Art as Experience

by John Dewey

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Art as Experience is a 1934 work on aesthetics by John Dewey, best known for his work in philosophy and education reform measures. Art as Experience is a consolidation of a series of lectures delivered in the philosophy department at Harvard in 1931, and, in published form, it has become is a seminal piece of art criticism.

The book is divided into 24 dense chapters, beginning with a discussion on the necessary consideration of art ("The Live Creature," as the first chapter is titled) as a product of its time and experience. That is, art is impossible to divorce from its function in daily life. Art is rightly considered an experience, and not to acknowledge it as such robs art of its value.

The book's subsequent chapters address the different experiences in which art is involved and defines experience as the product of emotions. Dewey explains that art is produced as a reification of long-observed experiences on the part of artists.

The book's thesis is that art requires an audience, and that the audience constitutes individuals, cultures, and exchanges among them. Though Dewey's work on aesthetics has been overshadowed by his achievements in philosophy and practical reform in education, this work stands on par with other treaties on art methodology and criticism, such as E.H. Gombrich's 1950 The Story of Art.

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