Cultural “production” is a failed model redux – On caring, invisible efforts and the debasement of calling oneself a maker

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 11/23/2015

“Why I Am Not a Maker” – Debbie Chachra

Every once in a while, I am asked what I “make.” A hack day might require it, or a conference might ask me to describe “what I make” so it can go on my name tag.

I’m always uncomfortable with it. I’m uncomfortable with any culture that encourages you take on an entire identity, rather than to express a facet of your own identity (“maker,” rather than “someone who makes things”). But I have much deeper concerns.

Walk through a museum. Look around a city. Almost all the artifacts that we value as a society were made by or at the order of men. But behind every one is an invisible infrastructure of labor—primarily caregiving, in its various aspects—that is mostly performed by women. As a teenager, I read Ayn Rand on how any work that needed to be done day after day was meaningless, and that only creating new things was a worthwhile endeavor. My response to this was to stop making my bed every day, to the distress of my mother. (While I admit the possibility of a misinterpretation, as I haven’t read Rand’s writing since I was so young that my mother oversaw my housekeeping, I have no plans to revisit it anytime soon.) The cultural primacy of making, especially in tech culture—that it is intrinsically superior to not-making, to repair, analysis, and especially caregiving—is informed by the gendered history of who made things, and in particular, who made things that were shared with the world, not merely for hearth and home.

Making is not a rebel movement, scrappy individuals going up against the system. While the shift might be from the corporate to the individual (supported, mind, by a different set of companies selling a different set of things), it mostly re-inscribes familiar values, in slightly different form: that artifacts are important, and people are not.

It’s not, of course, that there’s anything wrong with making (although it’s not all that clear that the world needs more stuff). The problem is the idea that the alternative to making is usually not doing nothing—it’s almost always doing things for and with other people, from the barista to the Facebook community moderator to the social worker to the surgeon. Describing oneself as a maker—regardless of what one actually or mostly does—is a way of accruing to oneself the gendered, capitalist benefits of being a person who makes products.

I am not a maker. In a framing and value system that is about creating artifacts, specifically ones you can sell, I am a less valuable human. As an educator, the work I do is superficially the same, year on year. That’s because all of the actual change, the actual effects, are at the interface between me as an educator, my students, and the learning experiences I design for them. People have happily informed me that I am a maker because I use phrases like “design learning experiences,” which is mistaking what I do (teaching) for what I’m actually trying to help elicit (learning). To characterize what I do as “making” is to mistake the methods—courses, workshops, editorials—for the effects. Or, worse, if you say that I “make” other people, you are diminishing their agency and role in sense-making, as if their learning is something I do to them.

In a recent newsletter, Dan Hon, content director for Code for America wrote, “But even when there’s this shift to Makers (and with all due deference to Getting Excited and Making Things), even when ‘making things’ includes intangibles now like shipped-code, there’s still this stigma that feels like it attaches to those-who-don’t-make. Well, bullshit. I make stuff.” I understand this response, but I’m not going to ask people—including myself—to deform what they do so they can call themselves a “maker.” Instead, I call bullshit on the stigma and the culture and values behind it that rewards making above everything else.

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The unfunny joke and the unartist: the metaphysics of absence? A comedian and an artist walk into a bar…

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 09/20/2015

Excerpts from Welcome to the Age of the Unfunny Joke by Lee Siegel (marked “LS”) juxtaposed with quotes from Stephen Wright (SW) and Allan Kaprow (AK).

LS: “In the unfunny joke, the comedian’s format is the Trojan horse that makes its way into your secret store of feelings as you wait genially to be entertained. The surprise is the unfunny truth that cuts through your consciousness with the force of a sword.”

SW: “…though informed by art-related skills, their work suffers from — or, should we say, enjoys — impaired visibility as art. Yet this impaired visibility may well be inversely proportional to the work’s political efficacy: since it is not partitioned off as ‘art,’ that is, as ‘just art,’ it remains free to deploy all its symbolic force in lending enhanced visibility and legibility to social processes of all kinds.”

LS: “Comedy is becoming an occasion to abandon humor for the exposure of unsoftened truth. Of course, comedians have always had license to be blunt so long as they cushioned their provocations with humor. In the case of the unfunny joke, however, the humor is absent.”

AK: “…the idea of art cannot easily be gotten rid of (even if one wisely never utter the word). But it is possible to slyly shift the whole un-artistic operation away from where the arts customarily congregate, to become, for instance, an account executive, an ecologist, a stunt rider, a politician, a beach bum. In these different capacities…[art] would operate indirectly as a stored code that, instead of programming a specific course of behavior, would facilitate an attitude of deliberate playfulness toward all professionalizing activities well beyond art. Signal scrambling, perhaps. Something like those venerable baseball aficionados in the vaudeville act that began, “Who’s on first?”

LS: “These people are professional comedians and most of their acts are spent making people laugh. But there is a schizoid dimension to comedy now. As fiction merges into autobiography, and movies based on actual events proliferate, the compulsion for comedians to smash through the artifice of comedy and tell the unadorned truth without humor is becoming stronger and stronger.”

Where is the magic? Art as a social practice and the intellectual cult of the MFA.

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 09/02/2015

James Tufts, in 1903, already knew that all art is (a) social practice:

Art has its origins, almost without exception, in social relations; it has developed under social pressure; it has been fostered by social occasions; it has in turn served social ends in the struggle for existence. In consequence, the values attributed to aesthetic objects have social standards, and the aesthetic attitude will be determined largely by these social antecedents. Or, in other words, the explanation of aesthetic categories is to be sought largely in social psychology.


…art has its origin, not in any single impulse, much less in any desire to gratify an already existing aesthetic demand for beauty, but rather in response to many and varied demands, economic, protective, sexual, military, magical, ceremonial, religious, and intellectual.

Of course, an explanation of social psychology requires an engagement with many other fields, especially natural history. And the diverse art impulses Tufts identifies are expelled from the homogenized intellectualist academy.

I am for an art that needs no manifesto

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 07/22/2015

I am for an art that tackles the problem of writing.
I am for an art that wages war on words.
I am for an art that stands mute.
I am for art on panels, and not panels on art.
I am for an art that pleads for linguistic absolution.
I am for an art that talks, laughs, or stutters, but spits on the page.
I am for art as the statement, not the artist’s statement.
I am for an art without crutches, without critics.
I am for an art that is nothing but words, yet not “writing.”
I am for an art, any art that puts needles in the eyes of professionals.

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against art historical noodling or why social poiesis is more interesting than social practice especially if by social practice we really mean social practice art – Even more stuff I said in blog comments with the really challenging, thoughtful, responses removed

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 06/02/2015

I often quote IC-98 on this matter:

“…as a reaction to the restrictions of academic writing…In practice, the world of contemporary art has proved to be the most flexible environment for diverse projects, being a free zone of experimentation within the society at large…[it] offers possibilities to put forward ideas without the preconditions of academic work …the market…or activism…the projects are labeled art only for strategic reasons – the strategy works as long as the concepts of art do not come to dominate the discourse. The same applies to the individuals working in the group: you call yourself artist, just because it is institutionally convenient, [emphasis mine] because the very concept of ARTIST is obscure.”

These “strategic reasons” are part of what ***’s investigation of “practical consequences” would help illuminate. I am extremely sympathetic to this pragmatic (rather than ontological) engagement with categories. But I remain interested in social practice to the degree that it remains social practice, rather than social practice *art*. So when we inquire into the aesthetics of participation for instance we don’t get bogged down in all the art historical noodling that paralyzes so many critics from the old school. It is important to emphasize that all kinds of “problems” are solved by recognizing that art [frieze/e-flux/triple canopy type art], is just a highly specialized and mostly pointless parlor game played with, and within, aesthetic experience. If we remain attuned to aesthetics and aesthetic experience (especially from an embodied, phenomenological point of view) or to “the arts” or “the art of” or “the artful” rather than to Art, we increase the chances of having the “dynamic, complex and difficult dialogues” *** seeks rather than the insular professional tiffs of the Art world. Melvin Haggerty (1935) said it much better:

“Art is a way of life” is a simple statement of short and familiar words. It expresses a way of looking at life that is very old in the history of thought. If it now seems strange it is because we have permitted art to become divorced from the ordinary activities in which men [sic] engage and its cultivation to drift into the hand of specialists from whom the mass of mankind is separated as by a chasm. In recent times this chasm has become very broad and very deep. To men [sic] absorbed in the work of the world artists appear to be a cult and their work and conversation seem esoteric and almost mystical. To artists ordinary folks appear ignorant and unappreciative, and very often their thinly veiled contempt for plebeian tastes has led them to caustic expression. This dissociation is artificial; it is injurious to art and impoverishes life.

[art as a way of life] sees that as the experiences of life multiply, new and varied purposes arise that call for the invention of new objects and new forms of expression and that these, in turn, vastly increase the possibilities of enriching life…This elemental reality that binds into a single pattern all the varied arts is more important for the philosophy of education than is the stress so often laid upon the differences that superficially separate one kind of creative work from other kinds.

We have assumed a way of looking at art that permits no gulf between the simple arts of life and the so-called fine arts. It sees all as man’s [sic] more or less successful efforts to create things that increase the comforts, the efficiencies, and the pleasures of living…This view cherishes not even the ethically tinged distinction between good art and bad art.

The distinction between creation and appreciation is not one between activity and passivity but rather one among different kinds of activity. The realization of this fact should emphasize the essential unity of art experiences.

*** – Long time no talk. I have to call you out though about what a mess you’re making! You keep conflating art and aesthetics. To call something “not art” in no way reduces its aesthetic dimension. And your understanding of what treating something aesthetically does – “increases distance” – is but one (dominant) idea of aesthetic experience. Berleant’s “Art And Engagement” makes all this talk of participatory aesthetics a moot point (not to mention Dewey and the pragmatists among others). All aesthetic experience is participatory, engaged.

*** – although I quoted IC-98 for one reason (the tactical employment of art as a descriptor), I actually agree more with David Robbins in this quote:

“All the time, though, my sensibility pointed toward and yearned for an imaginative Elsewhere. I became increasingly dissatisfied with the narrowness of art as a formulation of the imagination. This will sound preposterous to many people, I’m aware, given that art offers and represents extraordinary behavioral freedoms, but in “making art” I found an ultimately enslaving formulation. How so? In art, you can do, yes, anything you want so long as you’re willing to have it end up as art. That isn’t real imaginative freedom, in my view. Inquisitiveness of mind will carry you past art, and apparently I love inquisitiveness of mind more than I love art.”

So again I hope social practice delivers us to this imaginative Elsewhere, but art has an insidious ability to capture its escapees…

*** – since I’m in such a quotey mood, I think these snippets from Carl Wilson might get at some of the spirit of criticism I am after (but I am totally down with your criticism as aesthetic experience bit). It’s just that I’m not as fired up about judgment and evaluation as you seem to be:

“What would criticism be like if it were not foremost trying to persuade people to find the same things great…It might…offer something more like a tour of an aesthetic experience, a travelogue, a memoir.”

“…a more pluralistic criticism might put less stock in defending its choices and more in depicting its enjoyment, with all the messiness and private soul tremors – to show what it is like for me to like it, and invite you to compare.”

Re: Meta-experience – I find the discussion around this a bit condescending…it implies that people outside art somehow live their lives unconsciously, that they are unable to think about how to sharpen experience or how to craft an endeavor.

Re: Critique – I recently chaired a panel called “Critiquing Criticality” (which will hopefully end up as a book) and we discussed at length how art had sold its soul to be taken seriously in the academy. That is, it was so ashamed of all those “fuzzy” romantic qualities that it ended up jettisoning all the things that distinguished it from “real” academic disciplines. I would argue much to its detriment.

*** –  I would ask you carry your pragmatic reasoning further. Let us accept that it is indeed now “meaningful” for Rirkrit to call pad thai his art. What does that designation actually *do?* The consensus so far in these threads is that it might invite a kind of meta-reflection which I addressed above to some degree. But to put it even more bluntly, let’s stipulate that this is art’s province alone, what social value is there in that? Aside from appealing to the sorts of people who enjoy thinking about thinking about thinking? Wouldn’t this territory staked out by art be rather sad? When eating pad thai, asking whether it is art or not or whether it follows from Fluxus more than it follows from conceptualism seems like a hollow inquiry. Does it taste good? Does it taste like my mom’s version? Does it remind me of the time I visited that city? Was this dish my friend’s favorite? Those questions tie the food to life, to concrete experience, to ordinary people and therefore are more pragmatically vibrant. And, all of those questions need art as much as pad thai needs alfredo sauce!

For me, calling pad thai art accomplishes exactly nothing other than connect it to a pedantic, insular conversation (art history/criticism). The question of calling social practice projects art amounts to a pragmatic (of the simple, not philosophic type) question (I asked elsewhere) – Do I show them in an art context, however imperfectly it addresses my concerns and burdens me with a history I’m not particularly interested in? Or do I explore them elsewhere and suffer from the lack of critical, promotional, and organizational infrastructure that the art context provides?

*** – “Does an artist need to call what they do social practice? do they need to call themselves artists?”

To these questions I have posited time and again that social practice is *already* happening all the time, with or without art and artists. I think that art has some very modest things to offer, but I prefer a more bottom up, less homogenous, and certainly more diverse approach to understanding, and engaging social practice. Urban ecology seems like an ideal strand to add to the web, so to speak. Here is my initial stab at articulating a vision for social practice (preceded by a contextualizing rant) that may be of interest to you:http://randallszott.org/2013/01/18/all-we-have-to-do-is-look-around-toward-a-local-social-practice-syllabus-or-an-idiosyncratic-arty-party-field-guide-to-vermont/
*** –

Maybe I could grab your attention for a moment and ask what you think of Larry Shiner’s “The Invention of Art” or Mary Anne Staniszewski’s “Believing Is Seeing” as two examples of the argument that it doesn’t make sense to talk about Greek or Roman “art” or at the minimum, capital A “Art.” You seem to be somewhat sympathetic in your commentary above. And do we sidestep this (in a productive way) by continuing the discussion in terms of aesthetic activity rather than art? And by aesthetics, I do not mean exclusively the philosophic subdiscipline itself…

*** – I like that you bring up phronesis, but it’s funny because I am an advocate of not limiting social practice to the visual and performing arts (and there is discussion of it in a very different way in other fields) and was going to suggest here before your post that “social poiesis” (despite its even more obscure quality) might be a better term. If we don’t limit ourselves to art, social poiesis (nee practice) could be more dynamic and encompass not only art actions and art environments, but also – urban planning, sports leagues, communes, be-ins, residencies, raves, state fairs, theme parks, cults, encounter groups, chautauquas, even nations…and would also apply to a much broader demographic of participants rather than artists and their audiences…

But ***, much like the recent article in the Onion (http://www.theonion.com/articles/artists-announce-theyve-found-all-the-beauty-they,20973/) the *last* thing I want to do is to provide a framework for expanding what artists consider their “media.” Rather I am hoping to show that what artists and their supporters wish to claim as an exclusive territory, or what they reserve some claim of special ability at, is already done, by all sorts of folks from all walks of life. And, yes I believe that Dewey (and many contemporary scholars developing his work – but NOT Rorty) can be read (in fact *should* be read) as seeing aesthetics as an integral feature of everyday life – “through and through” as you say.

Gregory Pappas (Dewey scholar):

“The intelligent and aesthetic characters of democracies are mutually dependent. The community most capable of learning from experience is also the one that has all the features that define aesthetic activity, which for Dewey is the most inherently meaningful type of activity in experience. The democratic way of life is able to maintain the kind of balance and rhythm in its everyday doings and undergoings that, for Dewey, characterize aesthetic experience: a balance of tensions with rhythmic variety. Ideal activity is a merging of playfulness with seriousness that allows richness and flexibility without sacrificing stability. Democracy signifies for Dewey this possibility at the social level. The democratic community is also the aesthetic community because it is constituted by relationships that are neither fixed, routine, or mechanical, nor anarchical, capricious, or arbitrary.”


“Dewey’s work…affirms the potential of ordinary experience (concrete life) to be the source of amelioration, admiration, and inspiration. His metaphysics reminds philosophers that the tangled, complex, gross, macroscopic, and crude things we find in everyday life are real, for example, vagueness, ugliness, fantasies, headaches, illusions, spark plugs, a conversation with a friend, parties, diseases, stones, food, tragedy, a conflict with a roommate, a joke, playing backgammon with friends, measles, and marbles. His aesthetics is a philosophical reintegration of the aesthetic with everyday life that is, in effect, a celebration of lived experience…his ethics is an affirmation of morality as experience.”


“When the thought of the end becomes so adequate that it compels translation into the means that embody it, or when attention to the means is inspired by recognition of the end they serve, we have the attitude typical of the artist, an attitude that may be displayed in all activities, even though they are not conventionally designated ‘arts.’ “

Sorry I’m back to being quotey, but this nugget from Dewey in 1891!!! cuts to the heart of the matter:

“If the necessary part played in conduct by artistic cultivation is not so plain, it is largely because ‘Art’ has been made such an unreal Fetich [sic] – a sort of superfine and extraneous polish to be acquired only by specially cultivated people. In reality, living is itself the supreme art…”

Living is itself the supreme art – social poiesis?

re: politics and aesthetics – I included a quote (from Gregory Pappas) on the other thread that addresses this exact point. The more expansive notion of aesthetics that I think we share (and Dewey et. al. have developed extensively) is inextricably linked with politics. In fact, that is why I am mystified by Claire Bishop getting as much attention as she does as her theoretical house of cards is so flimsy – relying as it does on such a misguided interpretation of the relationship between ethics and aesthetics.

re: pleasure – Richard Shusterman is my go to here (although I go to him for many other insights as well!) There is a link to his piece before the quotes I’ve culled: http://randallszott.org/2012/12/30/adorno-the-grumpy-puritan-richard-shusterman-on-art-and-pleasure/
“With these authors you get all modes of social practice: antagonism, pedagogy, community, the dialogic, ethics, morality, the relational, and the political.”

This statement is barely true even with this correction:

“With these authors you get all modes of social practice [art]: antagonism, pedagogy, community, the dialogic, ethics, morality, the relational, and the political.”

If social practice aspires to be anything more than another entry in the art historical ledger rather than say the historical ledger, *** reading list is the *last* place to look. Sadly it is all too reflective of the inbred nature of art discourse (embodying Kaprow’s “artlike art”). I think *** is dead on, but I would add another cautionary note (as I linked to in another comment) – developing a reading list should be an extremely low priority. A looking/experiencing list might be better. My mom ain’t gonna read Claire Bishop and she sure as hell isn’t gonna read Ranciere. But my mom engages in social practice (but has no need to call it that or study it as such) via her gardening club, and her volunteer activities. I love Fritz Haeg, but Crockett’s Victory Garden is more her speed and I would hope we’re not trying to build a field reserved for grad school types or urban hipsters (of which I am or was).

*** – I misunderstood you. I took you too literally when you said “all modes of social practice.” Believe me, I’m all about cutting slack (just ask google).

*** – where is the damn “like” button on this page? Your response itself was “smartly dark!” There is no denying of course (in fact my wife made the same comment) that reading is an experience. So yes, I should have said something more like “a (nonreading) looking/experiencing list.” It is also true that for many people (particularly of an academic persuasion – and I know, not exclusively) reading and looking are deeply symbiotic, but for many other folks they are not, or are dependent on entirely different sets of “texts.” I do disagree that I am over estimating/underestimating anyone – I was not clear in communicating this though. Because it is very much the latter of your propositions that I support. I do not oppose Crockett to Haeg (as I said I love Haeg!!!), but was pointing out that there are people doing social practice beyond art world/academe/activist circles. And trying to suggest that I think developing a robust idea of social practice needs to be inclusive of those folks. So when you ask “is anyone actually saying that?” I think you mean is anyone privileging the art/activist crowd over the PBS gardening crowd…to which I answer emphatically yes! I’ve been to panel after panel, read book after book, essay after essay, seen show after show, attended conference after conference, read syllabus after syllabus, and there is a clear canon established that charts an all too familiar course. Very rarely is anyone included that isn’t part of the dominant or emerging activist/artist circuit and even then they are usually included as material for, or in “collaboration” with an artist/activist. How do we get out of this? I’m not exactly sure – maybe get more ethnographic (with all its ensuing baggage)? I think *** is suggesting something similar (but in a much less grating tone than mine). As far as understanding/thinking about/experiencing social practice I’ve said before “all we have to do is look around.”

suffocated by art – Nik Kosmas on escaping the art world

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 04/17/2015

Q/A NIK KOSMAS – Why did you decide to end your career as a young and successful visual artist?

At some point, I had the feeling that I couldn’t explain what I was doing, with conviction, to a stranger. The subjective nature of making “work” in a field where basically anything goes: critical or non-critical, aesthetic or conceptual, material or dematerialized – as long as you want to call it “art”. I felt suffocated by potentials and missed having a method for evaluating options. Possibly I was also suffering from some kind of imposter complex, where I felt like anyone at any time would notice that everything we were doing made no sense. These deep-seated anxieties probably reflect the fact that art is no longer very relevant.

I just didn’t think there was a point or a respectable future in endlessly critiquing or arrogantly joking about innovations coming from other fields.

To continue making art after you reach a certain level of success, you have to have a mixture of talent, ego, and pragmatism. You have to suspend the disbelief and doubt about your self-centered and marginal mini-territory of custom-made industrial process hacks, and “themes”, all the time struggling to stay relevant and inspired while the upper-class gallerists and collectors – who are your only real support system – make the magic happen…You can survive if you stay inside the art bubble: writing grants, teaching, getting the odd public commission (especially if you come from one of those small, rich, socialist European countries that pay artists ridiculous amounts of money to do things that are questionably useful :)). I wanted to engage in the “real” world, where things are much more competitive, and also, yes, dumbed down for a more general audience (and for that same reason so much more effective and important).

… it was supposed to go around creating value through abstract financial art-world machinations. Anyways, I became totally disillusioned that this was interesting at all. It felt very easy and parasitic and had unclear metrics for success. Martin’s project was random but had clear metrics for success: units sold, growth rate, five-star reviews. Martin was “doing” what we were joking or commenting on.

My long-term goal is to supply concrete niches with products that “affect” a huge amount of people (this is about the body): from tea to shoes to food, eventually to architecture and beyond. I am training and studying all the time, trying to remain passionate and excited about what I do.

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This *actual* world – an antidote for academic philosophy (Chapter 3 – Chapter 5)

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 03/26/2015

Philosophy & This Actual World – Martin Benjamin

“Let us not pretend to doubt in philosophy what we do not doubt in our hearts – Charles S. Peirce

In an illuminating metaphor, social scientist Otto Neurath compares humans as knowers to “sailors who must rebuild their ship on the open sea, never able to dismantle it in dry-dock and to reconstruct it there out of the best materials.” We acquire our capacity for critical reflection against the backdrop of a complex network of beliefs and claims to knowledge. Some elements of the network were acquired from our families, others from church, neighborhood, school, books, televisions, and so on; still others have their origins in personal experience. This network of knowledge and belief is our ship, the vessel on which we navigate the occasionally hazardous, ever-changing, only partially charted sea of life. The “ship of knowledge” is not, however, as seaworthy as we would like it to be…It needs repair and rebuilding, but we can’t do it all at once and from the bottom up. We are, after all, on the open sea…As the mariner must use and stand on some parts of the ship while examining, repairing, and improving others, we must rely on some (fallible) parts of our network of knowledge and belief while doubting, testing, and revising other parts

…As Wittgenstein also puts it, “the same proposition may get treated at one time as something to test by experience, at another as a rule of testing.”

…the locus of certainty is the *actions* of embodied social agents, *not the intellect* of a (possibly) lone, disembodied spectator. Certainty turns out to be practical or pragmatic rather than propositional or intellectual…

…you know from experience there’s a big difference between the world and your ideas of it. To anyone but a certain kind of academic philosopher, it goes without saying.

…What should be puzzling here [in radical epistemological skepticism] is not the lack of proof, but the *request* for one…

…We employ a wide variety of different language games or vocabularies in making our way in the world and there is…nothing to be gained and much to be lost by choosing *once and for all* between them.

…”[quoting Richard Gregory] The question need not be whether reality is material or spiritual; it can be, what follows from talking about reality one way or the other? What do we gain, and what price do we pay, for adopting one vocabulary and giving up the other?

…We keep away from fire, raise the thermostat on the furnace, lower the volume on the stereo, comfort a frightened child, commiserate with the bereaved, condemn torture, and so on. As *pragmatic* certainties, these anticipations of and responses to subjective experience are not part of a fallible theory or system of knowledge. Our certainty that we and others experience pain is not propositional – not the outcome of a conclusive chain of reasoning…that we and others can experience pain *goes without saying.* We cannot really doubt whether we and practically all other human beings are capable of certain mental states because these and related states are among the *hinges* on which language – and hence doubt and inquiry – turn.

…We should drink deeply of science, but not to the point of intoxication…*Leading* a life requires the personal perspective of an agent – tempered and informed, to be sure, by the scientific or impersonal standpoint – but not fully replaced by it…If, however, you think of yourself as *one of us* – an embodied social agent *in* the world as well as a spectator *of* it – you will see the implausibility of such replacement.

If there were a contest for the best one-sentence definition of philosophy, it would be hard to beat Wilfrid Sellars’s characterization of philosophy as an attempt to “understand how things in the broadest sense of the term hang together in the broadest sense of the term.”

…If forced to choose between a practically incapacitating, but simple and intellectually satisfying extreme, on the one hand, and a practically empowering, but complex and intellectually disconcerting accommodation, on the other, the pragmatic temperament favors the latter.

Søren Kierkegaard, in a passage paraphrased by [William] James, writes, “It is perfectly true, as philosophers say, that life must be understood backwards. But they forget the other proposition, that it mus be lived forwards.”

Instead of a single, abstract, theoretical free will problem to be solved in one fell swoop, we are faced with a large number of free will problems – problems requiring complex, context-dependent, ambivalent choice between the vocabularies of freedom and determinism.

[quoting Mary Midgley] Getting right outside morality would be rather like getting outside the atmosphere. It would mean losing the basic social network within which we live and communicate with others, including all those others in the past who have formed our culture. If we can imagine this deprived state at all, it would be a solitary condition close to that of autism or extreme depression – a state where, although intelligence can still function, there is no sense of community with others, no shared wishes, principles, aspirations or ideals, no mutual trust or fellowship with those outside, no preferred set of concepts, nothing agreed on as important.

[quoting Kai Nielsen] Instead we weave and unweave the fabric of our beliefs until we get, for a time, though only for a time, the most consistent and coherent package which best squares with everything we reasonably believe we know and to which we, on reflection, are most firmly committed. There are some extensively fixed points, points which we *may* always in fact obtain anywhere, anywhen, but they are still, logically speaking, provisional fixed points which are not, in theory at least, beyond question, if they turn out not to fit with the web of our beliefs and reflective commitments, commitments which will not be extinguished when we take them to heart under conditions of undistorted discourse.

[quoting William James] There is no such thing possible as an ethical philosophy dogmatically made up in advance…In other words, there can be no final truth in ethics any more than in physics, until the last man [sic] has had his say.”…The method also responds to what [John] Dewey characterized as the “deepest problem of modern life,” namely, “restoring integration and cooperation between man’s [sic] beliefs about the world in which he lives and his beliefs about the values and purposes that should direct his conduct. It is the problem of any philosophy that is not isolated from that life.

The best art criticism shouldn’t even talk about art – Steve Cottingham opens the door, but can’t walk through

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 03/24/2015

No one cares about art criticism: Advocating for an embodiment of the avant garde as an alternative to capitalism – Steve Cottingham

There are good bits in this piece, but the citation of K. Goldmsith is surely too much baggage for this piece to carry (given recent events). And certainly one should raise an eyebrow at a piece that complains of art criticism “as isolated and protected as an artwork in a white cube,” yet cites Tirdad Zolghadr, Boris Groys, Our Literal Speed et al. who are themselves purveyors of such precious and predictably jargoned writing/speaking as to be source material for the “cut-up” method of generating exhibition wall texts. The explanation for this resides of course in the continued fascination with an avant garde strategy – “I [Cottingham] want to ask: what if art criticism not only charted the avant-garde but embodied it, too?” But I want to ask what if art criticism abandoned the notion of an avant garde and especially its dated strategies? Cottingham is on a far more promising path here “But what can art criticism learn from New Journalism, immersive reporting, and Hunter S. Thompson’s drug-addled sports coverage?” I would not describe those as avant garde and would add to that list: the facebook flame war, the celebrity roast, the sports talk radio show, the street corner preacher, the coffee klatch, the fan fiction discussion boards, etc.

I would not so humbly offer my own “practice” (which of course isn’t one, or can’t be called one without scare quotes) as a partial solution to some of the quandaries posed. Take the conversation out of the hands of the art journals, the symposia, the universities, and into all the disreputable, trivial places like facebook, blogs, and bars. Maybe the best art criticism shouldn’t even talk about art. Be polite. Be mean. Be drunk. Be angry. Be respectful. Be a fucking jerk. Each is an appropriate tactic at certain times. But above all, don’t take yourself too seriously especially if you insist on continuing to talk about art. We must truly address the “problem with professionalization” (something I’ve posted about extensively on this blog) as Cottingham puts it [emphasis added]:

Art criticism is in crisis because we have a problem with professionalization. We are steeped in the vernacular of capitalism, and we are afraid to leave it. Our world is rife with administration, mimicking the bureaucratic processes of the corporations so many of us profess to hate. We are content to let our artistry cease as soon we begin writing proposals, drafting business letters, and carefully collating our résumés. We push limits and subvert expectations everywhere except on the back-end, that realm which increasingly dominates artistic practices.

Too often, we seek to industrialize our passions. We simultaneously demand creative and financial nourishment from what my grandmother’s friend once dismissively called “a hobby.” Art critics laud artwork that resists capitalist pressures, but rarely does the criticism equally embody the form of this resistance.

I have also talked incessantly about monetizing passions and what that, along with adopting a language and culture of work implies for such passions. So, I would offer the same advice to art critics, that Kaprow offered to artists: “Once the task of the artist was to make good art [criticism]; now it is to avoid making art [criticism] of any kind.” Or: “Artists [art critics] of the world, drop out! You have nothing to lose but your professions!” And finally: “…the idea of art cannot easily be gotten rid of (even if one wisely never utter the word). But it is possible to slyly shift the whole un-artistic operation away from where the arts customarily congregate, to become, for instance, an account executive, an ecologist, a stunt rider, a politician, a beach bum. In these different capacities…[art] would operate indirectly as a stored code that, instead of programming a specific course of behavior, would facilitate an attitude of deliberate playfulness toward all professionalizing activities well beyond art.” So rather than being art critics, become unart critics. Congregate in those uncustomary places, use your creative/critical/empathetic/poetic/agitational powers in every nook and cranny – sometimes, if you insist, in the mausoleum of art , but don’t be “afraid to leave it” either because I “can’t imagine a more thrilling place to be.”

This *actual* world – an antidote for academic philosophy (Preface – Chapter 2)

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 03/20/2015

Philosophy & This Actual World – Martin Benjamin

In 1907 William James spoke of the “seriously inquiring amateur in philosophy” who turns to philosophy professors but finds them wanting. The problem is not with the serious amateur, James explained, but the professors. Philosophy should do more than exercise our “powers of intellectual abstraction.” It should also “make some positive connexion with this actual world of finite human lives.”

*Embodied social action* is at least as important to philosophical inquiry and understanding, James and Wittgenstein each insist, as *abstract thought or contemplation.*

At one point James put it this way: “The knower is not simply a mirror floating with no foot-hold anywhere, and passively reflecting on an order that he comes upon and simply finds existing. The knower is an *actor*, and coefficient of the truth which he helps to create. Mental interests, hypotheses, postulates, so far as they are bases for *human action – action* which to a great extent transforms the world – help make the truth.” Nearly seventy years later Wittgenstein wrote, ” Giving grounds, however justifying the evidence, comes to and end; – but the end is not certain propositions’ striking us immediately as true; i.e. it is not a kind of *seeing* on our part; it is our *acting*, which lies at the bottom of the language game.” …[James and Wittgenstein share a]*pragmatic temperament* – one that speaks to the whole person, embodied social agent as well as intellect.

For too long academic philosophers have ignored the questions of serious, intelligent, well-educated men and women from all walks of life who do not have time for concentrated study in philosophy.

…Peirce criticized radical skepticism and the idea that we acquire knowledge of the world as individuals rather than as members of communities.

…A pragmatic temperament, however, acknowledges that *genuine* philosophical questions are not a matter of intellect alone. They are raised by the whole person and involve both the street…and the classroom. Action without thought, to adapt a phrase from Kant, is *blind*; thought without action is *empty*. If our minds cannot simultaneously occupy the worlds of the street and the classroom when we’re doing philosophy, they must at least enact a dialogue between them. Philosophical questions worth asking must be responsive to the demands of both, as must our answers of them.

…we who raise genuine questions about knowledge, reality, mind, will, and ethics are not, first and foremost, isolated, disembodied Cartesian observers *of* the world, but rather embodied social agents *in* it.

Pragmatic considerations are inseparable from certain social *practices* – and practices are themselves constituted by patterns of (embodied) human action…correct language use…presupposes membership in a community of embodied, language-using agents.

One reason “so few human beings truly care for philosophy,” William James observed, is its “monstrous abridgment of things, which like all abridgments is got by the absolute loss and casting out of real matter.” The “real matter” to which James refers includes the wide variety of rich and concrete realities that comprise our daily lives. Abstract ethical theories, for example, cannot capture the various complexities of everyday moral decision making. “The entire man [or woman], who feels needs by turns,” James points out, “will take nothing as an equivalent for life but the fullness of living itself.”

…Successful navigation in life, as on the sea, requires knowing when and how to tack between viewpoints. Those who remain utterly blind to a more objective or detached picture of their betrothed or lovers are ill-advised to make long-standing personal commitments to them;

“That is well said,” replied Candide, “but we must cultivate our garden.”…

To cultivate a garden is not to accept everything that happens as for the best. Weeds, disease, and drought are part of nature, but to a gardener these things are things to be reduced or eliminated. What Candide *does* in cultivating his garden (where cultivating a garden is a metaphor for doing our best to improve the conditions of our earthly lives) is in some respects a more powerful and eloquent “refutation” of Pangloss’s doctrine than anything he could at this point *say*. Deeds, not words, are the most fitting response. Pangloss’s abstract generalizations are simply beside the point; they don’t matter, do any work, or make any “connexion to this actual world of finite human lives.” For Candide it is no longer worth trying to refute Pangloss on his own terms; he has better things to *do*.

After a point, it seems to me, our response to radical skeptics ought to resemble Candide’s response to Pangloss. Even if we cannot refute them to *their* satisfaction, the fact that their doctrine makes “no positive connexion to this actual world of finite human lives” may be sufficient to relegate it to the margins of contemporary philosophy (though *not* to the margins of the *history* of philosophy, where it remains of the greatest importance). As embodied social agents we have a number of more interesting and important philosophical questions to address than those posed by the radical skeptic. Like Candide, then, let’s not worry too much about matters that make no difference to the way we (must) lead our lives. There are more fertile fields that need cultivating. And we’ll never get to them unless we can turn our backs on radical skepticism.

Wittgenstein devised “language game” to emphasize the connection between saying, doing, and rule-following…Language is “woven” into (we might better say “interwoven with”) the nonlinguistic actions of language users rather than superimposed on them…thinking and saying are not only inseparable from doing, but they are also kinds of doing. “Words.” as Wittgenstein puts it, “are also deeds.”

The moral of the story then, is that we do not have to identify the essence or specify necessary and sufficient conditions for words…[that notion] is based on a mistaken preconception about language – one that fails to take account of how language is actually used by embodied social agents like ourselves.

…Meaning cannot, therefore, generally be abstracted from the social practices or rule-governed patterns of behavior into which the use of words is woven…

To reject the possibility of a “master theory” of truth – one that provides a method for systematically distinguishing any and all true beliefs from those that are false – does not, however, mean we cannot distinguish truth from falsity…there is no super-duper method, prior to and independent of, these linguistic activities, that will allow one to magisterially pronounce on the truth of various claims made within them. It is the different language games themselves – their more or less complex and interrelated rules, practices, conventions, purposes, standards of judgment, and so on – that provide the ground rules or criteria we use in determining truth or falsity within them.

…The main point, for present purposes, is that (1) questions of truth and falsity cannot be separated from our language games (or vocabularies); (2) our language games (or vocabularies) cannot be separated from our actions; (3) our actions cannot be separated from our various aims and interests; and (4) these aims and interests are those of embodied social agents.

…Language use in not something in addition to (or superimposed on) most distinctly human activities, including complex thought; rather it is constitutive of them. Meaning is not a product of private ostensive definition or linguistic essences; rather it is a function of the way words are used fro certain purposes in certain language games. And truth is not determined by *directly* comparing what we say about the world with what the world is like itself; rather it is a property of either (a) individual beliefs or sentences that together with certain events or states of the world satisfy the rules internal to a particular (useful or justifiable) language game or vocabulary or (b) entire language games that, given their purposes and their comparative advantages over competing language games, are more useful or justifiable than any practical alternative.

Understanding Gregory Bateson Chapter 5 – “Aesthetics, Ecology, and the Path Toward Grace

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 03/18/2015

Understanding Gregory Bateson: Mind, Beauty, and the Sacred Earth – Noel G. Charlton

…Firstly, he [Bateson] was linking the aesthetic, the beautiful, in “nature,” and in human art, with the possibility of enlightened ways of living.

…For him, life is a matter of patterns within patterns, all beautiful and hence aesthetic, arranged in levels and differentiated into logical types of lesser and greater generality.

…the aesthetic dimension of living, is able to enhance the possibility of our refinding grace, specifically *because* art is not subject to purposeful, language-bound, conscious rationality.

Poetry, he says, is not distorted prose. It is the reverse of that: prose is poetry that has been subjected to logic…We cannot expect to bring artistic or creative process wholly within the world of conscious purpose and description.

…Our limited, language-mediated consciousness, unaided by art, dreams, poetry, and other aesthetic practice, can no longer appreciate the systemic nature of mental process…As societies and individuals, *we* are dynamic patterns within the patterned world. *Love* can only survive if *wisdom* (recognition of the fact of circuitry) has an effective voice. Engagement with the aesthetic and the beautiful is a way to reclaim such wisdom

Later in the week, he was asking whether any social system could be viable “with only laws and ethical principles and no play, no art, no totemism, no religion, and no humor”

An “ecology of ideas” may be a close synonym for aesthetic sensibility.

…”Gradually the realization came that they were choosing their integrity over their existence.” It would be nonsense to sacrifice integrity in order to save a religion “whose only validity – whose only point and purpose- is the cultivation of integrity.: Bateson’s point is that the validity of our mental processes is imperiled if we breach “the fine lines dividing the sacred from the secular, the aesthetic from the appetitive, , the deliberative from the unconscious, and thought from feeling.”

…to experience an aesthetic response is to recognize a fellow mental process.

…It is, claimed Bateson, the organism *in relationship with its environment* that is the unit of survival [rather than a mere individual organism or a species]. From his earlier statements, it is clear that he sees aesthetic recognition of relationship as a necessary aspect of survival.

…Here he is beginning to emphasize that aesthetic process – the production and recognition of beauty – *is a feature of evolution.* Evolutionary creativity is mental in kind. it is analogous to, and is a special case of, mental creativity and artistic process. The products of evolution become examples of art. The artistic products of humans are similarly “marked by the evidences of that mental creativity.” We can now search for the “criteria of mind” among all the products of mind: evolutionary, environmental, natural, and artefactual.

…[re: Wordsworth] “This something more is self-reflexive recognition. The primrose resembles the poem and both poem and primrose resemble the poet. He learns about himself as a creator when he looks at the primrose. His pride is enhanced to see himself as a contributor to the vast processes which the primrose exemplifies. And his humility is exercised and made valid by recognizing himself as a tiny product of those processes.”

…As explained earlier, information is not, for Bateson, just data or words about facts or things in the world. It is any “difference which makes a difference,” [cf. Derrida’s “différance”] any item of “news” – novelty, change, contrast, comparison, growth, evolution, symmetry, asymmetry, similarity, or dissimilarity – that is relevant to the relationship in which it is perceived. Bateson says that the understanding of the “deeper symmetry of formal relations” is basic: “Never quantities, always shapes, forms and relationships..” There is always connectedness.

…It’s not a new idea that living things have immanent beauty, but it is revolutionary to assert *as a scientist*, that matters of beauty are really highly formal, very real, and crucial to the entire political and ethical system in which we live.

…Mind, learning, evolution, rigorous art, and loving science are one.

grace as that which enables the recognition of our relational embeddedness in the living world

all organisms, not just art critics and philosophers, rely on aesthetics all the time.

In pursuit of meaning – eudaimonia expanded

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 03/17/2015

Happiness, and all that crap – Clive Hamilton

The pleasant life, or life of pleasure, is one motivated by hedonism – the desire to maximise the number of emotional and physical “highs”. This is the signature of modern consumer capitalism. Within constraints, it is possible to learn the skills necessary to foster the pleasant life, including techniques for amassing income, giving greater access to hedonistic pursuits. Although self-centered, for people committed to the pleasant life the focus of activity is always outwards – looking to the external world to provide sources of satisfaction. Status seeking through career success, for example, can be counted as a feature of the pleasant life because of its emphasis on external reward.

The second approach is the good life. It can be thought of as a life devoted to developing and refining one’s capabilities and thereby fulfilling one’s potential, an orientation adopted by Martha Nussbaum and Amartya Sen in their work on development and wellbeing. Whereas the pleasant life borrows from the future in order to enjoy the present, the good life invests in the present in order to augment the future. Among the characteristics of the good life are purposeful engagement, positive self-regard, high-quality relationships, environmental mastery and continued personal growth.

Aristotle argued that each of us has a daemon, or spirit, and that the purpose of life is to discover and honour it, so the “good life” approach is close to the idea of eudaimonism. The contrast between the pleasant life and the good life reflects the ancient dispute between the Epicureans and the Stoics, and there is now a body of psychological research supporting the distinction. The former is an intensely subjective idea of wellbeing explored through notions of positive affect (or emotion). It is easily, but not very reliably, measured by surveys of subjective wellbeing.

The meaningful life, the third approach to living, is similar to the good life insofar as it may require the development of one’s “signature strengths”. But whereas the pursuit of the good life can be self-focused – the athlete or musician perfecting their skills through years of training and achieving “flow” – the meaningful life entails a commitment to something greater than oneself, a higher cause. Those committed to a meaningful life are not, in fact, committed to their own lives, but to social improvement, or to living in a register that transcends the personal.

For those who pursue the meaningful life, the boundary between the self and the other is permeable. The meaningful life corresponds to what the philosophers of the past understood to be the pursuit of virtue, or selfless moral principles.

“it is totally white and gold” – Memes, attention policing and play

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 02/27/2015

#TheDress and the Rise of Attention-Policing

This is a line of logic that will be familiar from most any Meme Event—the logic that says, basically, “don’t look at that; that is unimportant.” It’s attention-policing, and it’s reminiscent of so many other strains of rhetorical legislation that play out in online conversations: You can’t say that. You can’t talk about that. GUYS, the attention-policer usually begins. How can you be talking about a dress/a leg/a pair of llamas/a dancing neoprene shark when climate change/net neutrality/marriage equality/ISIS/China/North Korea is going on?

The world, to be sure, is a complicated and often tragic and often deeply unfair place. It contains famines and genocides and war, births and deaths, Katy Perry and Björk, Big Macs and kale and Bloomin’ Onions, privilege and the lack of it, llamas that are caged and llamas that are free. And we humans—animals who are striving to be so much more—have a big say in the balance between the good and the bad. We should not be glib about any of that. Nor should we lose sight of the fact that, if you find yourself with the ability to use the most transformational communications platform the world has ever known to engage in debates about the color of a dress being sold on Amazon dot com, you are, fundamentally, extremely privileged. And thus in a better position than most to make the world better. Attention is a valuable thing; we have an obligation be selective about where we direct it.

And yet. The problem with attention-policing—besides the fact that it tends to be accompanied by humorlessness and marmery, and besides the other fact that it serves mostly to amplify the ego of the person doing the policing—is that it undermines the value of Internet memes themselves. Those memes, whether they involve #thedress or #llamadrama or #leftshark or #whathaveyou, are culturally lubricating. They create, and reinforce, the imagined community. Last night, we needed each other—not just to share and joke and laugh, but also to prove to ourselves that we weren’t going completely crazy. “TELL ME WHAT COLOR THIS DRESS IS,” I texted a friend. “OKAY, PHEW,” I texted again, when he saw it as white-and-gold. I also, on the other hand, mock-disowned a significant percentage of the people I love in a haze of #whiteandgold partisanship—but even that kind of faux-fighting has its value. Theorists of play, from Huizinga to Piaget, have pointed out how powerful the infrastructures of games can be. They allow us to explore ideas and bond in a mutually-agreed-upon environment. Jane McGonigal, the game designer and theorist, suggests that the alternate universes provided by video games allow us to think in terms of collaboration and problem-solving. Games’ constraints, she argues, are actually empowering.

And what are memes if not games? They are small; they are low-stakes; they are often silly. (Sorry, #llamadrama.) But they are also communal. They invite us to participate, to adapt, to joke, to create something together, under the auspices of the same basic rules. That is not a small thing. That is, in fact, a huge thing—particularly when it comes to the very concerns the attention police like to remind us of. If we have any hope of solving the world’s most systemic and sweeping problems, we will have to come together. Inequality, climate change, injustices both enormous and less so … these will require cooperative action. They will require us to collaborate and compromise and value diversity. The dress makes a pretty good metaphor for all that. Also, it is totally white and gold.

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Another Social Practice Project That Isn’t One – Art, Life, and Community in VT (Part II)

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 02/26/2015

Bethel’s Free University Re-Imagines Education, Unites Community

[Bethel is the town immediately north of mine. Its population is approx. 2000]

The town of Bethel is about to start its second year of Bethel University, a pop-up community school that offers a wide variety of free classes open to anyone, Bethel resident or beyond.

Stone says the creation of Bethel University was “a long and winding path,” but that after Tropical Storm Irene, the community wanted to live in a different kind of place, one where neighbors were familiar and supportive.

Stone’s involvement in Bethel University stems from Tropical Storm Irene as well. “When Irene hit, it took us several days to realize how bad the damage was in town. And that was a real wake-up call for me, to say, I really [should] know that someone’s house was swept down river a half mile from my house. So I had a really strong personal motivation to start getting to know my neighbors,” says Stone.

In its second year, Stone says Bethel University is already making the community stronger. “It’s not something that can be changed in a year, or by one event, but there have been so many small little projects, so many instances of collaboration, trust and community-building popping up that [Bethel is] really an exciting place to be right now.”

Dave Hickey as Dennis Miller

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 02/20/2015

Screenshot 2015-02-19 at 8.55.12 PM

Dave Hickey is basically Dennis Miller – his cocksure obtuseness and endless string of obscure references juxtaposed against some pop item were once entertaining and funny. Now he is just a sad old man using what is left of his wit to ostensibly lampoon some contemporary hipster, but he is really lampooning himself and defending an outmoded, mean and rearguard world view.

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Scott Stroud’s “John Dewey and the Artful Life: Pragmatism, Aesthetics, and Morality” – Chapters Seven and Eight

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 02/05/2015

…I think the heart of the Deweyan challenge strikes deeper. How can we render everyday communication, such as that experienced in mundane conversations with friends, cashiers, and so on, aesthetic?

[Dewey] “The highest and most difficult kind of inquiry and a subtle, delicate, vivid and responsive art of communication must take possession of the physical machinery of transmission and circulation and breathe life into it…Democracy will come into its own, for democracy is a name for a life of free and enriching communion…It will have its consummation when free social inquiry is indissolubly wedded to the art of full and moving communication.”

…vivid, live, and qualitatively enhanced experience **is** aesthetic experience.

…[Dewey believed] aesthetic experience could be realized in any type of experience in life…[Dewey considered art] as indicative of human processes and activities **at a certain pitch of experiential quality.**

[Dewey] “Art is a quality of doing and of what is done…When we say that tennis-playing, singing, acting, and a multitude of other activities are arts, we engage in an elliptical way of saying that there is art **in** the conduct of these activities and that this art so qualifies what is done and made as to induce activities in those who perceive them in which there is also art.” The vital point here is not so much the objective features of some object [or experience/activity], but instead in the sort of experience it required in its production and the sort of experience it engenders in its reception by some audience.

…if one cultivates a way of attending to and valuing the present communicative activities, then that process can be rendered aesthetic…

…Instantiating aesthetic or artful forms of communication now is not only a way to help create desired forms of enlivened community in the future, it is also the creation of the desired goal **now.** Aesthetic or artful communication is seeing, using, and experiencing utterance as not merely a statement, not merely as a means toward coordinated action; it sees the activity of discourse as the sort of coordinated, valuable action we want to maintain in future states of affairs. In other words, the process of communication **is** the end of communicating – individuals attentively responding to each other and the situation in such a way as to truly instantiate a community of interacting beings. [<—this seems as useful and sufficiently broad an argument for social practice as any…]

The artful life is one that is finely adapted to particular demands of the situation, which includes the inner needs and drives of the subject as well as the outer demands imposed by one’s station, other individuals, and the social and natural environment itself. Finely attending to the properties of an art object is what makes it expressive and artful, and the fine-tuned and attentive focus on meeting the demands of the present situation is what makes our present activity most adapted and immediately valuable, as well as most instrumentally valuable for reaching consequent states of affairs that hinge on how we handle the here and now.

…the present is more real than either the past or the future.

…even in everyday affairs such as cooking and conversing with others, there is the opportunity for meaning, unity, and absorption.

…artful living concerns how one engages one’s situation…

…Moral cultivation, like aesthetic experience, involves a certain live and absorbing interpenetration of the organism with the situation at hand. Such a quality of experience is not only higher in terms of subjective satisfaction, but also in terms of the likelihood of growing, adjusting, or thriving in light of that situation’s demands and opportunities.

Thus, the overall goal of a life well lived would be one that is attentively engaged in as many lived presents as possible.

The artful life is the life that is lived in the present, the life that instantiates engaged, absorptive attention to the demands of life **now.** Of course, this instantiation helps one develop and solidify those habits that will help one attend to the next present situation. Like Dewey’s general reading of moral development in “Human Nature and Conduct,” the vital move is the development of habit. The type of habit that I have identified as being particularly important is one’s orientation to the world, self, and activity. With a bit of conscious attention to one’s orientation, one can improve the quality of experience one has in front of art objects, desks, customers, and conversational partners…People can make more of their life artful, more of their life like the unified production and playing out of a great work of art, primarily through realizing the key to the aesthetic.

…Artful living is a way of living as if the present was your goal, as if the self and world you are creating through your actions were a work of art worth attending to with all your energy, care, and devotion.

Scott Stroud’s “John Dewey and the Artful Life: Pragmatism, Aesthetics, and Morality” – Chapter Six

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 02/04/2015

…how can we render more of life’s experiences aesthetic or artful?

[Dewey]”Habit does not preclude the use of thought, but it determines the channels in which it operates. Thinking is secreted in the interstices of habits. The sailor, miner, fisherman and farmer think, but their thoughts fall within the framework of accustomed occupations and relationships…Thinking itself becomes habitual along certain lines.”

…certain orientations that a subject can take may be better than others in terms of their adaptive value to the environment (including social environments) and their value in terms of the quality of a subject’s experience, and second, individuals can work to improve their experience by changing their orientations toward the world, self, and others.

…the orientation that harms the pleasure and effectiveness of present action is that of **attachment** to and **fixation** on the (remote) object’s of one’s desire…happiness always occupies a present…

[Dewey] “We have insisted that happiness, reasonableness, virtue, perfecting, are on the contrary parts of the present significance of present action. Memory of the past, observation of the present, foresight of the future are indispensable. But they are indispensable **to** a present liberation, an enriching growth of action. Happiness is fundamental in morals only because happiness is not something to be sought for, but is something now attained, even in the midst of pain and trouble, whenever recognition of our ties with nature and with fellow-men releases and informs our action…”

[Dewey] “…to be playful and serious at the same time is possible, and it defines the ideal mental condition. Absence of dogmatism and prejudice, presence of intellectual curiosity and flexibility, are manifest in the free play of mind upon a topic. To give the mind this free play is not to encourage toying with a subject, but is to be interested in the unfolding of a subject on its own account, apart from its subservience to a preconceived belief or habitual aim. Mental play is open-mindedness, faith in the power of thought to preserve its own integrity without external supports and arbitrary restrictions. Hence free mental play involves seriousness, the earnest following of the development of the subject-matter. It is incompatible with carelessness or flippancy, for it exacts accurate noting of every result reached in order that every conclusion may be put to further use.”

[Dewey] “To live in the present is compatible with condensation of far-reaching meanings in the present. Such enrichment of the present for its own sake is the just heritage of childhood and the best insurer of future growth.”

…the rendering of life as the “supreme art.”…this artistic approach to life requiring [Dewey]”fineness of touch; skill and thoroughness of workmanship; susceptible response and delicate adjustment to a situation apart from reflective analysis; instinctive perception of the proper harmonies of act and act, of man and man.” Life, when done right and with the sort of approach that would best result in that quality of experience called “growth,” would be done with this artistry of touch and attention to the very material that make up our desire and our interactions with others.

[Dewey] “…we have the attitude typical of the artist, an attitude that may be displayed in all activities, even though they are not conventionally designated ‘arts'”

Social practice and Scientology

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 01/16/2015

Screenshot 2015-01-16 at 12.28.10 PM

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Art is a prison: Ferran Adrià exploring an imaginative elsewhere

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 01/04/2015

Ferran Adrià Feeds the Hungry Mind – Sam Borden

A decent example of why art is so boring to me. Once you disconnect aesthetics and creativity from the lame ass chains of art history you can be way more inventive…or as David Robbins put it:

“All the time, though, my sensibility pointed toward and yearned for an imaginative Elsewhere. I became increasingly dissatisfied with the narrowness of art as a formulation of the imagination. This will sound preposterous to many people, I’m aware, given that art offers and represents extraordinary behavioral freedoms, but in “making art” I found an ultimately enslaving formulation. How so? In art, you can do, yes, anything you want so long as you’re willing to have it end up as art. That isn’t real imaginative freedom, in my view. Inquisitiveness of mind will carry you past art, and apparently I love inquisitiveness of mind more than I love art.”

So what is his goal? The foundation’s current mission seems to flutter between worldly and chaotic. Consider the activity on a morning in November: One group of employees worked in a corner of the loft on prototypes of a website known as BulliPedia that, when finished, will be a type of Wikipedia for haute cuisine. On the opposite side of the room, a young woman edited pages intended for a multivolume book collection tracing the history of food. At a desk facing the window, three men spent hours researching white asparagus. (It was not immediately clear what this was for.)

“this is a flow chart of a cucumber’s existence”

He also seems uninterested in running his foundation as a typical start-up, and his rigid devotion to his own mantras can occasionally give the entire operation a cultish feel. Additionally, it isn’t obvious exactly how his ideas will make the leap from notion to project. Mr. Adrià has nominally divided the foundation into two main strands: knowledge, which is the group focused on creating BulliPedia; and creativity, which is focused on, in his words, “deconstructing the entire process of creativity.” He calls this group El Bulli DNA.

If the names of the various projects aren’t enough to keep straight, Mr. Adrià adds a few more: El Bulli Lab is the Barcelona-based office where people associated with El Bulli DNA do their work. That should not be confused with 6W Food, which may not get going for a few more years but is expected to be a sort of cross between a science museum, an art museum and a house of culinary innovation. Also in the works is a search engine known as SeaUrching (named in part for the delicacy) as well as a language to describe gastronomy known as Huevo, Spanish for egg. Huevo, it was noted by one of Mr. Adrià’s colleagues, could ultimately be a digital language coded for use by refrigerators or other kitchen appliances.

The politics of spectatorship

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 11/18/2014


Scott Stroud’s “John Dewey and the Artful Life: Pragmatism, Aesthetics, and Morality” – Chapter Five

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 11/17/2014

…all experience can be experienced as aesthetic.

Dewey advocates the method of the sciences because it seems to him to be the best way to usefully ground philosophy (and reflection in general) **in** experience without doing damage **to** experience. What is damaging of course, is when this description is taken to **be** the experience – for instance, the overly intellectualized and misguided notion that we **experience** “patches of brown in a chairlike shape.” The empirical method starts by acknowledging the integrated unity of primary experience and then applies distinctions in reflection, all the while judging these distinctions as to their value in use and consequences for future experience. This is the general orientation of this approach, and one who takes this empirical method to heart thereby incorporates this orientation to the world and reflection upon it. The question then becomes, how does this impact such an individual’s reflective activities?

…Dewey notes in Experience and Culture as well as in Art as Experience – immediate experience is different in **feel** from reflective activity. To take reflective experience for **all** experience is to commit the fallacy of intellectualism. Knowledge is a reflective endeavor involving conscious thought, justification and propositional statements. Immediate experience is just that – immediate and prior to detailed reflection. If there are discursive elements to immediate experience, it is because the concepts/words have been rendered as habitually meaningful…

…experience **is** specific experience…A definition is different from the experience of something, and while it may be useful, it always exists for a purpose and lacks something of the immediate feel of an experience of some event. No definition **exhausts** the experience of what is being defined.

…The value of criticism for Dewey, including philosophy as criticism of criticism, is in the opening up of possibilities for newer and deeper experience. Aesthetic criticism broadens one’s thinking about the experience of art, which in turn leads to those experiences being even more meaningful.

By “morality,” he [Dewey] “means that kind of expansion in meaning which is consequent upon observations of the conditions and outcome of conduct…It is learning the meaning of what we are about and employing that meaning in action.

The present, not the future, is ours. No shrewdness, no store of information will make it ours. But by constant watchfulness concerning the tendency of acts, by noting disparities between former judgments and actual outcomes, and tracing that part of the disparity that was due to deficient and excess in disposition, we come to know the meaning of present acts, and to guide them in light of that meaning.

The framing of one part of life in a narrative is detached from life in one regard, largely because of cultural institutions surrounding the production, delivery, and reception of such an art object. In another sense, however, it is still vividly engaging in a practical sense as it is a framed presentation **of life.** It frames and focuses the audience’s attention on some part of life, be it a value, action, strategy, etc. and forces the audience to reflect and deliberate on the value of what is presented **for their projects and activities.** One notices this functioning and framing and, more important, attention in Dewey’s reading of the value of aesthetic experience – it is revelatory, and “revelation in art is the quickened expansion of experience” Notice that what art reveals **is** internal to the experience of the art object; life is revealed insofar art it is experienced in the particular fashion that an art object, either intentionally or through the critical orientation of an audience frames it.

…[Richard Shusterman] “art’s apparent diversion from real life may be a needed path of indirection that leads us back to experience life more fully through the infectious intensity of aesthetic experience and its release from affective inhibitions.”


Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 11/13/2014


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Scott Stroud’s “John Dewey and the Artful Life: Pragmatism, Aesthetics, and Morality” – Chapter Four (part 2)

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 11/13/2014

In Art as Experience, Dewey explains this last trait of underlying quality thus: “An experience has a unity that gives it its name, **that** meal, **that** storm, **that** rupture of friendship. The existence of this unity is constituted by a single **quality** that pervades the entire experience in spite of the variation of its constituent parts.” As to whether or not this unifying property comes after the experience in the activities of reflection or discourse, Dewey is quite clear: “This unity is neither emotional, practical, nor intellectual, for these terms name distinctions that reflection can make within it [experience].” Dewey is claiming that this quality is something immediate and is internal to one’s experience, whereas what is brought up and dissected in reflection is usually external to that which is being reflected upon…

…Dewey places much importance on cultivating habits of attention to the present situation…

…Dewey’s collapse of artistic means into artistic ends – the pigments do not **cause** the painting, they **are** the painting. The means **are** the end to be achieved and this fact is what makes an artistic means a **medium**. It is not a **mere** means to some disconnected end, it is **the** end itself. The collective group of the parts of an art object (say, the scenes in a play) **is** the art object. What Dewey’s concept of rhythm provides is the **quality** that links these parts together in such a way that they do not become mere means to an external end. This is an integral part of rhythm, “for whenever each step forward is at the same time a summing up and fulfillment of what precedes, and every consummation carries expectation tensely forward, there is rhythm.”

…R. Keith Sawyer notes that Dewey’s reading of aesthetic experience highlights the fact that the process is the product, but he fails to account for the moral value of seeing the process (of continuously advancing present) a morally valuable. What is vital to notice is that the process is valuable because it is the process that moral cultivation aims at – attention to the merging of past and future, capacity and environment in a conscious present situation experienced by an agent. Dewey notes this educational import of art in terms of life; he states: “The living being is characterized by having a past and a present; having them as possessions of the present, not just externally. And I suggest that it is precisely when we get from an art product the feeling of dealing with a **career**, a history, perceived at a particular point of its development, that we have the impression of life.” Like the sort of action we ought to aim for in life, art is a focus on a present funded by a history and anticipating future activities. Aesthetic experience, such as that initiated by attending to an art object, is morally valuable because it is an instance of attention to a present situation with connections to past history and future activity. Dewey captures this value by noting that if art objects reproduce anything, it is not the details of life, but instead must be the energy or flow of the experience of life. The moral value of art is closely tied to the immediacy of meaning and value as experienced, and it is internal to the experience of the art object itself. This is what makes such an account different from the **casual** variety, and instead renders what I have called an **experiential** account. The morally valuable features of aesthetic experience itself is an instance of moral cultivation.

…Morality is a lifelong project and I can now claim that aesthetic experience is a vital part of that project. How large a part can aesthetic experience play if most of our everyday life and activity does not involve art objects? The answer to this question was hinted at in Dewey’s example of the ferryboat passengers that opened this chapter – if art objects are special merely because they are very effective at creating the conditions for aesthetic experience, then it is possible that **any** activity could be experienced as aesthetic if conditions and attitudes cooperate to make it so. The question can then be asked, could not the majority of one’s life be an aesthetic experience or artful activity?

…moral value always resides in some present, either the present of today or the present that will be experienced tomorrow…

Cannot one attain such an aesthetic focus on the present in the ordinary activities of life? Like the ferryboat passengers, a human can adopt the orientation toward activity that sees it as valuable and as the here and now in which life exists…In discussing the topic of using nondemocratic means to achieve ends that are democratic, he notes that democracy is only created by instantiating a form of it **now**. This is because the **now** reflects our attitudes and values as well as shapes future attitudes and values. it is both an instantiation of the endpoint (democracy) as well as preparation for futures instantiations of that endpoint. Those who think that the present can be sacrificed (in other words, treated as mere means to a future goal) are forgetting the **value** of the present in immediate experience. Dewey reminds us that “we must always remember the the dependence of ends upon means is such that the only ultimate result is the result attained today, tomorrow, the next day, and day after day, in the succession of years and generations.”

[Dewey] “The ideal of using the present simply to get ready for the future contradicts itself. It omits, and even shuts out, the very condition by which a person can be prepared for his future. We always live at the time that we live and not at some other time, and only by extracting at each present time the full meaning of each present experience are we prepared for doing the same thing in the future.” It is the **meaning** of the present that is **in** the experience, and that is what ought to be the focus of attention, not some remote end or state.

Why ought we to exclude any object from the realm of those things that can be potentially involved in the having of an aesthetic experience?…Attention to and absorption in the development of activity, be it that of art or life, is what a fully flourishing, growing, and adjusted human must continually strive to attain. This is a purpose higher than that reached by defining certain events in certain ways and it is a move that has much more practical value in how individuals experience the world.

Scott Stroud’s “John Dewey and the Artful Life: Pragmatism, Aesthetics, and Morality” – Chapter Four (part 1)

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 11/11/2014

…Dewey’s aesthetics resists this move [the separation of aesthetic and moral value], however, noting that such a result is the consequence of the accidental separation of art from life, and not a feature of art itself…

A certain way of experiencing an object with a certain sort of **attention** and **absorption** characterizes what Dewey labels “aesthetic experience.” The question now becomes, can such a way of experiencing a situation or object (be it a work of art or a nonintentional skyline) be morally valuable or cultivating? In other words, is such an experience **merely** aesthetic, or does it connect in some close way to moral betterment?

…[Dewey’s aesthetics supports] that aesthetic experience **is** an experience of moral cultivation insofar as it **is** an experience of attention to one’s situation and the relationships in which one is embedded.

The important point I want to emphasize here, however, is that moral cultivation ought to end with the agent being optimally adjusted to his or her environment; this means expressing his or her impulses, habits, and so forth in a sustainable, meaningful, and effective fashion in light of the present situation (environment). Dewey translates this point into the idiom of judgment (and with it, conscious direction of practical activity) by defining right actions as those that “tend to expand, invigorate, harmonize, and in general organize the self.” Moral cultivation of the self involves a revealing of that self and its capacities in a certain situation, but it also deals with better or worse ways to **express** impulse in action. Creating a character that expresses impulses that are well adjusted to other impulses and the agent’s environment is vital to moral activity for Dewey, as actions flow from an agent’s character, and both are evoked and formed in light of some prevailing environment. Self-expression is the expression of the self we ought to be – the harmonized system of impulses given meaning in light of our present environment.

…The endpoint of moral cultivation, progressive adjustment, is not a set of certain actions that are morally worthy or a specific virtue that is mandatory, but instead involves the “development of character, a certain spirit and method of conduct.” Thus, **any** activity can have moral value insofar as **any** activity can affect one’s character and serve as the forming ground of the aforementioned spirit and method of conduct. Like the putative category of moral activities, Dewey holds that there is no delineated realm of moral value (and objects that posses it) because of the wide nature of character and the ways it can be developed

…character involves a certain **way** (spirit or method) of going about action…Thus, moral cultivation involves the development of attentiveness to one’s present situation…first, attention is vital because the moral situation is fundamentally a present situation, and second, because the ends and implicated goals of moral activity always occupy a present situation.

…The more important claim Dewey is making is that the development of the individual **is** the development of the community, and vice versa…

[Dewey] “happiness, reasonableness, virtue, perfecting are on the contrary parts of the present significance of present action. Memory of the past, observation of the present, foresight of the future are indispensable. But they are indispensable **to** a present liberation, an enriching growth of action.” It is this aspect of presentness that will be foregrounded by the aesthetic.

…Aesthetic experience is a **way** that experience can be…[it] can encompass most of life, and that life becomes the “supreme art” that one is to master. Speaking on this connection of aesthetic experience (as related to artistic production) to the activities of life, [Dewey] states “Living itself is the supreme art; it requires fineness of touch; skill and thoroughness of workmanship; susceptible response and delicate adjustment to a situation apart from reflective analysis; instinctive perception of the proper harmonies of act and act, of man and man [sic].” Art is important to moral matters largely because it is (commonly) connected to a type of experience that is called “aesthetic.”

…there are ways we can **skillfully make** most activities of our lives aesthetic, and therefore artful…

…Dewey’s notion of the aesthetic experience and the work of art is separate from the art object itself. The painting is not the work of art; the latter requires interaction with the viewer to become a work of art. Thus, aesthetic experience is an integral part of something truly being a work of art. The suppressed premise, of course, is that the honorific title of “art” is to be applied to those situations and objects that have value for us. Dewey could have gone with the common notion of art (the museum conception), but he instead begins with the commitment to ordinary value and naturalism in aesthetic theory. He therefore must link what is really art to the interaction with those whom the value affects- humans with their interests and needs. The art object, like other environmental forces, challenges the human in its givenness; the human then interacts with the object and what it offers in terms of material for experience, often adding their own interpretation and meaning to it, to produce the work of art through this interactive experience.

…[Dewey describes] science as a reflective method to instruct other on how they can have a similar experience with those aspects of reality described in the data…

Scott Stroud’s “John Dewey and the Artful Life: Pragmatism, Aesthetics, and Morality” – Chapters Two and Three

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 11/10/2014

…a major point of Dewey’s aesthetics (and general philosophy of experience) is to find a way to reflect on experience so as to **improve** future lived experience…

[aesthetic experiences of disinterestedness and interestedness] vary only in degree, not kind…the aesthetic attitude is not clearly demarcated from the practical attitude…One can merely indicate the ways that a certain experience tends toward having more of this quality and less of another quality.

…one’s experience of art is not of developing of imagination, calming tensions, etc., but is of a certain invigorated **experience** closely tied to some particular art object. The focus should be on the **experience** of art and its value, and not on the **effects** of that experience as related to other, equally ordinary,ways of achieving those effects.

…[Dewey] “When intellectual experience and its material are taken to be primary, the cord that binds experience and nature is cut.”

…In reflection, the hallmark activity is that of breaking experience into distinct concepts that are cognitive in the sense of being consciously connected to other states of affairs. This is an experience in itself, but it is not the whole human experience, nor is it identical with what is being analyzed with such concepts. Dewey recognizes this limitation of cognitive components to experience, and points out that “the cognitive is never all-inclusive; that is, when the material of a prior non-cognitive experience is the object of knowledge, it and the act of knowing are themselves included within a new and wider non-cognitive experience – and **this** situation can never be transcended.”…The whole of experience, however, is never reflective, but is qualitative. This is Dewey’s point, and it is a point that is lost when philosophers knowingly or unknowingly adopt the causal approach to understanding aesthetic experience.

criticism, like reflection, should not be confused with the felt experience of life

…Value is a difficult concept because it denotes a **way** of prizing or acting toward something, and it can also refer to a process of justifying such prizing…[non-cognitive, immediate value] Such a value is shown when one takes delight in something directly, as when one hears a favorite song or reads a poem that accords with his or her preferences. One does not need to establish that such things are good or valued; they just are valued or experienced as good…it makes the point that Dewey wants to make in his ethics and aesthetics – much of our confrontation with the world is in the form of habits, and these include what can be called values and the activity of valuing. Only in certain cases do humans **evaluate** or **valuate** – create and justify some value in reference to other possible or actual values.

…Dewey recommends a notion of intrinsic value that is existential. By existential he does not mean that the value exists apart from the experience of a subject, but instead that the value **qua** quality belongs to that object in experience. When one sees a white paper, it is experienced as white. Whiteness is intrinsic to to the object, **in those conditions.** The same applies for value. As Dewey notes, “**all** qualities whatever are ‘intrinsic’ to the things they qualify at the time and place of the occurrence of the latter.”

…Dewey argues that “the contrast in question is to be regarded not as a contrast between something good only in an ‘extrinsic’ or accidental sense and that which is good because of an eternal and universal nature, but as a contrast between a good which is **immediately** such and one determined as good upon **reflection** covering an extensive number of existing cases.”

…If one sees that it is possible to conceive of intrinsic value as **immediate** value experienced in the situation, then one needs not to be forced to argue with essentialist presuppositions. The immediate value of art is tied to to what it is **experienced** as, and what one can call its instrumental value can be the **same** experience considered in light of its conditions and consequences as connected to other states of affairs.

…Dewey identifies this as a problem with modern thought, and one that leads to the demeaning oc actual ends in nature – namely, the **quality** of one’s experience. Dewey notes that the quality of one’s experience is part of ancient teleology that is left out of the modern view of the world. On this point, he argues that “empirically, the existence of objects of direct grasp, possession, use and enjoyment cannot be denied. Empirically, things are poignant, tragic, beautiful, humorous, settled, disturbed, comfortable, annoying, barren, harsh, consoling, splendid, fearful; are such immediately and in their own right and behalf…[E]sthetic quality, immediate, final, or self-enclosed, indubitably characterizes natural situations as they empirically occur…**Any** quality as such is final; it is at once initial and terminal; just what it is as it exists.”

…Modern mechanistic approaches to science and the natural world shift the focus away from this (crucial) aspect of first person experience, and, as such, lead to real effects as to the quality of this experience. Dewey hints at this one-sided focus on the “intellectual or instrumental phase” of things, saying that “in principle the step is taken whenever objects are so reduced from their status of complete objects as to be treated as signs or indications of other objects.” This is a hallmark of scientific reduction of quality in the world…

the experience of an art object is an experience of moral cultivation

Instead of removing art from practical matters (including moral improvement), Dewey finds in art the potential for a different situation – art as a part of life. The way Dewey wants to go about bringing aesthetic experience back into contact with the activities of life is by emphasizing how art unifies means and ends…There is no single sentence that can convey the point of Othello or Christo’s Gates; instead, the experience of the whole art object **is** the end that is to be actualized.

…The art object is not a mere means to an aesthetic experience; experiencing the art object (and its qualities) **is** an aesthetic experience.

…Dewey is noting that it is the experience of the art object in the present that is so powerful…The art object would not be so absorbing if this unity and qualitative richness were not present in it, parts and whole. If it were a mere means, one would see the experience of its parts and qualities as a mere mechanistic way to cause some effect…

…Means and ends are combined in this conscious and reflective activity, and [Dewey]”the process is art and its product, no matter at what stage it be taken, is a work of art.” The “ideal,” to be discussed later, is the transformation of much of our everyday activity into such a work of art – this is the endpoint of making present activity meaningful, intelligent, and ultimately efficacious.

…Goals are always of some present, and in pursuing a remote ideal the tendency is to ignore the present here and now. Cognition and reflective activity should not become so abstract that they totally remove one from the qualities of the present, **including the qualities of the present as given meaning through reflection.**…This involves a commitment to the present; as Dewey notes in reference to a person’s orientation toward his activity. “control of future living, such as it may turn out to be, is wholly dependent upon taking his present activity, seriously and devotedly, as an end, not as means.”

important qualities of aesthetic experience are qualities of moral experience and moral cultivation, Moral uses of art in this sense will not be external or instrumental in the sense of using some experience as a mere means to an effect; instead, the experience of an artwork **is** an experience of morally important and beneficial matters.

Scott Stroud’s “John Dewey and the Artful Life: Pragmatism, Aesthetics, and Morality” – Chapter One

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 11/08/2014

…If one can do things that render one’s experience aesthetic in quality, then such activity can be called artful…

…I want to examine how art can be seen as a way of moral cultivation…

At various places, Dewey’s work provides us with tantalizing clues to his **real** project – the task of making more of life aesthetic or artful…I want to develop the idea that more (if not all) of life’s everyday activities could be rendered as artful or aesthetic…[Dewey] “If the necessary part played in conduct by artistic cultivation is not so plain, it is largely because ‘Art’ has been made such an unreal Fetich [sic] – a sort of superfine and extraneous polish to be acquired only by specially cultivated people. In reality, living is itself the supreme art…”

The important point is to find a way to talk about the special degree of quality in aesthetic experience without making this value a special kind of value (viz., intrinsic)…

I will argue that aesthetic experience is morally cultivating because it **is** an experience of such attentiveness to situations…what is moral about conduct is a certain **way** of attending to whatever present situation one is in…not making the present a mere means to a distant end. Aesthetic experience is the attention to and absorption in the rich present, and such a present can be that of viewing art objects or of participating in any other sort of activity. What is important is the **way** that activity proceeds. This is moral cultivation, and this is how aesthetic experience can be immediately valuable.

…Both embodied and mental practices attempt to inculcate habits of attending to the present situation that are intelligent, adaptable, and beneficial in making one’s individual and relational experience more meaningful…

…The promise of Dewey’s aesthetics is not merely in providing an airtight definition of art or a theoretical reading of the relationship between art and moral value. Instead, Dewey theorizes to meliorate or improve lived experience. The insight of Dewey’s work on art is that what makes art aesthetic is not any particular property of that particular human practice, but rather its tendency to encourage the sort of absorptive, engaged attention to the rich present that is so often lost in today’s fragmented world. The way to substantially improve our experience is not by merely waiting for the material setup of the world to change, but instead lies in the intelligent altering of our deep-seated habits (orientations) toward activity and toward other individuals. The purpose of this book is not to end debate on the relationship between art and morality, but instead to explore ways that Deweyan thought can guide us in our attempts to meliorate our orientations toward life in order to foster and recover the sense of enthralled absorption in the activities in which we are engaged. Life is always lived in some present, and it is here that the battle of life is fought; one can come armed with habits that foster engagement with that present, or one can bring in ways of viewing the here and now (be it an art object or a work task) as a mere means to achieve something in the remote future. Both of these approaches will affect and tone the quality of lived, transactive experience. Dewey’s point, which I will explore at length in this work, is that the former approach is constitutive of artful living.

what do we gain by calling something bad art? – stuff I said on Bad at Sports with the really challenging, thoughtful, responses removed

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 11/02/2014


AFC’s post was hardly a “takedown,” more like a differing opinion. Paddy is smug, snarky, and elitist, in other words a typical art blogger. Note that my merely asserting that doesn’t make it so any more than her asserting something is “bad art” makes it true.

What do we gain by calling something bad art? Especially if non-art people like it? Paddy hyperbolically mentions “cigarettes and candy” not being good for you, but please provide plausible evidence of the harm so-called bad art inflicts – actual harm comparable to diabetes, heart disease, emphysema, etc.

One person’s “spectacle” is another’s “value.” There are plenty of folks who haven’t been *trained* to see Jeff Koons’s puppies or his Macy’s balloon as any less spectacular or insubstantial as Johnson’s piece. In fact the question of “value” in an art critical sense is mostly irrelevant to the entire discussion, except of course, for the small group of people who like those sorts of conversations. Why is the Tribune obliged to have paid staff to address them?

I’m not sure I even understand what the complaint is. Not all art requires a “rigorous discourse” does it? Does this piece? If not, why lament the coverage?
It’s “not newsworthy?” Here again, I have to wonder – says who?

The complaint I hear all too often is that ordinary/non-art people don’t “properly” understand art. Art world folks seem to think that a critic can help educate the public and “draw attention to bad decisions and art world folly while at the same time placing new developments within a larger cultural and historical context.” Surely there is truth to this, but it seems to me that the situation is backwards – rather than try to have ordinary folks understand the art world, the art world should try to understand ordinary/non-art world people. Why is it exactly that people like this sculpture or the singing cowboy? Is using the buzzword “spectacle” the best answer? Why not go out and actually ask people – the ones whose reaction is being dismissed as being wasted on “bad art?” I suspect (and will gladly wager with someone)that the word spectacle would rarely be used.

Let me leave you with Carl Wilson:
“The kind of contempt that’s mobilized by “cool” taste is inimical to an aesthetics that might support a good public life.”

Enough with the snarky my tastes are more informed/sophisticated/smarter/cooler/complexly articulated/ stuff. How about a little more humility, a little more curiosity about what makes others like the things they like?

Or quoting Wilson again (regarding music) “I would be relieved to have fewer debates over who is right or wrong about music, and more that go, “Wow, you hate all the music I like and I hate all the music you like. What might we make of that?”

Yes you were implicated in my comment, but the buzzword comment was directed more at the AFC post that you seemed to endorse – perhaps only in spirit and not in tone. And you’re right, spectacle is hardly an intimidating word, but I stand by my speculation that few would cite it as why they like the sculpture. I’ll gladly go down to the site and talk to an agreed upon number of people to count how many times the word is used.

Of course art people interact with non-art people. I never meant to imply otherwise. When looking at this coverage, and the negative reaction, it is clear that either huge assumptions are being made about the subjective experience of others or that experience was being dismissed as “bad taste.” Your implication was that if someone “qualified” had the opportunity to write about the piece they either wouldn’t (the mere fact that people *actually* like it not being newsworthy) or they might be able to contextualize it (explain why it is in bad taste or superficial to “qualified” tastes).

I don’t want to get in a tit for tat thing here but, “entrenched” is a bit strong. More importantly, ask any of the people I’m “entrenched” with how often I talk about art with them. Art is hardly the basis of the relationship. And don’t forget that I literally spend half of my life living with non-art people from all over the country. Granted they don’t live in Chicago, so maybe the point is moot, but they’re not clamoring for more or better arts coverage. In fact, the only people I ever hear clamoring for it are art people. And to this question of yours, “And for that matter, why should you assume the opinions and curiosities of non art world folks would be so radically different?” As above, it is simply my experience. Maybe this is a class and/or urban/rural thing. My small town parents certainly don’t approach art with a “probing” or “critical” mindset and neither do the guys on the boat. It doesn’t occur to them that either of those things have anything to do with art. When it comes to art, they like pretty things. They have “bad taste.”

The fact that your urban “culturally savvy” lawyers, p.r. people, social workers, and stay at home moms do bring those qualities to their art viewing experience doesn’t do much for me because that just means they already share some basic assumptions with you and the capital A art world about what features art should have. For them, you’re probably right that a Christopher Knight sort of critic might serve their interests.

My central question was never addressed – what do we gain by calling something bad art? And to follow up – What does “art” gain by dismissing the taste of people like my parents? Rather than condescendingly attempting to educate them, isn’t it humbler to assume you and I, might have something to learn from them and their taste for “pretty bad art?”

PS For the record, I did not find your post to be snarky, but you did cite two rather snarky sources for your feelings of embarrassment at the Trib’s coverage. If anyone should be embarrassed it should be Johnson and Knight.
PPS Here’s hoping this doesn’t affect Halloween – wink!
PPPS This is too much work. Hopefully nothing egregiously provocative will be said so that I can avoid responding any further…

Thanks for the suggestion ***. Now here’s some suggested reading for you that might “educate” you regarding your, to put it charitably, questionable assertion, “Art is by definition not a matter of taste…”

P. Bourdieu – Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste
AND The Rules of Art: Genesis and Structure of the Literary Field
Carl Wilson – Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste
David Halle – Inside Culture: Art and Class in the American Home
Lawrence Levine – Highbrow/Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America
Howard Becker – Art Worlds
Herbert Gans – Popular Culture And High Culture: An Analysis And Evaluation Of Taste
Peter Swirski – From Lowbrow to Nobrow

As to the perspective offered by calling something bad art, there is no doubt that *a* perspective is offered. The question is *whose* perspective? And what does that perspective bring to public life and what does it exclude?

You are also tautologically correct that there is a difference between Britney (not Brittany) Spears and Beethoven. Unfortunately, yes, I would argue that it is largely a matter of taste (and power). Although we might disagree on what might replace it/them, isn’t the rise of the “consensus curator” precisely about the imposition of and/or blind adherence to, a certain taste, a taste saturated by power and the pursuit of cultural and social capital? Obviously you still believe in art’s autonomy and obviously I don’t which may be the crux of the disagreement…To you perhaps, not believing in art’s autonomy means not having any conception of art whatsoever?

You’re right, the difference between art and craft is important here, especially how the two notions are situated hierarchically within and across different social classes and cultures (if the distinction exists at all in some of them). The great variability between cultures appears to be an argument for the inextricable link between art and taste. This is doubly so if you look at how popular/low works morph into “high/fine” ones over historical stretches (See Levine’s (above) analysis of Opera’s transition to “high art” in the 19th century U.S.).
Finally regarding anthropology and art as it pertains to this discussion, James Clifford’s The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth-Century Ethnography, Literature, and Art is crucial. See especially the essay “On Collecting Art and Culture” which address the West’s appropriation (while “searching out the origins of modern man” as you put it) of artifacts from other cultures and contextualizing them as art.

This diagram of his gives a quick and dirty guide to the fluidity of the categories as he sees them:

Thanks for actually addressing my question, albeit in a snarky, err, *** way.

I am going to skip my disagreement with what you’ve said and focus on our common ground as I’m one of those boring types “attempting to coexist peacefully” with others.

Yes tacit and explicit knowledge. I have a great deal of interest in this. I hate to be rattling off even more reading, but Polanyi’s Tacit Dimension is central here. I even wrote some sloppy blog posts on the notion:

My thinking has changed a bit as I unfortunately gave explicit knowledge a bit of the upper hand in art practice which you will immediately see is a mistake. I have become far more pragmatic (as in the actual philosophic tradition) since initially writing those posts so let me throw out some “chum” from that school for you that we can also agree on (especially with regard to your de Kooning comment):

Any idea that ignores the necessary role of intelligence in the
production of works of art is based upon identification of thinking
with use of one special kind of material, verbal signs and words.
think effectively in terms of relations of qualities is as severe a
demand upon thought as to think in terms of symbols, verbal and
mathematical. Indeed, since words are easily manipulated in mechanical
ways, the production of a work of genuine art probably demands more
intelligence than does most of the so-called thinking that goes on
among those who pride themselves on being ‘intellectuals.’
— John Dewey, Art as Experience

Amen. I would add to that – dialogue that is *only* critical and only takes place among “scholarly chroniclers” and insists that being “deep” is of utmost value, then that too is a problem.

I would take more time to address your thoughtful comments, but I have to go make jambalaya for my crew (jobs – ugh!)

*** – thanks for wanting me included. Given I’m the soft hearted, populist, egalitarian, inclusivist that you suspect me to be, it means a lot.

You seem to have one misperception though. I actually don’t care all that much to write about art and really don’t (care to) know much about it, especially the kind that makes its way into galleries. Aesthetic experience, on the other hand, I have a great interest in. Being the slacker I am writing about it is just too much work.

Allow me an analogy. I see you as an old line Catholic dispirited at the direction of the church (artworld). Angry at the Protestants (post-conceptualists, “bad” painters, etc.) and their heretical relationship to god (art). Now perhaps the consensus curators and the neo-cons are far more deviant to you. So maybe they’re more like Scientologists from your theological perspective. Maybe *** is Episcopalian – a dissenter, but still sympathetic to Rome in form at least. Come to think of it, maybe you’re more Pentecostal, wanting to throw out all of the middlemen (curators, critics, gallerists) between the believers and god. In this ridiculous analogy I would say I’m an apatheist – dismissing the very question of god (art) as irrelevant altogether (but no atheist). Now I must admit that I’m trending toward a more searching relationship with god (art) and maybe I’ll soon be a Unitarian Universalist an appropriately pluralist and personal faith for me. A faith rooted not in the formalities of dogma or ritual, but in personal experience.

So yeah, thanks but no thanks.

Damn you ***. I really thought I might get a chance to watch a romantic comedy tonight and now I find myself responding…

Don’t be so quick to assume my endorsement of solely crowdsourced criticism. My advocacy of pluralism is not a knee-jerk relativism nor is it to say that there are people’s opinions that aren’t worth more than others.

Earlier I was warning against throwing out data (the aesthetic tastes of others) too quickly. Being a pragmatist, it is also important to contextualize epistemic claims, and to weigh their effects – thus questions like what do we gain by calling something bad art? So I always look to see from what position a claim is being made and what how that claim might operate. Of course this is not just something from pragmatism. I also look to feminist theorists like Harstock (standpoint epistemology) and Haraway (situated knowledge). I swear I’m going to stop the name dropping!

To get back to the “worth” of opinions…If your car is broken you will likely trust the opinion (another way of saying a hypothesis) of your mechanic as to its underlying cause over the opinion of your dentist. The value of the mechanic’s opinion will be tested in experience (a pragmatist touchstone) when you authorize them to fix it. If they turn out to be wrong, the value of their future opinions may very well begin to “fade away” like the font mentioned above. In my example we have a relatively easy test of a problematic situation. In art criticism things get messier no? What is the problem we’re trying to solve when we turn to critical writing? Some possible problems:

1. I have a limited amount of time. Do I want to take the time to see this exhibition?
2. I saw this exhibition and I’m looking for some help making sense of what I experienced.
3. I will be unable to see this exhibition. Can someone give me a reliable account of what it was like?
4. I’m researching “x” and I need some useful thinking on it.
5. I am looking to be made aware of new and interesting things.

There are clearly more. If you break it down in this pragmatist spirit it becomes clearer to me what “quality” is and it also becomes easier to square the two notions you ask about ***. The “quality” of an idea is its usefulness in carrying one through a problematic situation (any of items 1-5 for instance). In the case of criticism, quality can largely come to mean trust – “I trust that Richard Shusterman will provide me with an analysis of a book that will serve my ends.” So *** just hasn’t found Knight all that reliable (despite being a mechanic) in assessing what’s broken with his car, so maybe he’s found that his neighbor (who is a “mere” tinkerer) has done a better job. The neighbor produces higher quality repairs. Of course if the neighbor does this just for *** and can’t do this for anyone else, then the quality is greatly diminished. Correspondingly, if the mechanic fails only ***, but satisfies most other, over time, the quality of his work will reveal itself as tested socially (see below in re: personal truth too).

There are also some forms of crowdsourcing that are better (again meaning more reliable at “solving” something problematic) than others. Amazon reviews are fine, but the structure is difficult to establish trusting (quality) relationships with reviewers. Delicious, Goodreads, and LibraryThing incorporate a social networking aspect that allows you to aggregate and follow a person’s reviews/annotations of websites and books respectively. On delicious for instance you can see everyone that has saved a particular link you find interesting and then you can look at all of their other saved links to determine if this shared interest was an aberration or if there’s a pattern of congruity (also quality). You can then add that person to your network thus adding another curatorial filter (had to make the reference).

Sooooo…one can certainly make claims about quality in my pluralist vision. it’s not the chaos you seem to imagine. It’s just that it limits one to small , not sweeping assertions. To be a properly pragmatist aesthetic populist ones claims must be fallibilistic and meliorist in spirit. The truth of a judgment is determined by a highly contextualized set of qualifiers. That truth is not merely personal however as experience is always part of a social context and will be tested over time. Let’s not forget that human culture has been crowdsourcing a very long time – that’s what capital C culture is right? the judgments of millions of people, some experts, some not coalescing around a set of ideas and practices to create legacies. It’s just that as post-colonialists, feminists, this process is suffused with power and a history of exclusions, thus the need to examine how “expertise” is determined and who is included in the process so that we know how much quality our quality truly merits versus obliges from us out of the laziness of consensus…

Sorry to the two of you still awake after reading my ramble!

I will concede the existence of masterpieces, but let’s not clink our champagne glasses just yet because I do so in the same spirit that I concede the existence of UFOs. That is, there certainly are flying objects that remain unidentified and those UFOs are real in a qualified sense. Masterpieces certainly exist in that there are cultures, and groups within those cultures that discuss and identify them. However there are cultures and groups within cultures that do not. So once again, context is of the utmost importance, you happen to be native (I think?) to a language and culture that has a (constructed) conception of the masterpiece and thus they are quite real to you and whether you accept it or not, I would argue that you have been trained to make the distinction between “schlock” as you called it and “genius.” I prefer Madonna to Bach, and given a certain set of values I can determine which is a masterpiece. The key being what values do I judge by? If you say a masterpiece is something that makes the dance floor fill up consistently and inspires dancing then Madonna’s oeuvre (you must be wincing at seeing those words next to each other) wins. In fact, she now has two decades of the evidence of her “genius.” Again, this leads me to ask though what do we gain by declaring something genius or a masterpiece beyond the emotional satisfaction of declaring our affection? Perhaps in the cause of preservation it is useful…but making these categorical proclamations seems counterproductive unless the ability to exclude some people from recognition is a desired end, which for me is not urgent at all!

Errrgh. Running out of time, so I’m not sure I said this exactly as I’d like…

“no bread without bakeries and no sex without brothels” – more on why art “workers” have it so wrong

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 10/20/2014

Smokestack Lightning – Bob Black

…Steele says I am “out of my depth” in economics, oblivious to my vantage point exterior and ( if all goes well) posterior to the dismal science of scarcity. I never dip into that malarial pool, not at any depth– I drain it. I am not playing Steele’s capitalist game, I am proposing a new game. I am not a bad economist, for I am not an economist at all. Freedom ends where economics begins. Human life was originally pre-economic; I have tried to explore whether it could become post-economic, that is to say, free. The greatest obstacle, it seems to me — and Steele never does overtly disagree — is the institution of work. Especially, I think, in its industrial mode. Like most libertarians, Steele so far prefers industry to liberty that even to pose the problem of work as a problem of liberty throws a scare into him.

Elsewhere in the title essay I offer an abbreviated definition of work as “forced labor,” as “compulsory production.” Predictably a libertarian like Steele contends that the economic carrot is not coercive as is the political stick. I didn’t argue against this unreasonable opinion there because only libertarians and economists hold it and there are not enough of them to justify cluttering up the majestic breadth and sweep of my argument with too many asides…A libertarian or anybody else who can’t understand what I’m saying is either playing dumb or he really is…Only miseducated intellectuals ever have any trouble puzzling out what’s wrong with work.

Work is by definition productive and by definition compulsory (in my sense, which embraces toil without which one is denied the means of survival, in our society most often but not always wage labor). Play is by definition intrinsically gratifying and by definition voluntary. Play is not by definition either productive or unproductive, although it has been wrongly defined by Huizinga and de Kovens among others as necessarily inconsequential. It does not have to be. Whether play has consequences (something that continues when the play is over) depends on what is at stake. Does poker cease to be play if you bet on the outcome? Maybe yes — but maybe no.

My proposal is to combine the best part (in fact, the only good part) of work — the production of use-values — with the best of play, which I take to be every aspect of play, its freedom and its fun, its voluntariness and its intrinsic gratification, shorn of the Calvinist connotations of frivolity and “self-indulgence” which the masters of work, echoed by the likes of Johan Huizinga and David Ramsey Steele, have labored to attach to free play. Is this so hard to understand? If productive play is possible, so too is the abolition of work.

A job, any job — an exclusive productive assignment — is, as “Abolition” makes clear, an aggravated condition of work; almost always it stultifies the plurality of our potential powers. Even activities with some inherent satisfaction as freely chosen pastimes lose much of their ludic kick when reduced to jobs, to supervised, timed, exclusive occupations worked in return for enough money to live on. Jobs are the worst kind of work and the first which must be deranged

I have never denied the need for what the economists call production, I have called for its ruthless auditing (how much of this production is worth suffering to produce?) and for the transformation of what seems needful into productive play,…Productive play. Plenty of unproductive play, too, I hope — in fact ideally an arrangement in which there is no point in keeping track of which is which — but play as paradigmatic. Productive play. Activities which are, for the time and the circumstances and the individuals engaged in them, intrinsically gratifying play yet which, in their totality, produce the means of life for all. The most necessary functions such as those of the “primary sector” (food production) already have their ludic counterparts in hunting and gardening, in _hobbies_. Not only are my categories coherent, they are already operative in every society. Happily not so may people are so economically sophisticated they cannot understand me.

If Steele really believes that there can be no bread without bakeries and no sex without brothels, I pity him.

What I espouse is something that money cannot buy, a new way of life. The abolition of work is beyond bargaining since it implies the abolition of bosses to bargain with.

…”The Abolition of Breathing” (what a sense of humor this guy has!) is, its hamhandedness aside, an especially maladroit move by a libertarian. I am in favor of breathing; as Ed Lawrence has written of me, “His favorite weapon is the penknife, and when he goes for the throat, breathe easy, the usual result is a tracheotomy of inspiration.”

As it happens there is light to be shed on the libertarian position on breathing. Ayn Rand is always inspirational and often oracular for libertarians. A strident atheist and vehement rationalist — she felt in fact that she and three or four of her disciples were the only really rational people there were — Rand remarked that she worshipped smokestacks. For her, as for Lyndon LaRouche, they not only stood for, they were the epitome of human accomplishment. She must have meant it since she was something of a human smokestack herself; she was a chain smoker, as were the other rationals in her entourage. In the end she abolished her own breathing: she died of lung cancer. Now if Sir David Ramsey-Steele is concerned about breathing he should remonstrate, not with me but with the owners of the smokestacks I’d like to shut down. Like Rand I’m an atheist (albeit with pagan tendencies) but I worship nothing –and I’d even rather worship God than smokestacks.

David Granger’s “John Dewey, Robert Pirsig, and the Art of Living” – Chapter Six

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 10/13/2014

What is more, each of us inherits and is partially constituted by a number of sociocultural scripts authored by those who came before us. As roles to be acted out in everyday life, these at times conflicting scripts – for example, of daughter, sister, mother, lover, wife, woman, teacher – can be exceedingly difficult and painful to rewrite, especially for those persons (like “Phaedrus”) who have been relegated to the margins…As even Dewey fails to acknowledge sufficiently, they inevitably constrain the possibilities of personal renewal in very significant and consequential ways.

…Thus begins the process of education between a text-as-friend and the reader wherein the text (as the reader’s unattained but attainable self) calls the reader to his next self.

[note 18]…[Dewey] “poetry teaches as friends and life teach, by being, and not by express intent.”

Like the figure of the poet-as-midwife in romanticism, the text-as-friend strives to arrange a conversational rather than authoritarian scene of instruction. It invites the reader to find that distinctive path to self-realization that the linguistic community he shares with others makes possible for him…we are all educators for ourselves as well as for one another, We are all partial representations of some greater common-wealth.

…in synthesizing human activity through flexible adaptation to the environment, the body’s natural structuring agencies are highly subject to the sense-making structures of the culture it inherits; which is to say that culture, with its complex symbol systems, ideals, values, beliefs, and customs has its roots in the lived body. And as Michel Foucault forcefully reminds us, this makes it a malleable site for inscribing social power.

Whether we like it or not, the body is considerably more than a shadowing “giant” whose agencies can be substantially divorced from the art of living wisely and well. The habitual body, the primary medium of meaning in Dewey’s pragmatic naturalism, is prefigured in every mode of human behavior and expression, including linguistic activity. It conditions and is conditioned by our ability to negotiate successfully and act intelligently within all kinds of cultural space, those of work as well as of leisure. To fail to recognize this is to suppose the body to be little more than the intractable vessel of our mental life. To fail to acknowledge it is inevitably to impede the cause of personal renewal.

What kinds of environments and activities are most likely to expand the self and its capacity to find an make meaning in the world?

…In its configuration as a tentative but relatively stable organic unity of many and diverse habits, the poetically fashioned self achieves a balanced movement of energies and impulses. Yet at the same time it also eschews the prospect of any final endstate or absolute perfection. In going forth to meet new situations that present new demands, each stage in its growth becomes as much a stimulating disturbance toward the new as an achieved ordering of the old. The poetic self is, in this sense, both medial and media.

What is more, the poetic structure contributes to the self’s ability to negotiate everyday experience in a meaningful and satisfying way. The breadth and vitality of the poetic self’s working capacities make it especially well equipped to receive, respond to, and integrate imaginatively the meaning-enhancing possibilities of the present moment. Its capacious array of habits provides increased opportunities for finding and creating meaning in the world. In addition, the poetic self has the ability to solve problems in ways that maximize self-growth, establishing new avenues for richly funded experience. But more than that- and I want to underscore this point – it will sense as problematic situations that would otheriswe seem in good order. That is, it will experience some degree of disequilibrium where others likely will not. Vague discordances – such as Pirsig’s increasing awareness of “Phaedrus’s” ghostly presence or his intimation of a slight misfire in his bike – can more easily be detected and brought to consciousness by the poetic self. Its world is one of multiple and intersecting horizons of meaning, ever pregnant with freshly emerging problems and possibilities.

…The other-directed dimension of Emersonian perfectionism is oriented toward self-reliance through our shared linguistic resources. But Dewey’s poetics look to harmonize regard for the self and its internal others with flesh and blood other(s) in the world. The end-in-view of Deweyan dramatic rehearsal incorporates the environing community with its immediate deliberative horizon – looking in to the self and out to the world are not discrete activities, but elements of one continuous process. This means that the questions “Who am I?” and “Who am I to become?” do not arise independent of the question “How should I treat others?” In addition, we have seen that self-perfection through linguistic activity, while indeed a valuable means of personal renewal, can never be an adequate substitute for more overt democratic praxis. We greatly risk falling into a debased perfectionism if we do not remain alert to the fact that undertaking dialogue with internalized others does not guarantee our being answerable for this dialogue in concrete activities of public life. Yet Dewey stresses that it is through such praxis that we best come to understand that we inhabit the world meaningfully only with and through one another.

1. art as experience makes possible the reconstruction of habits (and hence the self) in ways that significantly alter and enhance the potential meaning and value of things;
2. art as experience, in contributing to a poetics of the body, improves both the aesthetic quality and use-value of somatic activity, in addition to the physical culture of our everyday environment;
3. as a form of deliberation or “dramatic rehearsal,” art as experience utilizes the agencies of aesthetic discrimination and poetic creation, conceiving, in imagination, hitherto unrecognized possibilities for thought and action;
4. the procedures of “dramatic rehearsal” assume a narrative structure that helps reveal the shortcomings of our habits of deliberation, furnishing a valuable kind of self-knowledge;
5. the poetic self resulting from artistic engagement in diverse contexts acquires a broad array of habits that presents increased opportunities for finding and creating meaning in the world;
6. the many and diverse habits of this poetic self foster a heightened ability to engage with and liberate the meaning-making capacities of others.

David Granger’s “John Dewey, Robert Pirsig, and the Art of Living” – Chapter Five

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 10/10/2014

…To “unweave a rainbow” and treat its components as ontologically superior is, within Dewey’s and Pirsig’s metaphysics to commit *the* philosophical fallacy.

[Martha Nussbaum] Philosophy has often seen itself as a way of transcending the merely human, of giving the human being a new and more godlike set of activities and attachments. [An] alternative…sees it as a way of being human and speaking humanly. That suggestion will appeal only to those who actually want to be human, who see in human life as it is, with its surprises and connections, its pains and sudden joys, a story worth embracing. This in no way means not wishing to make life better than it is. But…there are ways of transcending that are human and “internal” and other ways that involve flight and repudiation.

…If human inquiry is conceived as a natural event- something that goes on in nature – there is not ontological division between self and world in which the skeptic can open a radical cleft of some kind.

…a nonskeptical attitude necessitates that we relinquish the idea that our primary relation to the world is one of knowing or not knowing. The world’s contingent presentness to us, the way it is disclosed to us…is not principally a matter of knowing. Rather, it is a function of those immediate meanings emerging from our shared forms of life…”attunements” or “alignments” – and the intrinsic significance that people and things come to possess over time through the part they play in various life activities.

philosophy is much more a discourse about culture, about the funded meanings of everyday life, than about knowledge per se…these thinkers [Emerson, Dewey, Pirsig, etc.] all perceive the emptiness or even danger of continuing to wrestle with the problems of epistemology, and so they work to undermine the attenuated (skeptical) picture of human experience that helped give birth to, and in some quarters continues to nourish, the convention of asking questions about foundations and certainty. In other words, they do not so much evade what Dewey calls “the industry of epistemology” as attempt to undercut “the claims of its questions.”

Marriage, for Wordsworth, is foremost a way of being in the world. It entails a continuous (re) affirmation and (re) acknowledgement of the conditions of our humanity, something more pervasive and primordial than a scripted rule – or precept-bound relationship. This marriage is not so much an event (like a wedding ceremony) as an attitude toward events – an attitude of care, mindfulness, fallibility, and adventure. And here we can detect strong resonances with Dewey’s and Pirsig’s accounts of artistic engagement…resonances suggesting that aesthetic or high-quality experience is a prominent and recurring feature of this Wordsworthian marriage. It represents the possibility of an ever renewable intimacy with an infinitely meaningful environment, a revitalizing devotion to the everyday. With it, Dewey says, we shed our indifference to the qualitative uniqueness of things. We begin to crack the shell of mundaneness that often accrues around everyday objects so as to “share vividly and deeply in meanings to which we have become dumb.” Such experience also calls attention to the fact that this marriage requires emotional as well as intellectual responsiveness ( a “feeling intellect), and therein it reminds us of the skeptical withdrawal or torpor that can very easily make us feel as though we are not at home in the commonplace world.

…”Ultimately there are but two philosophies,” Dewey concludes, “One of them accepts life and experience in all its uncertainty, mystery, doubt, and half-knowledge and turns that experience upon itself to deepen and intensify its own qualities – to imagination and art”. In short, it takes the limits and liabilities of the human condition and turns them into poetic affirmations. The other philosophy is that of the Cavellian [Stanley Cavell] skeptic.

If this journey is to consist of more than observing, redescribing, and mapping from a distance, it must be an adventure in living no less than thinking, and a personally challenging one at that.

…Thoreau, however, understands reading (as well as writing) as the demanding process of engaging with the complex energies and movements of language.

…Thus do we see the Emersonian poet-philosopher alluding to great scholars, writers, and artists. But they are to be taken more as inspirational progenitors than models to be imitated. Their creations are to be appropriated and put to work, used to expand our present and future horizons of meaning rather than passively assimilated. “Around every circle another can be drawn,” runs the Emersonian credo.

Dewey holds that unimpeded participation in social activities, shared interests, and open communication are the basic ingredients of democratic life, More than that, they are inherently educative. Common, community, and communication are inseparable in his view. A critical-creative culture, along with supporting institutions – educational institutions chief among them – are crucial to obtaining and safeguarding those goods amidst the precarious struggle for a meaningful existence. Taken together they share the responsibility of nourishing and sustaining the conditions necessary for cultivating ***the art of experience*** – the principal measure, as I have suggested, of Deweyan democracy. This means that it is the frutiful practice of democracy in the everyday that Dewey holds most dear, not a specific set of institutions or political arrangements. Deomcracy, he says repeatedly, is something continually to strive for, a never-ending experiment in associated living rather than a static achievement or legacy to be bequeathed. As such it requires strong, educated, imaginative individuals. [Democracy as a way of life – Art as a way of life]

Dewey’s conception of individuality differs frome Emerson’s and Pirsig’s in that it rejects *in principle* the prospect of individuality without sociality…He claims that individuality can only be actualized through a sustained period of overt participation in social life, whether in the form of active approval or disapproval. This means that Emrson’s so-called original unit is really a product of years of varied association. As Dewey argues in Individualism, Old and New:

moving and multiple associations are the only means by which the possibilities of individuality can be realized..To gain an integrated individuality, each of us needs to cultivate his own garden. But there is no fence about this garden: it is no sharply marked-off enclosure. Our garden is the world, in the angle at which it touches our own manner of being. By accepting the…world in which we live, and by thus fulfilling the pre-condition for interaction with it, we, who are also parts of the moving present, create ourselves as we create an unknown future.

***1. art as experience holds out the possibility of an ever renewable intimacy with an infinitely meaningful lived world;
2. the creative impetus of art as experience imbues the things of everyday life with enhanced meaning and value;***

3. in cracking the shell of mundaneness that often accrues around the things of everyday, art an the aesthetic reconnect us with those objects and people that we have come to take for granted, renewing our appreciation for their significance in our lives;
4. the feeling intellect of art as experience allows us to turn the limits and liabilities of the human condition into poetic affirmations;
5. art as experience helps us to explore the creative possibilities of our inheritance in culture, developing new ends and goods (or values) of our own design;
6. in utilizing a both/and logic, art as experience overrides inherited dualistic patterns of thinking, acknowledging the reality of irony and paradox, the contingency and fluidity of boundaries, and the possibility of alternative – though not always valuable perspectives;
7. the general prospects for art as experience provide a measure of attainment of democratic forms of life.

David Granger’s “John Dewey, Robert Pirsig, and the Art of Living” – Chapter Four

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 10/09/2014

…Moreover, we must recognize that poetic quality “exists in many degrees and forms”. In an effort to drive these points home, Dewey takes the time in Art as Experience to quote verbatim an actual weather report…Dewey freely admits that almost no one would call these lines actual poetry. Yet without modifying it in any way, he presents a bit or ordinary prose as “something poetic” found in an “unexpected place”.

…shared life and experience is for him the great miracle of human existence. The democratic attitude is the religious attitude; democratic values are religious values…The substantial emancipation of the religious from religion, he firmly believes, is the only way to heal this destructive and unnecessary chasm between “the live creature and ethereal things”…

to emancipate the aesthetic, as an adjective, from the artworld’s acquisitive treatment of art as a noun substantive. Both the aesthetic and the religious are to be interpreted as qualities of a larger experience, latent in any number of situational contexts.

****…For all of these figures [Wordsworth, Emerson, Dewey, Pirsig] the aesthetic and the religious are variations of a common theme – the ideal of life as the realization of the poetic possibilities of everyday experience.****

…Dewey locates imagination not in the mind or some other part of our intellectual equipment, but rather in the dramatic field of self-world interaction. Imagination is a way of being oriented toward things, seeing and feeling them, as they constitute a unified whole…[imagination is not an individual possession] it is a phase of natural events capable of extracting from existing conditions unrealized possibilities for meaning.

Aesthetic experience for Dewey, culminates not so much in vertical movement – transcendence to a higher level of being through a tighter and more comprehensive unity. It is instead better described as horizontal – a movement outward toward an ever-expanding horizon of meaning and value.

Aesthetic experience emerges with the aid of intelligence from the manifold rhythms of everyday life, wherein all things pass ineluctably in and out of existence. This is the sine qua non of Deweyean pragmatic naturalism. There is no hidden and self-identical “higher” reality to be unmasked, no permanent haven for which to strive; there is only the body and mind working together in and through the natural and sociocultural environment to create and recreate meaning.

…A metaphysics that increases our understanding of the possible relationships between our sociocultural practices and the various traits of the lived world is, from this perspective, indispensable to philosophy as criticism.

1. both aesthetic and religious experience are latent in any number of situational contexts, and not exclusive and autonomous things-in-themselves;
2. the aesthetic and religious, taken together, manifest the ideal of life as the realization of poetic possibilities of everyday experience;
3. expressive (or aesthetic) meaning is wholly inseparable from its conditioning medium – there can be no such thing as “impulsive expression”;
4. all forms of expression are ultimately as much a function of the body as of the mind;
5. the self or its emotions are not what art expresses, but rather the sensed meaning arising from purposeful interaction of self and world;
6. the goal of interpreting an art object is not simply to “get it” by reading the artist’s mind – there is considerably more meaning to be gleaned from openly exploring the expressive potentialities f the object and its medium;
7. the aesthetic imagination is fundamentally intentional rather than free floating or disinterested;
8. imagination is not a discrete faculty or power, but rather a whole contextual orientation toward things capable of disclosing alternatives to present conditions;
9. art does not reveal the essence of things or achieve higher levels of being – it is a means of expanding one’s everyday horizon of meaning;
10. a unified experience should act as much as “a stimulating disturbance toward the new as an achieved ordering of the old” – to strive for a perfectly harmonious, inclusive unity is inevitably to stifle growth and possibility.