Experience as Product, and How Should Art Be Expressed to Reach Its Purest Form?

Art is life, art is experience, and, according to a philosopher and psychologist John Dewey (October 20, 1859 – June 1, 1952), a basic living. In his psychological vs. philosophical wisdom guide Art as Experience, author states, “experience is a product, one might almost say bi-product, of continuous and cumulative interaction of an organic self with the world. There is no other foundation upon which esthetic theory and criticism can build.”

Individual’s intimate interaction with the reality and imagination becomes art once it’s expressed creatively as object, concludes John Dewey:

When artistic objects are separated from both conditions of origin and operation in experience, a wall is built around them that renders almost opaque their general significance… Art is remitted to a separate realm, where it is cut off from that association with the materials and aims of every other form of human effort, undergoing, and achievement.


In order to understand the esthetic in its ultimate and approved forms, one must begin with it in the raw; in the events and scenes that hold the attentive eye and ear of man, arousing his interest and affording him enjoyment as he looks and listens: the sights that hold the crowd — the fire-engine rushing by; the machines excavating enormous holes in the earth; the human-fly climbing the steeple-side; the men perched high in air on girders, throwing and catching red-hot bolts. The sources of art in human experience will be learned by him who sees how the tense grace of the ball-player infects the onlooking crowd; who notes the delight of the housewife in tending her plants, and the intent interest of her goodman in tending the patch of green in front of the house; the zest of the spectator in poking the wood burning on the hearth and in watching the darting flames and crumbling coals.

Psychologist continues to analyze experience’s role in the world and its “manufacturing”. He also writes about experience’s authenticity and its meaning to the inspiration and creation processes as well as the overall understanding:

The understanding of art and of its role in civilization is not furthered by setting out with eulogies of it nor by occupying ourselves exclusively at the outset with great works of art recognized as such. The comprehension which theory essays will be arrived at by a detour; by going back to experience of the common or mill run of things to discover the esthetic quality such experience possess. Theory can start with and from acknowledged works of art only when the esthetic is already compartmentalized, or only when works of art are set in a niche apart instead of being celebrations, recognized as such, of the things of ordinary experience. Even a crude experience, if authentically and experience, is more fit to give a clue to the intrinsic nature of esthetic experience than is an object already set apart from any other mode of experience. Following this clue we can discover how the work of art develops and accentuates what is characteristically valuable in things of everyday enjoyment. The art product will then be seen to issue from the latter, when the full meaning of ordinary experience is expressed, as dyes come out of coal tar products when they receive special treatment.

Author believes that any concept of art must be acknowledged by the larger scale. And in sentimental Richard Feynman’s “Ode to a Flower” parallel, John Dewey observes the connection between art, psychology and science:

Many theories about art already exist. If there is justification for proposing yet another philosophy of esthetic, it must be found in a new mode of approach.


Flowers can be enjoyed without knowing about the interactions of soil, air, moisture, and seeds of which they are the result. But they cannot be understood without taking just these interactions into account – and theory is a matter of understanding.


It is a commonplace that we cannot direct, save accidentally, the growth and flowering of plants, however lovely and enjoyed, without understanding their causal conditions. It should be just a commonplace that esthetic understanding – as distinct from sheer personal enjoyment – must start with the soil, air, and light out of which things esthetically admirable arise. And these conditions are the conditions and factors that make an ordinary experience complete. The more we recognize this fact, the more we shall find ourselves faced with a problem rather than with a final solution. If artistic and aesthetic quality is implicit in every normal experience, how shall we explain how and why it so generally fails to become explicit? Why is it that to multitudes art seems to be an importation into experience from a foreign country and the esthetic to be a synonym for something artificial?

Furthermore, John Dewey explores the links between art and experience by arguing that experience comes from the basic instincts and, generally, living life. Author writes, “nature of experience is determined by the essential condition of life. While man is other than bird and beast, he shares basic vital functions with them and has to make the same basal adjustments if he is to continue the process of living.”

Decades before Alan Watts’ expressed a belief that the true light means “to be aware of life, of experience as it is at this moment, without any judgments or ideas about it, John Dewey also observed that feeling fully present and hopeful about the future is one of the most significant sources of inspiration.

Philosopher writes:

To the being fully alive, the future is not ominous but a promise; it surrounds the present as a halo.

It’s often argued, whether art is a creation, an expression, or both. John Dewey continues never-ending discussion and analyzes the connection between art’s fiction-like motives and reality, and the link between true life and imagination. According to the author, “Art is thus prefigured in the very processes of living”. Philosopher believes that just as a bird builds its nest and a beaver its dam, every action in this world is an actual art, but we too practical to see it.

Another realistic evaluation between life and art is provided in an essay by Atul Joshi. Author writes, “True art grasps, rediscovers and reveals to us reality which human beings tend to forget and from which we often seek to get away,” which subjectively suggest that art is our “hidden” part of life, rather than something unrealistic, imaginary or fictional.

However, it’s worth saying, art has power and hope only when it celebrates a unity of concepts between time and memories, so to be truthful – art must be expressed in the purest form, not running away from past or present, nor fearing the future. Just as John Dewey concurred, “Art celebrates with peculiar intensity the moments in which the past reinforces the present and in which the future is a quickening of what now is.”


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