I started reading Art as Experience by John Dewey. He’s especially verbose, and sometimes it’s hard to get through his writing (I’m only through chapter one). But his words are so profound, and littered with gems of statements. I’m probably going to post some of my favorites as I read them.
Why are artists so often ostentatiously eccentric, and strangely proud of being “misunderstood” ? Dewey might be on to something here…
Because of changes in industrial conditions the artist has been pushed to one side from the main streams of active interest. Industry has been mechanized and an artist cannot work mechanically for mass production. He is less integrated than formerly in the natural flow of social services. A peculiar esthetic “individualism” results. Artists find it incumbent upon them to betake themselves not to cater to the trend of economic forces, they often feel obliged to exaggerate their separateness to the point of eccentricity. Consequently artistic products take on to a still greater degree the air of something independent and esoteric. p. 8
Perhaps this sense of separateness arises from our feelings that we are the few who truly see. Why does not everyone perceive the world like an artist does? Does our sense of being misunderstood arise from the perception that we are alone in activating all of our senses to see beauty in what others think of as “mundane” ?
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 00 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. These people, if questioned as to the reason for their actions, would doubtless return reasonable answers. The man who poked the sticks of burning wood would say he did it to make the fire burn better; but he is none the less fascinated by the colorful drama of change enacted before his eyes and imaginatively partakes in it. He does not remain a cold spectator. p. 3
On a separate note, this entry ties into what I’m writing my master’s thesis on.
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. The thinker has his esthetic moment when his ideas cease to be mere ideas and become the corporate meanings of objects. The artist has his problems and thinks as he works. But his thought is more immediately embodied in the object. Because of the comparative remoteness of his end, the scientific worker operates with symbols, words and mathematical signs. The artist does his thinking in the very qualitative media he works in, and the terms lie so close to the object that he is producing that they merge directly into it. p.14