I saw a shooting star last night, but wished for nothing.
The Live Creature
John Dewey offers a new theory of art and the aesthetic experience. Dewey proposes that there is a continuity between the refined experience of works of art and everyday activities and events, and in order to understand the aesthetic one must begin with the events and scenes of daily life. This idea stands in opposition to the aesthetic theories presented by Immanuel Kant and also the proponents of German Idealism, which have historically been shown to favor certain heavily-classicized forms of art, known commonly as ‘High Art’ or Fine Art. Dewey argues for the validity of ‘popular art’ stating:
So extensive and subtly pervasive are the ideas that set art on upon a remote pedestal, that many a person would be repelled rather than pleased if told that he enjoyed his casual recreations, at least in part, because of their esthetic quality. The arts which today have most vitality for the average person are the things he does not take to be arts; for instance, the movie, jazzed music, the comic strip…
We must recover the continuity of aesthetic experience with the normal processes of living. It is the duty of the theorist to make this connection and its implications clear. If art were understood differently by the public, art would gain in public esteem and have wider appeal.
The task is to restore confidence between the refined and intensified forms of experience that are works of art and the everyday events, doings, and sufferings that are universally recognized to constitute experience.
His criticism of existing theories is that they “spiritualize” art and sever its connection with everyday experience. Glorifying art and setting it on a pedestal separates it from community life. Such theories actually do harm by preventing people from realizing the artistic value of their daily activities and the popular arts (movies, jazz, newspaper accounts of sensational exploits) that they most enjoy, and drives away the aesthetic perceptions which are a necessary ingredient of happiness.
Art has aesthetic standing only as it becomes an experience for human beings. Art intensifies the sense of immediate living, and accentuates what is valuable in enjoyment. Art begins with happy absorption in activity. Anyone who does his work with care, such as artists, scientists, mechanics, craftsmen, etc., are artistically engaged. The aesthetic experience involves the passing from disturbance to harmony and is one of man’s most intense and satisfying experiences.