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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 222

The essential thesis of Art as Experience is that art affords an aesthetic experience to the viewer. The artist and the observer are both active in the reception of art. To conceive of art as a static material piece is to ignore art's intrinsic value. Dewey cites flowers as an analogy to art, explaining that flowers are appreciated to a heightened extent when the mechanism of their growth by means of seeds, soil, and moisture is considered. Art, according to Dewey, like flowers, deserves consideration with respect to its means of production. Dewey also highlights emotion as necessary to creating proper art.

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This claim results in several concurrent theses in Dewey's work: 1.) Art is representative of the social and cultural conditions in which it was produced. 2.) responsible viewers of art engage in a dialogue with the artist. 3.) capitalism (with its focus on class and markers of status) is responsible for this notion of art as experience.

Dewey's analysis bears a resemblance to "reception theory" in literary criticism (which states that meaning in literature is made by the reader's interpretation); however, Dewey parts company with this theory in his insistence that art is a symbol of its culture.

Dewey's collection of lectures on the purpose and reception of art, as published as Art as Experience, stands now as a monograph of art criticism.


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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 90

Art as Experience is the most extensive and, many say, the best book on aesthetics from the pragmatic point of view. Dewey believed that aesthetic theory should attempt to explain how works of art come to be and how they are enjoyed in experience. How is it that something produced to fill a need becomes in addition a source of aesthetic enjoyment? How is it that ordinary activities can yield a particular kind of satisfaction that is aesthetic? These and similar questions must be answered by an adequate aesthetic theory.

The Aesthetic Experience

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 581

Dewey’s interest in biology influenced his description of the aesthetic experience. An organism lives in an environment through which it fulfills certain needs. The process of fulfilling these needs is called “experience” and may be more or less satisfactory to the organism. When experience seems to be completely satisfactory, when it is a happy experience that combines memories of the past and anticipations of the future, when it is an achievement of the organism in the world of things, Dewey calls it “an experience.” An experience, realized by a human being, is aesthetic. Thus, there is no sharp line between animal and human experience. Animals could have an aesthetic experience, but no one would be likely to call it that.

Aesthetic experiences are not found in museums or in libraries alone. As a matter of fact, such settings often make enjoyment impossible by putting works of art beyond ordinary human activities and concerns. For Dewey, an intelligent worker performing a job, interested in it, and finding satisfaction in doing it well is having an experience. The worker is artistically engaged and is finding aesthetic enjoyment. Consequently, everyday activities are the ones most meaningful to the average person. To the average person, the most vital arts are popular music, comic strips, newspaper accounts of crime and love, and articles on the intimate doings of popular entertainers. These things are a significant part of the concerns of an organized community, just as in the past rug, mat, and cloth making; dancing; music; and storytelling were an integral part of day-to-day living.

Modern museums and institutions segregate art and remove it from the concerns of most...

(The entire section contains 3266 words.)

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