Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Prime Passage: Art as Experience by John Dewey

"Art celebrates with peculiar intensity the moments in which the past reenforces the present and in which the future is a quickening of what now is.

To grasp the sources of aesthetic experience it is, therefore, necessary to have recourse to animal life below the human scale. The activities of the fox, the dog, and the thrush may at least stand as reminders and symbols of that unity of experience which we so fractionize when work is labor, and thought withdraws us from the world. The live animal is fully present, all there, in all of its actions: in its wary glances, its sharp sniffings, its abrupt cocking of ears. All senses are equally on the qui vive. As you watch, you see motion merging into sense and sense into motion -- constituting that animal grace so hard for man to rival. What the live creature retains from the past and what it expects from the future operate as directions in the present. The dog is never pedantic nor academic; for these things arise only when the past is severed in consciousness from the present and is set up as a model to copy or a storehouse upon which to draw. The past absorbed into the present carries on; it presses forward."
(From Chapter Two, "The Live Creature," Art as Experience by John Dewey, 1934.)

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