Art as Experience Reinterpreted
Looking at Dewey`s writings on aesthetics applied to education today.
After researching much into different areas of arts education; i.e. Arts Based Research, Narrative Inquiry, Play, Story, and so on, I have decided to revisit and take a closer look at Dewey`s book writing on aesthetics, Art as Experience
written in 1934. We should consider Dewey`s environment at the time when we read it. There was the great depression in the USA and Franklin D. Roosevelt was the president. Adolf Hitler declared himself the Fuhrer of Germany, in Russia Stalin began his massacres and in China Mao Tse-Tung spread the communist doctrine. In art the Social Realism movement was started and even enforced by Stalin to spread socialist messages. The work perused, even aggrandized, the image of the strong factory worker. In Paris the artist counter reacted with surrealism meanwhile art deco decorated and adorned just about everything. Meanwhile back home in the USA parents where not always able to house or feed let alone educate their children during the great depression. Then in 1936 the American Youth Congress declared that young Americans had a right “to a useful, creative, and happy life … the guarantees of which are: full educational opportunities, steady employment at adequate wages, security in time of need, civil rights, religious freedom, and peace” (American Youth Congress 1936).
Education since then has taken a turn to filling students heads with knowledge. Enough knowledge to get them out of factory work and into a job wherein a machine will not away from them. Management consultant, educator and author, Peter Drucker (1989) termed this era the age of the Knowledge Worker. Today we are experiencing another change, one some call the Conceptual Age. Daniel Pink (2006), Tony Wagner (2012) and Sir Ken Robins (2011) all believe adding more design and creativity to education will help our children be successful innovators of the future. They also argue children need to be educated to hold a profession that a computer (or a mass group of data pushers behind computers in developing countries) cannot take away from them. In almost every industry one hears the cry for more creative and conceptual employees. Finland`s industry works closely with education so that educators produce what Finland needs to be successful (P. Sahlberg, 2006). This is where I feel Dewey`s work on aesthetics becomes again of utmost importance.
On the Live Creature (chapter one, Dewey, 1934)
Who actually understands what art education is in Switzerland? How do Swiss and other countries define art education today? What is the goal of primary and secondary art education in our Swiss schools? The new educational reform in Switzerland has increased the amount of time students spend in creative classes. One class freshly introduced in the new Lernplan21 is Design and includes artistic thinking. Crafting (called werken) continues to be in the curriculum. Still there is no class called Art or Kunst. As Switzerland is a direct democracy one would have to conclude that the people support more “design thinking” in education but why not call it Art Class? In the private sector some schools have reduced the amount of Art Classes that the students take but have not added Design Class or Werken. At the private school where I teach one father referred to it, as “you know the fun classes, the non academic classes Do we really so many of them? My son is going to be a doctor anyways.” It appears as if there is a negative connotation with term “Art Class” but not with the idea of “Design Class.” This is an idea to explore.
The challenge here could be that art has separated itself so intensely from everyday living and artist have become so extreme to stand apart from the rest of the world that they create art such as “plop egg art” (The Huffington Post UK, 2015)
by the artist better known as Milo Moiré. Other artists and art that have hit the headlines are people like Andre Serrano and his “Piss Christ” or Lena Marquise
who at Art Basel 2014 put computer chargers in her vagina and sat in the booth with her legs open inviting people to recharge their iPhone (Duran, 2014). If a parent not well educated in the arts experiences this as Art how will they look at Art Education? Athenians held the perspective “that art was (not) a literal copying of objects, but that it reflected the emotions and ideas that are associated with the chief institutions of social life. Plato felt … the necessity of censorship of poets, dramatists, and musicians” (Dewey, 1938, pg. 6). The artistic practice and ordinary life where so closely set that Dewey argues there must have been a reason of the “compartmental conception of fine art” (Dewey, 1938, pg. 6). Dewey blames the “growth of capitalism”, the “neouveaux riches” and the use of museums to enshrine art work and promote “the idea that they (artworks) are apart from the common life” (Dewey, 1938, pg. 7). Nations who protect and present their wealth in museums are also appear to support this separation of art and ordinary life. Art and those who possess it have become a symbol for the elite, the wealthy. Where does this leave the artists now and her process?
Dewey argues “the nature of the problem (is) that of recovering the continuity of esthetic experience with normal processes of living” not by studying great works of art but by discovering “the esthetic quality such experience possesses” (Dewey, 1938, pg. 9). The “work of art” is what Dewey argues is important. In other words the experience (the work) of making a work of art is our key to learning everyday empathetic esthetics. Empathy is a key requirement to learning to care for others (Noddings, 2003) and to being able to successfully design solutions for others (Pink 2006). Again if we look at the amount of emphasis and expectations placed on the finish product in art classes today we can see how we compartmentalize the object from the process. Teachers have in the past evaluated the finished piece with higher regard than the process in order to appease standardized curriculum. Educational expectations may lie in the name of the class considered; “Art Class” or “Design Class”. What compartment to we focus on; the object or the experience making the object? Do we expect product or process when we read the name of the class and how could it be more holistically considered in order to make the “experience complete”(Dewey, 1938, pg. 11).
If we are to take Noddings (2003), Pink (2006) and Sir Robinson (2011) seriously that our children need more design skills and more empathetic skills in order to sustain first world success as we move from the Knowledge Age (Drucker, 1989) to the Conceptual Age (Pink, 2006) then arts education must move into a more holistic approach to educating. This would also be dependent on the public understanding this move and supporting it. Does art education need to separate itself from the connotation of the word art
? If we move that art education is about teaching the artistic process and not for the finial object, then we need to understand what that process is. Next we need to understand where empathy plays a role in esthetics and the ability to make judgments. Lastly we will look at how these elements influence society in Switzerland. We will also look at how these elements may have played a role in Switzerland transforming, in the last 200 years; from one of the worst places in Europe to live to the happiest place to live in the entire world (2015). It is said that Innovation is an essential skill for the Swiss economy and that Swiss offer a superior creative environment for innovative companies. However critics argue still that even though Swiss Know-How is high they lack creativity and it is argued this can be traced to traditional Swiss educational systems (referene/quote to come). Furthermore in future Blogs I will interview members of education and industry in Switzerland to gain a more qualitative insight before coming to a conclusion.
Understanding the Artistic Process
Artistic process, the creative process and arts based research (Leavy, 2009) all have a few things in common; experience and reflection. An artist pushes and pulls and idea in out of harmony looking for a unified solutions while experiencing all of the potential answers and during this experience the artist “does not shun moments of resistance and tension” (Dewey, 1934, pg. 14). Eisner (2002) elaborates on tension….. Dewey argues esthetic researcher cultivates experiences seeking potentials in order to bring together a holistic union where as a “scientific man is interested in problems” (Dewey, 1934, pg. 14). Dewey goes on to argue “the odd notion that an artist does not think and a scientific inquirer does nothing else is the result of converting a difference of tempo and emphasis into a difference in kind” (Dewey, 1934, pg. 14). In other words, artist thinks while qualitatively working and both do the same work but at a difference pace.
Because the actual world… is a combination of movement and culmination, of breaks and re-unions, the experience of a living creature is capable of esthetic quality (Dewey, 1934, pg. 16).
Dewey, J. (1934). Art as experience
. New York, Minton, Balch & Company.
Drucker, P. (1989). The new realities
. New York: Harper & Row.
Duran, J. (2014). Meet Lena Marquise, the Performance Artist Behind the Vagina Phone Charger (NSFW). [online] Miami New Times. Available at: http://www.miaminewtimes.com/arts/meet-lena-marquise-the-performance-artist-behind-the-vagina-phone-charger-nsfw-6494788 [Accessed 3 May 2015].
Eisner, E. (2002). The arts and the creation of mind. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Leavy, P. (2009). Method meets art. New York: Guilford Press.
Noddings, N. (2003) Caring, a feminine approach to ethics and moral education. University of California Press Second Edition.
Pink, D. (2006). A whole new mind
. New York: Riverhead Books.
Robinson, K. (2011). Out of our minds
. 1st ed. Oxford: Capstone.
Sahlberg, P. (2006) Education Reform for Raising Economic Competitiveness. Journal of Educational Change
, 7 (4), p.259-287. Available at: http://pasisahlberg.com/portfolio-writings/selected-writings/articles/sahlberg-p-2006-education-reform-for-raising-economic-competitiveness-journal-of-educational-change-74-259-287/ [Accessed: April 7, 2013].
Wagner, T. and Compton, R. (2012). Creating innovators
. New York: Sc
The Huffington Post UK, (2015). Just A Woman Laying Eggs With Her Vagina In The Name Of Art (NSFW VIDEO, PICTURES). [online] Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/04/22/vagina-egg-paintings-artist-milo-moire-video_n_5191877.html [Accessed 3 May 2015].