one woman's view into a world of creativity

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Art as Experience by John Dewey

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

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You’re In Luck

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!  Art fans are in luck, because Trinity College has released a new digital version of the Book of Kells, free for viewing online!

The Book of Kells transparencies, originally captured by Faksimile Verlag, Lucerne, Switzerland in 1990, have recently been rescanned using state of the art imaging technology. These new digital images offer the most accurate high resolution images to date, providing an experience second only to viewing the book in person.

I won’t pretend to be an expert on the Book of Kells, so I’ll send you to Wikipedia to learn more about it.  What I do know comes from the many art history classes I have taken, where it is mentioned quite often.  This ancient manuscript is beautiflly illustrated with Celtic knots and gold leafing.  The details are so painstakingly wrought, I cannot even begin to imagine how much time was invested in it  (zoom in extra close to appreciate the tiny brushstrokes!).  If you have a moment, drop by the digital version of the book and appreciate the work of the Celtic monks, “widely regarded as Ireland’s finest national treasure.”

Page from the Book of Kells, from Wikimedia Commons

The Arts and Education

Palmer, Parker J.  The Courage to Teach. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1998.

“For objectivism, the subject self is the enemy most to be feared…in objectivism, subjectivity is feared not only because it contaminates things but because it creates relationships between those things and us — and relationships are contaminating as well…So objectivism, driven by fear, keeps us from forging relationships with things of the world.  Its modus operandi is simple: when we distance ourselves from something, it becomes an object; when it becomes an object, it no longer has life; when it is lifeless, it cannot touch or transform us, so our knowledge of the thing remains pure.”

“For objectivism, any way of knowing that requires subjective involvement between the knower and the known is regarded as primitive, unreliable, and even dangerous.  The intuitive is derided as irrational, true feeling is dismissed as sentimental, the imagination is seen as chaotic and unruly, and storytelling is labeled as personal and pointless.”

That is why music, art, and dance are at the bottom of the academic pecking order and the “hard” sciences are at the top. ” (Palmer 51-51)

I was reading The Courage to Teach by Parker Palmer for an education class, and I think these selections spanning two to three pages struck me the most of everything I read.  As touched upon in Down with History, art is less valued than other subjects, and I think Palmer hit the bullseye of why.  Art is regarded in school curriculums as an elective: an optional subject to be cut from schools when budgets get tight.  According to Palmer, it is because art is subjective, to be experienced firsthand.  It does not translate well into shared experiences because it is so subjective and personal.  The fine arts often work around solitary artists, or perhaps small cooperatives like musicians.

The important thing to focus on is that art is subjective and very much an internal experience that cannot be explained easily to others.  I came across this idea in a RSA lecture illustration about the education reform movement. Sir Ken Robinson, in his lecture “Changing Paradigms,” describes the arts as reliant upon “aesthetic experience, in which your senses are operating at their peak… present in the current moment… resonating with your excitement of the experience… when you are fully alive.”  This aesthetic experience of Sir Robinson is the subjective experience Palmer is speaking of.  The arts are subjective, sensory, aesthetic experiences which are difficult to measure and transfer in the manner of more scientific, objective subjects.  The incompatibility of the arts with the recent rage of standardized tests makes them unpopular and undervalued.  In a scientific society that emerged from the Enlightenment movement, creativity is discounted because it cannot be quantified.  The arts cannot remain objective.  They are very much subjective, and cannot be standardized.  Before we jump to eliminating the arts from school curriculums around the nation, we must first better understand why we value the fine arts less than other subjects.

Paper Snowflakes

Friday night I spent some time cutting out paper snowflakes with friends.  Making paper snowflakes is fun for all ages, and the peaceful snipping of the scissors  brought back a lot of memories of cutting out paper snowflakes with my mother.  I used to have the book Paper Snowflakes Made Easy by Robert P. Kelley.  It’s for sale pretty cheap on Amazon, but I’m not sure where else you could buy a new copy. The book had easy instructions on how to fold the paper, and included dozens of patterns ready to copy and cut.  The key to beautiful symmetrical snowflakes is how you fold the paper.  You can always go the easy route and fold your paper into quarters, but the best way is to fold it so as to get twelve sides.  Here’s a simple step-by step video on how to fancy fold your paper:

(Remember to start with a perfectly square piece of paper, or it won’t work.)
Since it looks like there aren’t too many of Robert Kelley’s Snowflakes Made Easy available, Cindy Higham’s Snowflakes for All Seasons: 72 Fold & Cut Paper Snowflakes and Brenda Reed’s Easy-to-Make Decorative Paper Snowflakes look very similar and inexpensive.

No two snowflakes are alike, so have fun creating!

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