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1934 __ « Art As Experience »
John Dewey (1859-1952)
Original excerpt : « [...] When artistic objects are separated from both conditions of origin and operation in experience, a wall is built around them that renders almost opaque their general significance, with which esthetic theory deals. Art is remitted to a separate realm, where it is cut off from that association with the materials and aims of every other form of human effort, undergoing, and achievement. A primary task is thus imposed upon one who undertakes to write upon the philosophy of the arts. This task is to restore continuity between the refined and intensified forms of experience which are works of art and everyday events, doings, and sufferings that are universally recognized to constitute experience. Mountain peaks do not float unsupported; they do not even just rest upon the earth. They “are” earth in one of its manifest operations. It is the business of those who are concerned with the theory of the earth, geographers and geologists, to make this fact evident in its various implications. The theorist who would deal philosophically with fine arts has a like task to accomplish. [...] In a word, form is not found exclusively in objects labeled works of art. Wherever perception has not been blunted and perverted, there is an inevitable tendency to arrange events and objects with reference to the demands of complete and unified perception. Form is a character of every experience that is “an” experience. Art in its specific sense enacts more deliberately and fully the conditions that effect this unity. “Form may then be defined as the operation of forces that carry the experience of an event, object, scene, and situation to its own integral fulfillment”. The connection of form with substance is thus inherent, not imposed from without. It marks the matter of an experience that is carried to consummation. If the matter is of a jolly sort, the form that would be fitting to pathetic matter is impossible. [...] There “is” something physical, in its ordinary sense of real existence. There is the color or sound that constitutes the medium. And there is an experience having a sense of reality, quite likely a heightened one. This sense would be illusory, if it were like that which appertains to the sense of the real existence of the medium. But it is very different. On the stage the media, the actors and their voices and gestures, are really there; they exist. And the cultivated auditor has as a consequence a heightened sense (supposing the play to be genuinely artistic) of the reality of things of “ordinary” experience. Only the uncultivated theatergoer has such an illusion of the reality of what is enacted that he identifies what is done with the kind of reality manifested in the psychical presence of the actors, so that he tries to join in the action. A painting of trees or rocks may make the characteristic reality of tree or rock more poignant than it had ever been before. But that does not not imply that the spectator takes a part of the picture to be an actual rock of the kind he could hammer or sit on. What makes a material a medium is that it is used to express a meaning which is other than that which it is in virtue of its bare physical existence: the meaning not of what it physically is, but of what it expresses. [...] There is another significant involution of time and movement in space. It is constituted not only by directional tendencies – up and down, for example – but by mutual approaches and retreatings. Near and far, close and distant, are qualities of pregnant, often tragic, import – that is, as they are experienced, not just stated as measurements in science. They signify loosening and tightening, expanding and contracting, separating and compacting, soaring and drooping, rising and falling; the dispersive, scattering, and the hovering and brooding, unsubstantial lightness and massive blow. Such actions and reaction are the very stuff of which the object and events we experience are made.... in experience they are infinitely diversified and cannot be described, while in works of art they are ‘expressed’. For art is a selection of what is significant, with rejection by the very same impulse of what is irrelevant, and thereby the significant is compressed and intensified. [...] Every art communicates because it expresses. It enables us to share vividly and deeply in meanings to which we had been thumb, or for which we had but the hear that permits what is said to pass through in transit to overt action. For communication is not announcing things, even if they are said with the emphasis of great sonority. Communication is the process of creating participation, of making common what had been isolated and singular; and part of the miracle it achieves is that, in being communicated, the conveyance of meaning gives body and definiteness to the experience of the one who utters as well as that of those who listen. [...] »
Source : Dewey, John (1934), “Art as Experience”, Rahway, NJ: The Barnes Foundation Press; New York: Perigee Books, 1980; and also, New York: The Berkeley Publishing Group, Perigee, The Penguin Books, 2005.
Source : Dewey, John (1934), “L'Art comme expérience”, In Oeuvres philosophiques III, dir. J.-P. Cometti, trad. J.-P Cometti, Ch. Domino, F. Gaspari, C. Mari, N. Murzilli, Cl. Pichevin, J. Piwnica, G. A. Tiberghien, Publications de l’Université de Pau/éd. Farrago, 2005.
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