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Pre-order our book YOU ARE AN ARTIST (which includes new assignments!) here: Round 2 of The Art Assignment Book Club features John Dewey's Art As Experience, which certainly was an experience to read - congratulations to you if you did it! If you didn't, we understand. We read it for you, and we'll discuss some of the big ideas Dewey talks about, including what an art experience actually is, how aesthetics play into experiences, and... Liverpool F.C.?

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Sarah: Okay, folks, I was about 20 pages into our current book club read, John Dewey's "Art as Experience," when I realized that very few of you were actually going to read this book.

John: Yeah, because it is impenetrable.

Sarah: So, we're not going to pretend that you actually read this. Instead, this is going to be the most awesome kind of book club where we read the books, and tell you what's important, with no pressure for you to read it at all.

John: I did not read it, actually. I read about 20 pages.

Sarah: Well, I did.

So let's start of with a little context about John Dewey.

John: Yeah, so John Dewey was a philosopher who was extremely important in the school of American pragmatism, and he was tremendously important particularly in education. Like, part of the reason that you go to public school, is John Dewey.

Sarah: And you must remember that this was published in 1934, which was quite a long time ago. A lot has changed. It was really progressive at the time, but now there's some stuff that you have to overlook.

John: Like the constant use of uh, 'man' when he means human. It's very distracting because in almost every sentence of the book he talks about the nature of man, or the will of man, or whatever and I just wanna be like, "OR WOMAN."

Sarah: So we're going to spare you a close reading of this book. Instead, we're going to talk about quotes and some big ideas.

John: Yeah, because there are actually some really interesting ideas inside of this book, it's just that they're disguised behind, like, 80 year old dead cold prose. I'm sorry, I really did not like this book.

Sarah: So Dewey's biggest idea in this book is art is not just the thing itself.

John: Yeah, there's a quote about this, "The actual work of art is what the product does with and in experience."

Sarah: So what he's basically saying is that a sculpture alone in a gallery isn't really artwork. It's artwork when people actually go in and they walk around it, and they talk about it, and the experience it. And he also goes on to describe like, art not being and object but kind of an intensified experience.

John: Another big idea that's I think it really interesting that's in the book is that art should not be remitted to a separate round. Like, when art is put into the world of museums and galleries, and seen as separate from like, regular life and regular people, it's bad both for art and for people.

Sarah: Right. And he blames this on a lot of different things. Like imperialism, and sort of the loot of war, and capitalism, and all of these things that have served to remove art from life, take it out of our communities and kind of box it up and put it in these cold, dead museums.

So Dewey's arguing that when you take these things out of life, out of their context, they become less interesting. And so for Dewey, he's not at all surprised that peoplemost people aren't that interested in art. And I think that that's a really fascinating thing to think about.

John: Now, it used to be that you didn't have to convince people that art was important, at least according to Dewey, because art was just a part of life. When it was masks, when it was looking at the fire and seeing the shapes that would develop. Nobody questioned whether that was important.

One of the things I can't really understand is like, what the difference between art experiences and non-art experiences is.

Sarah: He doesn't totally answer that. But in general he says that an art experience is an experience. Like you say, "Well, that was an experience!" And it's something that has sort of unity and closure. And I don't necessarily believe that, I think there's a lot of good art that kind of acknowledges the fractured and open-endedness of experience.

John: I also have some closed experiences that are definitely not art, like, watching Liverpool play West Brom.

Sarah: So one of the great things about Dewey's philosophy is that it's completely open to all of the arts. He talks a lot about music, he talks about dance, he talks about all these difference realms and he doesn't delineate them into difference worlds. And I think that's sort of an important and really progressive approach.

John: So you're saying that he could think of Liverpool as art.

Sarah: Sure!

John: So Sarah, during the 20 pages of this book that I read, I would estimate that the word "aesthetic" was used, perhaps, 400,000 times.

Sarah: No, not that many. You exaggerate.

John: It was a lot.

Sarah: But he does talk about it here. And he talks about it, I think, in a really redeeming way that should make you reconsider your aversion to the word aesthetic. But he says that "The esthetic is no intruder in experience from without"

John: I'm reading that quote in context, and I still don't understand what it means. What? What does that mean?

Sarah: Well, he says that the "aesthetic" refers, as he's already noted, to "experience as appreciative, perceiving, and enjoying. It denotes the consumer's rather that the producer's standpoint."

So this goes back to that idea of like, not really existing until it's out in the world. That the aesthetic is sort of, as opposed to like, the artistic
— for him, the artistic is about production, and the aesthetic is about appreciating, or taking in, the art.

John: So the aesthetic is about me and what's pleasing, and interesting, or valuable to me as a consumer of art.

Sarah: That's exactly right. And he says also that receptivity is not passivity. Even a book is not lean-back entertainment, as we like to call it. It involves your participation, even if you're not physically moving, but you're thinking, you're interpreting, you're sort of filtering it through your own experience.

John: And so art requires people to be receptive and that is not the same as being passive. That's good! You're right, I like that!

But then there's also all the stuff in the book about how, like, art is the greatest thing that man
always man, never woman can do, and like it's the end-goal of manhood itself. And I just don't know that I buy that, like there's the quote, "Art is the living and the concrete proof that man is capable of restoring consciously, and thus on the plane of meaning, the union of sense, need, impulse, and action characteristic of the live creature."
It's a little much for me.

Sarah: Yeah, it's seductive! And I want to believe it, but I just don't. It's too perfect.

He goes on to say that, "The moral function of art itself is to remove prejudice, do away with the scales that keep the eye from seeing, tear away the veils due to wont and custom, perfect the power to perceive."

John: I mean, that's very beautiful

Sarah: It is!

I hope that art can do that

Sarah: Yeah. Art when it's amazing does do that. I mean, I want art to do that. I want art to make us sort of realize that we are human and we do have things in common, but we also don't in a lot of ways.

John: Right, I also want art to be other things.

Sarah: Our experiences are so varied that it's hard to be that optimistic.

John: Yeah, I want art to reflect the diversity of experience in the ways in which we are different as well as the ways in which we are the same.

Sarah: Yeah. And I think a powerful part of this theory is that, he says that art
Art is important. It's a part of our life. It shapes us, and that it's not removed, it's not a separate thing, but it's just integrated.

John: Yeah, I think too often we see art as like, over here, and math as over here. And what he's saying is that art is part of being human. And important part and also a part that you can't get rid of even if you wanted to.


Sarah: Oh boy, was reading this book an experience.

John: Yeah, uh, one that I don't particularly want to repeat. Speaking of which, Sarah, I really found the ideas in this interesting but it was presented to me in a totally inaccessible way which made me thing that maybe if you could make videos for me about this kind of stuff it would be helpful. Like, for instance, why I should, uh, like or be interested in a particular artist's work. Like, say, Andy Warhol.

Sarah: I could do that.

John: Yeah! I think that'd be great!

Sarah: Okay!

John: Let's try that next time! *whispers* Never read this again.


Sarah: On the off chance that you did this book, let us know what you thought of it!

John: You are my hero. And even if you didn't, let us know what you think of Dewey's ideas. Thanks for watching!