and evaluate esthetics, then returns to doing with new perspectives and objectives.

If making art is “doing”, a physical action, then where does thinking, conceptualizing fit in on the spectrum of doing-undergoing? Thinking would seem to fall solidly into both doing and undergoing, though I suppose we could make a distinction between conceiving/conceptualizing and perceiving/evaluating


“If the artist does not perfect a new vision, in his process of doing, he acts mechanically and repeats some old model fixed like a blueprint in his mind. “ (Dewey 50)

In my copy of Dewey, the previous owner has written: “This was the problem with Mozart” –ha- This bit also reminds me of John Cage’s interest in perpetually finding new things in his compositional process. Creating art as an exploration, a process of discovery, a playful etude is to me the most fulfilling, whether or not this produces meaningful or worthwhile art is not clear, though I’d argue that my own enjoyment of the process makes it both meaningful and worthwhile. Dewey claims that the beholder must create his own experience and I’m fine with that as it relieves me of the responsibility of creating something that means something to someone else. What do I know about their experience or how they think?


“ Each work of art follows the plan of, and patterns of, a complete experience, rendering it more intensely and concentratedly felt.” (Dewey 52)

Dewey is looking at art from the artist’s perspective, regarding the process of creating the finished product essential to the whole. It’s different than process art in which the process takes on more importance and weight than the finished product. Dewey is proposing a holistic and conscious process of producing art. It seems to be quite a lot to ask an artist to pay attention to so many details throughout the process of creating art, it’s a way of imbuing the work with intention. On the other hand spontaneous, thoughtless creation can be extremely meaningful and structured as well. I think Dewey goes to far in assuming that a work of art, the summation of an experience, will embody an experience, but I’m not sure that this summation communicates the feeling of the experience. And (see below (and above)) I’m quite certain that communication of experience is quite difficult.


“ For to perceive, a beholder must create his own experience. And his creation must include relations comparable to those which the original producer underwent. They are not the same in any literal sense. But with the perceiver, as with the artist there must be an ordering of the elements of the whole that is in form, although not in details, the same as the process of organization the creator of the work consciously experiences.” (Dewey 54)

“ Bare recognition is satisfied when a proper tag or label is attached, “proper” signifying one that serves a purpose outside the act of recognition – as a salesman identifies wares by his sample. It involves no stir of the organism, no inner commotion. But an act of perception proceeds by waves that extend serially throughout the entire organism. There is, therefore, no such thing in perception as seeing or hearing plus emotion. The perceived object or scene is emotionally pervaded throughout.” (Dewey 56)

I very much appreciate this idea that the beholder creates his/her experience. The creator has some influence if one takes into account social constructs/norms, linguistic cues, but ultimately perception is in the -hands- of the perceiver. The perceiver comes to this situation of beholding with his/her own lifetime of experience, education, biases, etc. This is a quite an issue, untangling the connection/responsibility an artist has to his/her viewing public. In order for expectations to be challenged there must be a common set of expectations to work with/against. So, an artist cannot be free of society’s influence, he/she cannot begin from a blank slate (canvas –ha-) and have an audience that perceives his/her work and creates, entirely on their own, an experience. These experiences are colored, shaped by society and art history.


“The form of the work is therefore present in every member. Fulfilling, consummating, are continuous functions, not mere ends, located at one place only. An engraver, painter, or writer is in process of completing at every stage of his work. He must at each point retain and sum up what has gone before as a whole and with reference to a whole to come. Otherwise there is no consistency and no security in his successive acts. The series of doings in the rhythm of experience give variety and movement; they save the work from monotony and useless repetitions. The undergoings are the corresponding elements in the rhythm, and they supply unity; they save the work from the aimlessness of a mere succession of excitation. An object is peculiarly and dominantly esthetic, yielding the enjoyment characteristic of esthetic perception, when the factors that determine anything which can be called an experience are lifted high above the threshold of perception and are made manifest for their own sake.” (Dewey 57)

Right on, brother. I’m not sure if this is true but it sounds great.


Response to Dewey - Anonymous

[In advance, sorry for the 700-word response. I had a lot to respond to fromthe Dewey reading (and still couldn’t fit in all of my reactions).]

To be brutally honest, Dewey’s *The* *Live Creature* was the only articlethat interested me. I hope we get to focus some attention on it in class.

I was immediately intrigued on page two, where the author declares that the”primary task” of a commentator on the philosophy of fine arts is to”restore continuity between the refined and intensified forms of experiencethat are works of art and everyday events, doings, and sufferings that areuniversally recognized to constitute experience.” Let me just say that whileI don’t know how many commentators on the philosophy of fine arts wouldagree with this statement, I believe it to be an idealistic goal - I wouldspeculate that a lot of art theory does more to abstract and complicate anunderstanding of art rather that break down the “wall that confines artisticobjects.”

One paragraph I contemplated can be found on page 2 - “If one is willing togrant this…” In response, I’m not sure if I accept the act of seeking tounderstand a flower as an analogue of appreciating/critiquing/understandingart. Dewey writes, “it is quite possible to enjoy flowers in their coloredform and delicate fragrance without knowing anything about pìantstheoretically. But if one sets out to understand the flowering of plants, heis committed to finding out something about the interactions of soil, air,water and sunlight that condition the growth of plants.” Certainly one mightbe able to appreciate the beauty of flower, just as one may be able to lookat a Monet and find it aesthetically-pleasing. Yet, so much contemporary artseems unconcerned about aesthetics, so one cannot casually stroll into amuseum and hope to enjoy the artwork in the same way that a hiker mightsmell the roses. In my view, this is a sort of problem with art - one wouldneed to achieve a state of knowing that would be equivalent to “committingto finding out something about the interactions of soil, air, water andsunlight that condition the growth of plants.” - at least in the case ofconceptual art. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a work that has adeep meaning embedded (which would not be immediately accessible to alay-person, or “untutored audience member” as defined by Noel Carroll),however I do think that it can be impossible to enjoy SOME contemporaryartworks without knowing about art theoretically.

I grappled with another quote from page 3 (the paragraph that begins “Soextensive and subtly pervasive…”). It took me reading it over severaltimes to grasp what (I think) Dewey is trying to say, and oddly enough, Idon’t think he could have expressed the same concept in fewer words.

On pages 6 & 7, I really appreciated the history of the segregation of art,from the ancient Greek notion that art “reflected the emotions and ideasthat are associated with the chief institutions of social life…”, to thegrowth of capitalism as an influence for the “development of the museum asthe proper home for works of art, and in the promotion of the idea that theare apart from the common life.” My reaction to the segregation of art fromcommon life, and the act of erecting buildings and collections as way toestablish “superior cultural status.” is general disgust. As a staunchegalitarian whose political beliefs cannot be easily classified orcategorized by any current system of political and economic organization, Iaspire to make art that can be appreciated by those who have zero backgroundin art (even if their reaction is “as simple wow, thats cool”). I aim toreverse loss of an “intimate social connection” due to the “impersonalityof a world market.”

One more quick note: regarding a quote from page 2 - “in order tounderstand the esthetic in its ultimate and approved forms, one must beginwith it in the raw…” - What does Dewey mean by “approved?”