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Aesthetics beyond the Arts

Sep 14, 2017 in Education

John Dewey a philosopher, activist and an educator is known by many as the father of pragmatism philosophy. In his work, John Dewey made art primal to his philosophy to bring out realism. It is also important to appreciate that as an activist, John Dewey had a major influence on many aspects of the lives of Americans. Aesthetics is the realm of philosophy dealing with beauty and inclined to the evaluative criteria that are applicable to art .This paper seeks to demonstrate the understanding of Dewey's Aesthetic Theory and its relationship to the concept of experience.

The concept of aesthetics has developed remarkably over the past century focusing on encounters with art and to slighter extent, nature.  Much effort and attention by most philosophers has laid focus to projects defining art and basing its ontology with claims of esthetic experience. The aesthetic properties have been primarily derived from contemplations related to western artworks and culture although philosophers also derived such considerations from other domains of life.

This advance in search of knowledge has led to emergence of philosophers such as John Dewey. In his work, Art as Experience (DEWEY, 1934), Dewey had a great influence to the concept of aesthetics. Dewey argued that practices of aesthetic adulation associated with art can be linked to manners that pre-date art. Aesthetic experience therefore, to Dewey, was a continuum with deep feelings of satisfaction or fulfillment that could arise from interacting with nature and environment in a bid to satisfy an individual’s needs. Dewey emphasized on the importance of rhythm to our emotional lives, both in expression and in perception. His argument was that, the soul tries to express its intimate states, especially in a rhythmic form of emotion. Dewey considered music as the earliest for of art and dance as the earliest form of physical activity. He has also defined rhythm as the minds breaking unity into variety or the vice versa; and happens when certain regular interval beats are emphasized. This organizes elements of the mind temporarily.

Dewey also came up with the theories of creative and fanciful imagination, which are of relevance to the theory of art aesthetics. He differentiates between various forms of imagination by defining it as an intellect expressing ideas in a manner that portrays imagery and which is involved in perception and memory. On the other hand fancy is manifested in metaphors and analogies. Dewey’s view on the concept of art and experience is highly amenable even in its application to esthetics throughout every day’s life.

Criticism

However despite his contribution to philosophy, especially his significant knowledge expansion to the territory of aesthetics, Dewey’s view has faced tough criticism from some aestheticians of the everyday. The critiquing aestheticians consider Dewey’s view as being too restrictive as they observe many objects in the realm of fine art as lacking unity and giving that, they would only give rise to experiences that are severed, jarring and disjointed instead!  

However, positive critique from other scholars have supported Dewey’s aesthetic theory on Art as Experience citing that: it’s actually the fragmented nature of the arts that gives them the distinctive qualities validating art to be aesthetic, a concept that is in line with Dewey’s theory. From this positive critique, it is therefore valid to bring out the understanding that, it cannot be an obligatory condition for an experience to be aesthetic simply because it is being fragmented not unity either. Moreover, recent developments in accounts of aesthetic experience have stressed that experience should necessarily be positive or have a particular qualitative character to count as aesthetic (REED, 2011).

Though critique can be placed on some aspects of Dewey’s account, the famous Deweyan strategy of that defines a clear distinction between the traditional understanding of fine arts and other life domains. This understanding brought about by the Deweyan strategy has remained central to the aesthetics of every day.

Aesthetic experience Art making of every day

Dewey recognizes the artist as the producer and the product as being experienced by the percipient. The producer, according to john Dewey, must also be governed by the same experience or else the art is dead or cold.Art denotes a process of doing or making (DEWEY, 1934), and this is the reason as to why it is taken as a skilled action with an educative ability.In his context, Dewey was of the opinion that art was beauty since it unifies doing and underdoing as the artist shares similar experience that would be perceived by the audience, the perceiver. The perceiver in this context could either be a perceiver of a message, of beauty, of the exercise of skill or some other form of property. There is likelihood that the percipient would experience efficiency or usefulness either.

However, Dewey was very keen to pinpoint two possible mistakes that would arise in ones thinking about the expressive property of particular work of art. The mistakes would entail thinking of art as simply expressing maker’s emotion or thinking of it as expressing qualities other than by means of an object. If these mistakes are not observed, the experience would be false and his philosophy work would lose meaning. To many Dewey sounded or had similar lines of reasoning of as the Hegel, the Germany philosopher who always believed to always reasons in three ways so as to achieve sound conclusions (HOLLANDER, 1959). Hence, john Dewey was to some good extend, a Hegelian by his application of the school of thought.

From the above reasoning, it can be valid to understand Dewey’s definition of an art material as being anything at all, with no bound limits on the kind of form that can define or characterize it. In fact, to Dewey, form only marked a way of feeling, of imagining and or presenting an experienced matter so that its experience can effectively reflect the creator’s or maker’s feeling. The experienced object, not the art work itself or the object itself.

John Dewey stipulated that, an artwork, no matter how classic or old it actually is, not just potentially, its only valid when it lives in some individualized experience and so it is recreated every moment is aesthetically experienced. This therefore brings us to the conclusion that art works necessarily change through time.

Once the barriers separating art from nature are analyzed effectively, according to john Dewey, then a positive case remains to be made for the interest of applying the concepts of aesthetics to phenomena such as ordinary objects. Such interest is believed to be both theoretical and practical. A consideration made from the practical perspective, a richer life promise if foreseen. Some other scholars such as Shusterman suggested that everyday aesthetics should include practical training in disciplines that are related to bodywork, so as to precisely secure the benefit of a more satisfying life (SHUSTERMAN 2000).  

Kupfer, another prominent pragmatic philosopher argued that the aesthetics of the everyday also had moral implications and that they are instrumental in shaping and developing people into a more autonomous and deliberate community members(KUPFER , 1983). Likewise, Irvin argued that esthetic satisfactions in everyday life can be harnessed to support moral behavior (IRVIN, 2008). In a very similar argument pinpointed out that in many cultural and spiritual traditions, the moral and the aesthetic are integrated within everyday life (SARTWELL, 1995).

Generally from the theoretical perspective, suggestions on aesthetics of the everyday are pin point on them being of special interest since virtually every day phenomena require aesthetic insight and experience of a fair measure and concepts almost distinct from those required to account for nature and or art (SAITO, 2000). Therefore, most of the aesthetic properties exhibited by everyday phenomena, for instance, may be dissimilar from those obtained from a prominently art-oriented aesthetics         (LEDDY, 1995).  

Aesthetics of everyday may possibly be used to provide insights about art and culture as well. The concept of experience is also an attribute of aesthetics of the everyday. On the basis of observations about the continuity between everyday life and art and in many cultures, Sartwell proposes, that art should be redefined as skilled and devoted making that eventuate in artifacts and that it would serve a variety of everyday life functions (SARTWELL, 1995).

It should also be noted that some philosophers had the opinion that aesthetic attitude involves holding oneself distant from the object of contemplation and remaining indifferent to any non-artistic functions it may serve (ARNOLD, 1991). Aesthetics judgments thus operate in accordance to the principle of taste.

Conclusion

From the works of john Dewey, it would be valid to conclude that true art is universal it’s true to human nature. The universality as reflected upon in this context does not include lower senses such as taste and even in the context of beauty. Likewise, it excludes the feeling of ownership as well as any reference to external ends. It is also quite obvious that art cannot be defined however and in this respects it’s a bit hard to know what qualities will appear beautiful for an object of interest. We can still rationally and validly argue that harmony constitutes beauty in every day. John Dewey defined harmony as the feeling that accompanies the agreement of experience with an individual’s real self-nature. The goal of art therefore is to bring up a perfectly harmonious self (BERLEANT, 2012)

Dewey generally made claims on various fine arts such as music, specifically rap, ranking them in a scale of ideality where the ideality refers to the completely developed self. Architecture was the least ideal art since it would change aesthetics with time (DEWEY & SOUTHERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY, 1967). In contrast to this, poetry is fully ideal, according to john Dewey since it deals with humans in action, overcoming the limitations of epic and lyric poetry.

Finally, in saying that something is beautiful, Dewey held that, we actualize our aesthetic feeling. The great maker, creator or artist is prompted to formation, but the everyday percipient is only capable of recognizing beauty. All these are governed by the philosophical claim that, taste is a matter of individual feeling (DEWEY, 1934).

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