Lebenskünstler

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.

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