I explicate here three of Dewey’s writings prior to Art as Experience as well as critical reactions to his aesthetic views prior to Art as Experience. In the second part of this supplement I explicate sections of Art as Experience that are not covered in the Stanford Encyclopedia article. In the third part, I include critical reactions to Dewey not included in the Stanford article.Psychology. Dewey discusses aesthetics and the arts at various points in his first book, Psychology (1967, originally 1887). (For a good discussion, see Alexander 1987.) This work comes from Dewey's idealist period and is somewhat unoriginal, although it hints at later developments. Early in the book he remarks that music is harmonious and regular whereas noise is inharmonious and irregular. Musical notes happen when simple tones are combined so that their phases regularly strengthen and weaken one another. Turning to another art form, he notes that poets perceive subtler analogies than others and the form of their language is controlled by deeper feelings. In general, unity of feeling gives artistic unity to compositions (97).
As in his later Art as Experience, Dewey emphasizes the importance of rhythm to our psychic lives, both in perception and in expression. The soul tends to express its most intimate states, especially emotion, in rhythmic form. Poetry, he thinks, is “an earlier and more natural mode of expression than prose” (161). Music is the earliest art. Dance is the earliest form of physical activity. Rhythm is defined as the mind's reduction of variety to unity or its breaking unity into variety. It happens when certain beats are emphasized at regular intervals, and it requires that elements be organized temporally, through the mind being carried back and forth, to form a whole. It is not confined to the arts but is pervasive in our experience of time.
Dewey's theories of fanciful and creative imagination are also relevant to his early theory of art. In Chapter Seven, he distinguishes between different forms of imagination. He defines imagination as intellect embodying ideas in particular images. Othello is a product of imagination, and unlike Caesar, has no reference to existence in space and time. Imagination is involved in perception and memory. Fancy is a higher stage than mechanical imagination, and it is manifested in metaphors and analogies.
The highest form of imagination, creative imagination, allows us to penetrate into the hidden meaning of things through finding sensuous forms that are both highly revealing and pleasurable. The creative imagination makes its objects anew: it separates and combines, but not mechanically. It senses the relations of parts to the development of the whole and it raises details to the level of the universal. It develops the ideal aspect of things, freeing it from the contingent. Unlike perception, it subordinates existence to meaning. It is neither fantasy nor idle play, but reveals universal nature in ideas, as Aristotle saw when he said that poetry is truer than history. Implicitly following Kant, Dewey holds that creative imagination's goal is free play of the self's faculties. Its function is to seize meaning and embody it in sensuous form to give rise to feeling, thus representing the freely acting subjective self.
Poetry that is based on fancy is ephemeral. The imagination of a poet also fails when only his own mood is projected onto nature. Art which reflects enduring interest is universal. It is best when it reveals the unity of man and man, and man and nature, in one organic whole, articulating, as in the case of Wordsworth, what we already feel (174).
Part Two of Psychology is devoted to feeling: sensuous, formal, qualitative, intellectual, personal and, in Chapter Fifteen, aesthetic feeling. This chapter also deals with fine art and taste. Aesthetic feelings characteristically accompany perception of “the ideal value of experience” (267). The mind immediately responds to certain relations to ideals through feelings of beauty or ugliness. Every content of experience has beauty in it to the extent that it contains an ideal element. A train engine, for example, is beautiful insofar as it is felt to successfully embody its ideal, i.e., its ability to overcome distances and bring men together. The beautiful object requires a sensuous material, the arrangement of which is of greater importance artistically than intellectually. However this sensuous material is only important insofar as it presents the ideal.
Because of this, art appears freer than science. Art cannot be purely idealistic in the sense of abandoning sensuous material, but it is idealistic in that it uses such material to promote the appreciation of ideal values of experience. The aesthetic feeling of beauty is universal and not a thing of place or time. If an author portrays the ideal significance of a society then he or she has produced art.
True art is universal and true to human nature. This universality excludes such lower senses as taste and smell from the beautiful. It also excludes the feeling of ownership and any reference to external ends. Art cannot, however, be defined. For we cannot know ahead of time what qualities will appear beautiful. Nonetheless, we can still say that harmony constitutes beauty. Harmony is defined as the feeling that accompanies agreement of experience with the self's ideal nature (273). Art attempts to satisfy the aesthetic in our nature, and it succeeds when it expresses the ideal completely. The ideal, in turn, is the “completely developed self.” So the goal of art is to create the perfectly harmonious self.
Dewey then makes claims about the various fine arts, ranking them according to their level of ideality: architecture is the least ideal art, although it is most fit for religious expression; sculpture ranks higher in that it is less tied to use and is usually associated with a human ideal presented in the human figure; painting is more ideal in that its sensuous side is limited to pigment on a two-dimensional surface and it represents man's passions and needs; music is more ideal yet as its material is not in space, its beauty manifests man's soul, and harmony is at its core; poetry, is fully ideal, having little that is sensuous in it, concentrating as it does on the vital personality of man himself (and nature as only a reflection of this); finally, within poetry, drama gives us the highest ideal in that it deals with humans in action, overcoming the limitations of epic and lyric poetry.
Finally, in this work Dewey held that in saying that something is beautiful we objectify our aesthetic feeling. The great artist is impelled to creation, but the ordinary individual is capable of recognizing beauty. Aesthetic judgments operate according to principles of taste. These give us the characteristics of the objects which feeling calls beautiful. Taste is a matter of individual feeling, not of dry rules, and thus only a man of artistic nature is the right judge of works of art. Finally, aestheticism is the degeneration of aesthetic feeling, for it is simply love of the pleasures of beauty rather than a key to objective beauty in nature.
Reconstruction in Philosophy. In 1920 Dewey wrote Reconstruction in Philosophy. At first he does not say much about aesthetics, although he does say that an interesting life is one in which leisure hours are "filled with images that excite and satisfy." (103) He also asserts that early humans gave their lives more intensity and color by smoothing out unpleasant aspects of experience and enhancing joy. The essay concludes with a view of an ideal future in which ideas are deepened because they are expressed in imaginative vision and fine art. Religious and scientific values will be reconciled and art will no longer be a mere luxury or a stranger to everyday life. Making a living will be making a life worth living, and the hardness of contemporary life will be bathed in a new light. The concluding paragraph of the book stresses that poetry, art and religion are precious things, and that although their old sources may have been discredited by science, they may be revitalized through a new faith in the active tendencies of today. Science and emotion will interpenetrate, practice and imagination will embrace, and poetry and religious feeling will manifest itself in an unforced way. Achieving this is the task of philosophy.
The Public and Its Problems. Dewey returned briefly to issues of the role of art in society in (1927) where art is seen as something that can resolve the problem of dissemination of ideas appropriate for social change. Technical high-brow presentations of such ideas would be of limited interest. However, art, especially when the artist is free, may provide the basis for the development of popular opinion. Art can break through the crust of routine consciousness. Moreover, it can touch deeper levels of life when it draws on such things of common life as flowers or bird-song. Artists are the real purveyors of news insofar as they cause happenings to kindle emotion and perception. For Dewey, Walt Whitman was the exemplar of such an artist. He concludes that for a great community and a real public to come into being an art of "full and moving communication" must" must take possession of our mechanized world.
Criticism of Dewey's Early Aesthetics. Curt Ducasse (1929) was critical of Dewey's initial aesthetic theory. He believed that Dewey's instrumentalism generates a strange theory which holds that human life is a matter of tool-making, all tools are essentially tools for tool-making, and only satisfactions arising from tool-making should be acknowledged. Alexander (1998) sees this as a typical example of misinterpretation of pragmatism. Ducasse also criticizes Dewey for not allowing for meaningless satisfactions and anarchistic pleasures. Aesthetic perception of colors and tones as such does not need any presence of meaning, nor does appreciation of rainbows or sunsets. Meaning also need not be present in things of pure design. Ducasse agrees with Schopenhauer, vs. Dewey, that aesthetic contemplation requires not attending to meanings. Also, because the creation of art may on occasion occur in one stroke, it too can be without meaning. Further, it is only by accident that the feeling expressed in the creation of art is due to the perceived situation. Emotions are not always responses to concrete situations. Many emotions are about nothing. Artistic expression of emotion should be distinguished from utilitarian expression. It is only the later that deals with the object of emotion. The usual argument against anarchistic hedonism is that long-term pleasures are sacrificed. Ducasse, however, believed that the choice between short and long-term pleasure is simply a matter of personal taste.
Another early critic, E. Shearer (1935), thought that Dewey buried art under extraneous ethical and political considerations. She thinks it problematic that he believes all life ought to be like art in combining the consummatory and the instrumental. Dewey's desire to overcome the means/end distinction is also problematic since a work of art does not seriously contain as ingredients the process that led to its production. Further, she argues, toil just cannot be eliminated from society or from the creative process. The perfect amalgamation of means and ends is utopian. Moreover, if it were realized it would destroy the active and desiring being.
Supplementary Material on Dewey’s Art as Experience
These supplements continue the exposition of five chapters, from where the text left off on the main page.
The Act of Expression.
If expression were a direct discharge of emotion then the emotions expressed would be generic and works of art would have to fall into certain types. Yet there is no such thing as an emotion as such. Fear, for example, is really fear-of-this-particular. Here the poet and artist have an advantage over the psychologist in that they are able to concretely evoke the emotion rather than describe it. In art, the developing emotion condenses what is abstracted from many and diverse objects into one object. Art offends us when no personally felt emotion guides this process. We sense that the author is trying to regulate the emotion aroused, manipulating materials for a pre-conceived end. The work, in this case, is held together by external force, having no internal necessity. For example, one might get the sense that the hero of a novel is doomed not for inherent reasons but because the author wants it.
Although emotion is essential to the work of art this does not imply that it is its significant content. Rather, material gathered by the artist and associated with the emotion is the content both of the emotion and of the piece. Indeed, the emotion is like a magnet that draws to itself material that has affinity with it. In seeing a drama we may feel that the parts do not hang together. This is either because there is no original felt emotion, or because, although there is one, it was not sustained. In this case, unrelated emotions determine the work’s development, resulting in an unorganized whole.
There is a danger in art both of no emotion and of too much emotion. In the first case we have either mere craftsmanship or coldly correct art. Too much emotion, as can be found in some of Van Gogh’s paintings, involves lack of control. It is “undergoing” without the balance of “doing.” Determining the right word or stroke in the right place and time, the one that unifies the whole, requires emotion informed by material, carried forward with new material, and ordered.
The air of spontaneity in art is the result not of momentary overflow but of complete absorption in fresh material which sustains the emotion through the creative process. Although calculation harms spontaneity, long reflection may be incorporated as long as it is fused with fresh emotion. Values and meanings, both agreeable and disagreeable, of past experiences are assimilated by way of an unconscious power into the personality of the artist. The need to express is drawn from some occasion, but what is expressed is a fusion of present incident and values of past experience.
Even the dancing and singing of little children is only expressive when it is the result of such a union of past and present. For happy children, this is easy to achieve. It is more difficult in mature persons, although it is at a deeper level and more complete. Van Gogh, at his best, exemplifies this. In a letter to his brother he speaks of working without knowing he works. He achieves this through steeping himself in the experience of objective situations, in observation of related materials, and in imaginative reconstruction of experience. His spontaneity, then, is the result of long activity.
Dewey believed that William James, in speaking of religious experience, correctly described the role of subconscious in relation to conscious effort when he said that the subconsciously incubated center of energy should be allowed to burst forth unaided. This is not to deny that previous work can promote this unconscious activity. In general, subconscious maturation is required for creative production, and direct conscious effort only gives birth to something mechanical. The true purpose of conscious effort should be to let loose the unconscious.
Seemingly independent purposes that proceed from the same live creature are bound together at the unconscious level. With patience, one is taken by one’s muse. Scientists and other thinkers also operate in this way, pressing towards some dimly imagined end, lured by an aura that surrounds their observations. In both poets and thinkers there is emotionalized thinking and meaning-appreciating feeling. The only distinction between them is in the material: qualities of things of direct experience vs. qualities in the medium of symbols. The artist thinks in colors, tones, and images; the scientist in words and symbols. Some values and meanings cannot be put into words: hence the need for art.
Just as the physical materials of art are transformed in the expressive act, so too are the inner materials of image and memory. Both need careful management to achieve eloquence. Moreover, the work is artistic to the extent that the two operations, physical and mental, are one. As the poet composes in words, the idea takes on perceptible form. The artist conceives of the work in both physical as well as mental terms. Whether the physical media are organized in imagination or in concrete media is irrelevant since we imagine in terms of concrete material. Successful art is the result of progressive organization of inner and outer material organically connected. The emotion at the beginning of the creative process is unrefined. It takes on a definite shape only when worked through imagined material. An artist is able to work a vague idea in a definite medium through a period of development in which both inner and outer materials are mutually transformed. The original emotion is altered to become distinctly esthetic. This happens when it attaches to an object.
An emotion begins by flying directly to its object: e.g. love to the object of love. But then it moves to other material by affinity. This new material feeds the original emotion. Thus, love finds poetic expression in images of rushing torrents, etc. This is not a matter of deliberate metaphor but of emotional identification. The new object takes the place of the object of emotion. Dewey thinks T. E. Hulme (English critic and poet) right that beauty is the contrived ecstasy when impulse cannot reach its natural end. That the impulsion is not required to reach its natural ends is what distinguishes us from animals. In poetry, the impulse of love is turned into indirect channels, fusing with new material. The natural impulse is then idealized.
Expression clarifies muddy emotion. On this point Dewey’s theory is similar to that of R. G. Collingwood (1938). Our appetites know themselves when reflected and transfigured in art. Aesthetic emotion, emotion induced by expressive material, occurs as a result. An irritated person feels a need to do something. He cannot suppress his emotion without it becoming unconsciously destructive. He can move it into indirect channels, for example in tidying his room, in order to achieve relief. He thereby orders his emotion. He has taken the indirect road of expression rather than the direct road of discharge. The objective fulfillment of emotion is expression, and the resulting object is aesthetic. The orderly room is aesthetic if it is the result of this emotionally fulfilling process.
Thus art is no esoteric matter for gifted persons. Nor is it separate from everyday experience. Nor is emotion reduced to discharge. However there is continuity between the emotion of discharge and the emotion of expression. Those actors who lose themselves in the emotions they are expressing are no exception to this principle as they identify themselves with a role which in turn is only part of a larger whole that is aesthetic in nature.
All of this requires transformation of primitive emotion. The difference between fine and other kinds of art is not in the organization of material to fulfill experience (which both fine and other arts share) but that, in imperfect societies, fine art is an escape from the limitations of everyday life. In a better-ordered society there would be no distinction between art that is fine and art that is not. Our social world is one of external organization, not of developing experience that involves the whole live creature. Remaking of external experience in art involves remaking the community itself into one that is more ordered and unified.
The Expressive Object.
Giotto, unlike earlier religious painters, presents unconventional faces in an esthetic way. In his works, religious meaning and aesthetic value fuse to make the object truly expressive. The great portraitists capture the essential character of the sitter through paint more effectively than they would through mere outline stencil. Here, distortions may add to expressiveness since they give the artist’s vision of the whole person depicted.
A person who has not learned how to perceive aesthetically may misconceive what it is to draw well. As Albert Barnes put it, the function of drawing is not to assist recognition but to draw out what the subject matter has to say to the painter. Esthetically drawn lines embody the meaning of volume, solidity, and force. They relate the parts together so that the whole may be expressed. Outlines that stand out can actually harm the expressiveness of the whole.
Reference to the real world does not disappear in abstract art. Rather, an abstract work represents qualities that all objects share. Every work is abstracted in some degree. The apples in Cézanne, which are envisioned in terms of lines, planes, and colors, seem to levitate, and this enhances expressiveness. Every work involves selection based on interest, although there must remain some reference to the qualities and structure of things as they exist in some environment. The nudes of Renoir, in their heightening of voluptuous qualities of flesh, abstract from erotic suggestion.
Art frees us from the assumption that objects have fixed values. Rather, in this process, the actual qualities of things come out with vigor. Similarly, the term “ugly” is applied to the object with its everyday associations and not to what appears in art when the object gains its own expressiveness. The ugly under normal circumstances is transfigured as it becomes part of an expressive whole, and its contrast with its former ugliness adds depth of meaning. In tragedy the subject-matter has been removed from practical context and placed in an integral whole in which the incident gets new value.
Direct discharge is changed into the act of expression via two paths. The first involves motor dispositions needed for skilled acts. An expert hunter has effective habits of response. His tendencies to act do not conflict with each other. He discharges his emotion along prepared channels. Similarly an expert painter diverts immediate response into channels formed for action. This makes her perceptions more acute, intense, meaningful, and rhythmic. There must also be collateral channels of motor response for the perceiver. If you know something about the movements needed to play the piano you will perceive something different from the person who does not. It is not enough to emotionally respond to a work: without proper motor response the perception will be confused.
Channels of motor response are also, however, not enough. A critic may see a play with such a technical response that he would only apprehend how things were done and not what was expressed. Meanings and values from prior experience must also fuse with the qualities presented in the work. The sensuous quality should not be separated from the idea or image which it suggests. When the two are fused the first provides vividness and the second content and depth.
Some aestheticians believe that aesthetic value belongs only to sense qualities. But the eye never operates in isolation. It functions in connection with the hand, for example. The shapes perceived are of particular things. We are not naturally presented with isolated lines. The lines we perceive are of objects. They carry with them the meanings of those objects. Since they express interaction of things they are called “wavering,” “upright,” etc. In this way they have moral expressiveness. One cannot even get rid of these properties through abstraction. In short, lines are subconsciously charged with values.
Another theory, advocated by Vernon Lee, denies that sense qualities may have expressiveness. This seems to imply the absurd view that color in painting is aesthetically irrelevant. An art object is expressive in that there is interpenetration of the materials of undergoing and action, the latter incorporating past experience. Art intensifies and animates experience. The live creature is most alive when it is most fully involved with the environment and when sensuous material and relations are merged.
Substance and Form
Form is often identified with shape, but shape is only an aspect of form. Shapes are easy to grasp when associated with function. Both shape and form involve organization of parts. In typical shapes the meaning of the whole enters into the parts. Fitness of parts to function can be graceful, but there is more to grace than efficiency. When an industrial object has its form freed from a specialized end so that it can give us vital experience the form is esthetic.
In artistic design the relations that hold the parts together are intimate. A novel in which plot seems superimposed on events is a poor one. Design only becomes form when parts of the whole contribute to consummation of experience. Only when the parts are fused harmoniously with all other properties of the work is the whole served. The whole, then, suffuses the parts to constitute a unified experience.
Sense qualities in works of art are pregnant with meaning. Meanings affect the organization of the work. Although it is true that what is aesthetic must be immediate, it is not true that only things attached to the special senses may be so experienced. Relational material is not just added by association. As James observed, there are direct intuitions of relations. Although certain ideas mediate experience we cannot grasp such ideas without having sensed them immediately. In thought, different ideas have different feels, and these give one a sense of direction. When an idea loses its felt quality it becomes a mere stimulus.
Qualities of sense have esthetic quality not in isolation but as interacting. These may even be between different sense modalities. There are no simple colors even in the purest of laboratory conditions. Moreover, in painting, the colors are those of the subject matter, e.g. of the sky or cloth represented. Even abstracted color has resonances of value. As Cézanne observes, the more colors harmonize the more defined is the work’s design. The action of individual senses involves dispositions connected to the whole organism. The richness of color is due to total organic resonance. Moreover, the organism’s response is shaped by prior experience. The more past experiences absorbed, the greater the scope of the work.
Whereas expression leans towards meaning, the decorative leans towards sense. Architecture, for example, is charming when it meets sensori-motor needs. In decoration, one quality has unusual energy that makes other associated qualities more vivid. Colors, scents, and so forth are not isolated. They are experienced as of a particular object. What is form in one connection is matter in another. Color may be matter in relation to expressiveness, and form in relation to such things as delicacy and brilliance. Works by great masters often show a complete interpenetration of the expressive and the decorative. Renoir expresses the joy he had in perceiving the world of common things. Matisse expresses the quality of clearness despite his seemingly garish juxtapositions. To perceive art, one must be able to perceive the phases of objects that particularly interest the artist in question. Still life becomes expressive through its decorative quality.
We get a false sense of separation of the decorative from the expressive when observing works from other cultures. “Beauty” denotes a particular emotion, for example of immediate poignancy. Unfortunately this emotional rapture has been hypostasized by philosophers into an essence. If it is used to refer to the total esthetic quality of the work it is response to matter integrated into a qualitative whole. When it is simply contrasted to the sublime, the comic, etc., such divisions tend to harm aesthetic perception through pigeon-holing and restriction of experience. The term also sometimes refers to striking decorative quality. Another meaning is simply fitness of parts to whole.
Dualism of matter and form has been a general disaster in aesthetics, as what is form in one context is matter in another. However, as much as form and matter are integrated in experience, one can reflect and analyze afterwards, and enrich one’s experience thereby. The ultimate cause of the union of form and content is in the doing and undergoing of the live creature. Neglect of it is neglect of this union. The enemies of the union of form and content are things such as apathy that keep the creature from a lively interaction with its environment. In art, meanings of objects are clarified and concentrated by creation of a new experience.
The Natural History of Form
Naturalism in its deepest sense is necessary for all great art, even art about humans in an urban setting. The antithesis of nature is not civilization but stereotyped convention. However there are conventions that are natural, for example ceremonies that live in the community and that express what is active in the group. Art degenerates when it becomes trivial, losing its connection with naturalism. So, genuine naturalism is not mere imitation. Rather it is a deeper sensitivity to the rhythms of existence.
So-called “realist” art reproduces details but misses underlying rhythms. It can only be approached from one point of view, and so its effect quickly wears out. Wordsworth’s naturalism, by contrast, was a matter of being aware of the great variety of natural appearances, and of escaping convention to respond to natural rhythms. Rhythm is defined by Dewey as an ordered variation of changes within a larger whole. It is not, however, a matter of varying a single feature, but one of modulating something pervasive leading to culmination. Here, each beat adds to the force of what preceded and contributes suspense in relation to what will come. In natural rhythms, energies resist each other, gaining intensity while oppressing each other in sequence. The overall operation is felt as orderly.
The pause or rest is a moment at which opposing energies are defined and perceived. When human emotion is simply discharged both expression and rhythm are destroyed. There is no ordered development marked off by pauses. By contrast, in aesthetic experience, emotion works to collect elements into a whole. Resistance gives the whole rhythmic form. Contrary to Hume, perceptions are not passive impressions. They can result either in mere discharge, disperse in day-dreaming, or be confined to habitual channels. Alternatively they may be moved in an orderly way through accumulation, opposition, and pauses, towards a final consummation.
Opposition of energies resolves a uniform mass into individual form. Painting involves tension through complementary colors and other contrasts. Even a single line may involve tension. Intervals individuate and distribute parts. The medium determines the work. The resistances in song, dance and theater are to be found within the performer and in the audience. Other artists work with resistances in external material. Architecture, unlike dance, does not receive simultaneous applause. Its effect is more indirect, but also more enduring. Modifications of the world result in man feeling more at home. Sometimes art becomes academic and eclectic. But this situation also produces resistance and hence generates new seeds of conflict which may themselves give rise to new expression.
Personal vision may conflict with older tradition to form new rhythms. There is not only serenity in art based on the composure associated with design but also tension that gives rise to fulfillment. The distinctions in philosophy between excitement and calm do not exist in art. Works of art exist at a level at which the distinctions of thought do not hold true. The old formula for beauty, “unity in variety,” means something when we see it as involving a “relation of energies” and where distinctions require resistances, and unity involves resolution of conflict between interacting parts. The unity in variety in art is dynamic.
Organization of Energies
The live creature requires novelty in its experience as well as order. A touch of disorder, as long as it is not experienced as such, adds emphasis. Vigorous persons find what is too easy repulsive. The difficult is good when it challenges energy. Aesthetic experiences that are easy become fashionable but are exhausted quickly. Whistler’s rhythms are relatively simple and uniform. Renoir’s paintings, by contrast, have a richness based on continual variation that provides renewed stimulation on each viewing. Even a checkerboard, when experienced, is far from regular. The eye, in viewing it, constantly constructs new patterns. This shows that we demand variety even when there is no external stimulus for it. The vulgarity of current American architecture is due to monotony of regular repetition and unnecessary ornamentation.
The process of organic life is variation. Every movement in experience returns to itself because it seeks to satisfy an initial need. But the recurrence is charged with the differences that the journey brought about. The truth of romanticism is that demand for variety is based on the fact that we seek to live. A phony classicism comes out of fear of life. Genuine classicism is the same as the romantic when it has its proper rhythmic order. Aesthetic recurrence both satisfies our expectations and states new desires. It both sums up and prophesizes.
Influential theories have wrongly limited rhythm to one phase of the artistic process, for example line in painting. When this limitation is followed it always results in a misfit of matter and form. The easy charm of Botticelli’s arabesques may seduce the viewer into making this a standard of judgment. One should become sensitive to ways of achieving rhythm that are more subtle, using relations of planes or colors for example. Similarly, admiration of the rhythms of Greek sculpture may blind one to the virtues of Egyptian or Negro sculpture. Rhythm in a single feature characterizes the conventional product. For example a poem may be merely clothed in rhyme or meter.
Great art entails a “sudden magic” where there is a sense of “inner revelation” brought on by interpenetration of part and whole. In this case all elements exhibit rhythms in their own kind that build towards a culmination that has both variety and scope. We are more aware of the way in which means/end co-adaptation characterizes technological accomplishment than we are of its importance in fine art. In the former, a man’s ability to use a variety of means to achieve the maximum means with the greatest economy is considered impressive.
Ordinary reasoning and activity is distinguished from art by treating the end as only coming at the end and the means as mere means. Organizations that are rhythmic have pauses that punctuate, connect and move forward. It is ideal when all of these factors are fully balanced. Shakespeare, for example, uses comedy in the midst of tragedy to punctuate the tragic quality. Artists also take ugly things and use them not only to accomplish a certain rhythm but to make us perceive values in ordinary experience that we would not normally notice due to habit.
Dewey applies his theory to the analysis of a particular painting (although, oddly, he does not mention which painting this is.) The eye first moves in response to upward rhythms. Then there is a pause in which attention is transferred to horizontally organized masses. The significance of the object is thus expanded. Then the eye is carried to ordered variation of color in these masses. From this point it moves to spatial intervals between planes. Each kind of organic energy has been called in sequence into intensity of action without sacrificing the overall experience. Then a far distant scene characterized by luminosity gains prominence. This sets the viewer to notice rhythms of luminosity in the rest of the painting. These five rhythms also contain minor rhythms within.
Dewey reminds us of the Kantian point that there is no perception without development in time. Unlike Kant, he sees this in terms of different senses working in relation to each other as centers of energy and as sequentially generating different motor responses. Perception requires coordination of these sensory-motor energies. Nor do we ever perceive by just one sense. Rather, although the eye may be dominant, the experience is colored by a history of activity of other sense-modalities. Also the motor elements provide for extension into the future through anticipation.
Rhythm is denied to pictures and buildings because of ignorance of the fact that perception uses past perceptions organized serially. It is not just metaphorical to say that a story or a picture has life. Living things have the past and the future as possession of the present. When we see a work of art as part of a career we see it as living. The arts all involve organization of energy towards a result. The esthetic object pulls together energies and gives them an organization which is characterized by clarification, intensification, and concentration.
The object of or in perception is one individual thing. It is built up in the same action as is its appreciative perception. Most objects of ordinary perception are incomplete. They are merely recognized as a member of a kind. This allows us to use them for your purposes. Aesthetic perception is full perception. It is accompanied by the most pure release of energy, i.e. in rhythmic form. Thus the painting is alive. A simulated aesthetic experience is one in which memories merely supplement perception. In dead paintings the pauses merely arrest us. Other moribund works of art, melodramas for example, merely excite but do not fulfill. Their energy is not organized.
Rhythm, balance and symmetry cannot be separated except in thought. They are the same thing, but with different emphases. Symmetry emphasizes intervals of rest and fulfillment. Rhythm stresses movement. But symmetry and rhythm always involve each other. The two fall apart in the work of art that has dead spots. In academic art, subject-matter and balance do not coincide. Resistance keeps immediate discharge from happening. When tension accumulates energy becomes intense. The release of this tension must take the form of a sequential spreading out.
Balance has a history. Early paintings relied on right/left symmetry. Pyramidal balance, which developed later, depends on external association. Since aesthetic objects depend on development, balance and symmetry ultimately are determined by whether the whole can hold together opposed elements of variety and scope. Nothing is absolutely strong or weak. It is a mistake to try to gain strength through exaggeration of one element. Sensuous charm, for example, can be cloying or sugary when isolated. Works that have this quality quickly wear out. Rather, potentially strong elements need to be balanced by opposing elements. The main aesthetic objection to the presence of moral belief in works of art is that these values overbalance others. The result of focusing on one form of energy is uncoordinated movement. Energy that was made tense by opposition can unfold in an ordered way. The order of intervals in a work of art is regular when determined by mutual reinforcement of parts. The same compression in time can be found in a picture or a building as in music. Ideally we want an unfolding that gives volume to art.
We are only compelled to turn back in perceiving a work when aesthetic perception is interrupted. More compression from prior perception results in richer current perception and more intense forward movement. The result is a wider span of experience, an extension of volume. Physicists too see that their units are not space and time but space-time. The artist exhibited this truth from the start. For the artist, space and time always go together. The volume of an object cannot be perceived simultaneously. Nor can the temporal qualities be perceived without energy displaying itself in extension. Dewey agrees with Croce that seeing music as specifically temporal, or painting as specifically spatial, is a matter of later analysis, not of immediate experience. We hear distances and volumes in music. Music however illustrates better than any other art how form develops with hearing. A tone is what it is because of what went before and what is to come.
If energy were not central to art we would not be able to speak of art’s power to move or to calm. Either art is the effect of some transcendent essence or its effect is due to transcribing energies of things in the world. Art can only be expressive by ordering the very energies of things that act upon and concern us. Art is imitative in that it captures the power of things which give experience value. Art is ideal in that it selects and organizes features that make experience worth having. Art sets free the forces in nature that sustain the experience we enjoy. This is ideal in the sense that evokes an environment in which values are perfected and sustained. There is reconciliation in art between man and nature.
The Varied Substance of the Arts
The red is always the red of that experience. Unlike logicians, artists are concerned with existential matters. General language is useful in providing directions on how to obtain an experience, but language is poetic when it evokes individual qualities. It is not that poetry is non-intellectual but rather in it the intellectual becomes an immediate experienced quality. Definitions are valuable to the extent that they show us how we can achieve an experience, for example a chemical definition tells us how a substance is made. Literary and art theorists do not see this and still think that definitions give eternally fixed essences. Strict definition is impossible. There can, for example, be no precise definition of the various arts. For such rigid classification would direct us away from what is unique in the art experience, from transitional links between arts, and from understanding historical development of the arts. Dewey is opposed to classification of the arts by sense-organs. Each sense represents the activity of the organism as a whole. You can’t just divide the arts between those of the eye and the ear. Poetry, for example, started as mainly of the ear, but may now be of the eye. Nor does it help to divide the arts into those of the space and those of time, since this would deny for example that architecture has rhythm. It is a confusion of the physical statue with the statue perceived that leads some to see it as stationary and fail to see the importance of constant changes in shadows and colors that mark its experience. The sculpture rather is the result of cumulative interactions: this is what makes art inexhaustible. Architectural works cannot be perceived without a temporal dimension entering in. One must move around a great church and see it in different lights to appreciate it. This relates to Dewey’s main point that an experience is the result of a cumulative interaction of the live creature and its surrounding environment. When this is neglected the object is only seen in part, and the rest is merely subjective reverie. Nor is it useful to divide the arts between representative and non-representative, music being in the second category. As Aristotle saw, music represents in that it reproduces the emotions. Architecture represents such natural energies as gravity and stress. It also expresses human values, for example the values of religion in a church. Nor does it make historical sense to separate architecture from the closely allied arts of sculpture and painting. Treating some arts, such as dance, as “mixed” is a reductio of the entire idea of classification. It is similarly not helpful to rigidly classify the species of beauty, for example into the sublime, the grotesque, and so forth. Nor can we say that there is one kind of literature that is poetry and one kind that is prose. There is a felt quality of poetry, and this quality can appear practically anywhere, even a weather report.
Creed (1944) complains that Dewey leaves no place for works that celebrate equilibrium achieved, or for works that result from the artist playing around with the medium. Nor does Dewey explain accidentally encountered aesthetic experiences of natural objects. Contra Dewey, she thinks that struggle with our environment is not necessary for aesthetic experience.
Boas (1953) argues that Dewey yearns for universality in art where none can be found. He thinks that Dewey wrongly takes the term “art” to have only one meaning where it has many. Moreover, although some art communicates, other art conceals, and it is wrong to say that all art, or even that all great art, communicates universally. Also, not everyone who practices art is interested in social communion or democracy. Some art is intended for communion with God, not with men, and some art is intended for communion with no one but the artist him or herself.
Langer (1953) saw pragmatism and in general and Dewey in particular as guilty of psychologism and therefore unable to deal with the issues that really challenge aestheticians. Their view is “uncongenial to serious speculation on the meaning and difficult and seriousness of art works.” Pragmatism’s assumption is that all human interests are manifestations of drives motivated by animal needs, thus reducing human psychology to animal psychology. Aesthetic values are then interpreted either as direct satisfactions or as instrumental to fulfilling biological needs, making artistic experience no different from ordinary experience. This misses the essence of art, what makes it as important as science or religion. Dewey holds there is not essential difference between art experience and ordinary experience. Aesthetic emotion is something more than common enjoyment. The appreciative attitude towards art is not at all like that towards a new car or a beautiful morning. Kruse (2007), however, argues that Langer misinterprets Dewey on several points and is actually much closer to Dewey than she thinks.
Ballard (1957), in a move characteristic of the rise of analytic philosophy in aesthetics, asserts that Dewey rejects many distinctions that are necessary for philosophy, and that this results in a kind of irrationalism which leads to his depending on problematic metaphors like “funding” and “energy.” He thinks Dewey an anti-intellectualist when he avoids the specific techniques involved in forming theories, for example the technique of formal definition. Dewey's rejection of universals as illusions and his enthusiastic acceptance of nominalism must ultimately fail, for theory requires logically inter-related propositions that refer to concepts.
Gauss (1960), like Pepper before him, protests that Dewey's organicism in Art as Experience disconnects from his earlier pragmatism. Pragmatism, unlike organicism, focuses on interaction of the live creature with a background that is partially inorganic. Also, contra Dewey, he thinks that aesthetic enjoyment is not a particular kind of enjoyment, but enjoyment of aesthetic characteristics.
Cohen (1977, originally 1962) complains about the vagueness of Dewey's terms. He especially wonders whether unity can really distinguish aesthetic from non-aesthetic experience. He thinks that the experience of being badly beaten can have as much unity as hearing a sonata. Moreover, aesthetic experience can often have the very discontinuous quality that Dewey ascribes only to practical experience.
Mayeroff (1963) believes Dewey neglects quiet and simple experiences, such as listening to rain drops, which do not have many of the characteristics of integral or significant experience. For example, they do not involve perception of a relation of doing and undergoing. This aspect of aesthetic experience is especially to be found in certain Japanese poems.
Aldrich (1963) asserts that Dewey makes it seem as if an aesthetic experience is just a consummation of a work-a-day experience, whereas on his view there is a break between art and ordinary life. He also believes Dewey's theory is harmed by leaving out the idea that physical objects underlie aesthetic objects. The first complaint is shared by Grana (1962) who argues that if the Parthenon was intended merely as a public gesture then its design would not have been given to a notable architect and a well-known sculptor.
Gotshalk (1964) objects that Dewey's focus on unified and coherent experience leaves out the distorted and the ugly. Dewey doesn't allow for aesthetic experience which is neither organic nor has a pervading quality. He also thinks Dewey's view that the work of art is not the physical object results in the problematic idea that there is no one work of art, but an indefinitely large number of them related to each viewer. If this were true then discussion about the same work of art would be impossible. Also, if a work of art is a collaboration between artist and audience, why should the artist be privileged? Moreover, by denying that the physical object is the work of art, Dewey has made what everyone considers the actual work of art into a mere potential.
Hofstadter (1965) believes, contra Dewey, that truth belongs to art as such and that Dewey's talk of continuity between aesthetic experience and ordinary life undermines their differences. He thinks Dewey wrongly believes that genuine art is the same in essence as the smallest consummatory experience, and he disapproves of that view. He also thinks Dewey improperly downplays the role of genius in artistic creation.
Petock (1967), expanding on Pepper's original objection, argues that Dewey tries to hold two positions, Croce's and his own. He also asks how a work can be criticized when there is no single object of evaluation common to every experience of it. Further, Dewey is inconsistent when he forbids the critic from going into historical circumstances, and yet thinks that the material out of which a work of art is composed belongs to the common world.
Kuspit (1968) argues that Dewey's focus on the pleasure the art object affords diminishes the significance of the artwork itself, and that Dewey's emphasis on the rhythm of experience downplays the way in which a work is an historical process in an historical context. Dewey dissolves history into nature by making work an imitation of the rhythms if nature. Whereas most philosophers of this time complained that Dewey was too Hegelian, Kuspit thinks he is not Hegelian enough, that he takes reason out of Hegel's dialectic so that reason no longer grounds reality.
Mitias (1992) in an otherwise complementary article, asserts that Dewey fails to explain the identity of the work of art, especially in light of the fusion of work and perceiver, and in light of his distinction between product and process. Dewey, he says also fails to explain the continuity between experience and nature.
Ryan (1995) is critical of Dewey's insistence that the artist's integrity is important to aesthetic valuation. Court painters like Rubens may lack integrity and still achieve greatness. Rather than saying that art is experience, Ryan thinks Dewey might have better argued that what we now value in art is the communication of the artist's experience. He also wonders how Dewey would square his formalism with his obsession with communication. Finally, he notes that someone might pick up something on a beach and present it in a museum as a found object and this would be a work of art, and yet it would not be sanctioned by Dewey's theory.
Goldman (1995) credits Dewey for helping him to develop of holistic theory of aesthetic experience that has both a subjective and objective dimension. He argues that great art creates alternative worlds and that these worlds are objects of fulfilling and complete engagement.
Mattern (1999) argues that Dewey erases conflict, negotiation, and contestation—in short, politics—from the world of art. Moreover, he fails to consider the social context of art in his discussions. (This seems unfair given Dewey's closeness to Marx in many passages.) For Mattern, art can as easily sustain social barriers as break them down. Also, he notes that the Parthenon, which Dewey seems to admire as an expression of Athenian life, did not speak for all Athenian citizens, or for Athenian non-citizens. However Lysaker (1998) and Lewis (2005) both approach Dewey positively from a leftist standpoint sympathetic to Adorno.