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

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures 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.

2 Responses

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  1. greg sholette said, on 11/18/2015 at 09:43

    Not part of the homogenized intellectualist academy? Really? He was one of its founders:

    James Hayden Tufts was born on 9 July 1862 in Monson, Massachusetts. He entered Amherst College in the fall of 1880, and discovered philosophy under the instruction of Charles Edward Garman, a professor who produced numerous graduates who went on to their own philosophy careers. Tufts continued his studies under Garman after his graduation in 1884, until he entered the Yale Divinity School in 1887 and took courses with philosopher George Trumbull Ladd, anthropologist William Graham Sumner, and philologist William Rainey Harper. In only two years he earned B.D. degree, and accepted an instructor position at the University of Michigan under John Dewey. During his years at Michigan (1889-1891) Tufts taught a variety of courses including modern philosophy and psychology, earned his M.A. from Amherst, and married Cynthia Whitaker. The possibility of a better position at the new University of Chicago with President Harper required obtaining the Ph.D. degree. Living in an era when philosophy looked to Europe, Tufts and his new bride spent a year in Germany. He studied in Berlin received his Ph.D. at Albert-Ludwigs-Universitat in Frieberg under Alois Riehl in 1892 and returned to undertake his new position just as the University of Chicago was opening its doors. Soon John Dewey and George H. Mead were hired away from Michigan at Tuft’s urging in 1894, and the nucleus of the “Chicago School of Pragmatism” was reunited to embark on a remarkably productive decade. Promoted to Professor in 1900, Tufts became chair of the philosophy department upon Dewey’s departure for Columbia in 1904, and remained chair until the year of his retirement.

    From http://www.pragmatism.org/research/tufts.htm

    But I take your point Randal that the “social practice” discussion did not emerge out of nowhere. Thanks for sharing and making me look Tuffs up.

  2. Randall Szott said, on 11/18/2015 at 14:59

    I made no claim about Tufts *himself*. I stated that the “diverse art impulses” he identified were expelled…and I obviously feel like today’s criticality obsessed MFA programs, and more importantly, the wider society, are worse off because of this.

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