Lebenskünstler

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.

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