Art as Experience


Art as Experience
John Dewey’s lecture series at Harvard in 1932 has become one of the seminal works of aesthetic theory. I know that sounds deadly dull and exceedingly thick, but Art as Experience is well worth the slogging. Seven decades before The Experience Economy, and the moves by arts organizations to focus on the patron experience beyond the performance or exhibit, Dewey’s work reminds us that art is experience, not a performance or a painting or a sculpture. It doesn’t exist until it is perceived.

A few choice quotes for some flavor:

“As long as art is the beauty parlor of civilization, neither art nor civilization is secure.” (p. 344)

“For to perceive, a beholder must create his own experience. And his creation must include relations comparable to those which the original producer underwent….Without an act of recreation the object is not perceived as a work of art.” (p. 54)

“The live being recurrently loses and reestablishes equilibrium with his surroundings. The moment of passage from disturbance into harmony is that of intensest life.” (p. 17)

And a longer quote that, to me, describes the ideal nature of arts management—an ability to foster and channel the energy of creative expression without dispersing its strength, and without devolving into crisis management.

“A surgeon, golfer, ball player, as well as a dancer, painter, or violin-player has at hand and under command certain motor sets of the body. Without them, no complex skilled act can be performed. An inexpert huntsman has buck fever when he suddenly comes upon the game he has been pursuing. He does not have effective lines of motor response ready and waiting. His tendencies to action therefore conflict and get in the way of one another, and the result is confusion, a whirl and blur. The old hand at the game may be emotionally stirred also. But he works off his emotion by directing his response along channels prepared in advance: steady holding of eye and hand, sighting of rifle, etc. If we substitute a painter or a poet in the circumstances of suddenly coming upon a graceful deer in a green and sun-specked forest, there is also diversion of immediate response into collateral channels. He does not get ready to shoot, but neither does he permit his response to diffuse itself at random throughout his whole body. The motor coordinations that are ready because of prior experience at once render his perception of the situation more acute and intense and incorporate into it meanings that give it depth, while they also cause what is seen to fall into fitting rhythms.” (pp. 97–98)

see it at Amazon.com…
(any purchase benefits the Bolz Center for Arts Administration library fund…not much, admittedly, but a bit)

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