Unreal Nature

July 29, 2009

A Single Firm Texture

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:03 am

Art has the faculty of enhancing and concentrating this union of quality and meaning in a way which vivifies both. Instead of canceling a separation between sense and meaning (asserted to be psychologically normal), it exemplifies in an accentuated and perfected manner the union characteristic of many other experiences through finding the exact qualitative media that fuse most completely with what is to be expressed.  [emphasis added]

That and what follows are taken from from the book, Art as Experience by John Dewey (1934).

… Esthetic experience is imaginative. This fact, in connection with a false idea of the nature of imagination, has obscured the larger fact that all conscious experience has of necessity some degree of imaginative quality. For while the roots of every experience are found in the interaction of a live creature with its environment, that experience becomes conscious, a matter of perception, only when meanings enter it that are derived from prior experiences. Imagination is the only gateway through which these meanings can find their way into a present interaction; or rather, as we have just seen, the conscious adjustment of the new and the old is imagination. Interaction of a living being with an environment is found in vegetative and animal life. But the experience enacted is human and conscious only as that which is given here and now is extended by meanings and values drawn from what is absent in fact and present only imaginatively.

There is always a gap between the here and now of direct interaction and the past interactions whose funded result constitutes the meanings with which we grasp and understand what is now occurring. Because of this gap, all conscious perception involves a risk; it is a venture into the unknown, for as it assimilates the present to the past it also brings about some reconstruction of that past.

I’m quoting out of order, here. The next bit is from the chapter that precedes the above:

The psychological conceptions that are implied in “rationalistic” philosophies of art are all associated with a fixed separation of sense and reason. The work of art is so obviously sensuous and yet contains such wealth of meaning, that it is defined as a cancellation of the separation, and as an embodiment through sense of the logical structure of the universe. Ordinarily, and apart from fine art, according to the theory, sense conceals and distorts a rational substance that is the reality behind appearances — to which sense perception is limited. The imagination by means of art, makes a concession to sense in employing its materials, but nevertheless uses sense to suggest underlying ideal truth. Art is thus a way of having the substantial cake of reason while also enjoying the sensuous pleasure of eating it.

But, in fact, the distinction of quality as sensuous and meaning as ideational is not primary but secondary and methodological. When a situation is construed as being or as containing a problem, we set facts that are given through perception on one side and possible meanings for these facts on the other. The distinction is a necessary instrumentality of reflection. The distinction between some elements of subject-matter as rational and others as sensible is always intermediary and transitive. Its office is to lead in the end to a perceptual experience in which the distinction is overcome — in which what were once conceptions become the inherent meanings of material mediated through sense. Even scientific conceptions have to receive embodiment in sense-perception to be accepted as more than ideas.

All observed objects that are identified without reflection (although their recognition may give rise to further reflection) exhibit an integral union of sense quality and meaning in a single firm texture. We recognize with the eye the green of the sea as belonging to the sea, not to the eye, and as a different quality from the green of a leaf; and the gray of a rock as different in quality from that of the lichen growing upon it. In all objects perceived for what they are without need for reflective inquiry, the quality is what it means, namely, the object to which it belongs. Art has the faculty of enhancing and concentrating this union of quality and meaning in a way which vivifies both. Instead of canceling a separation between sense and meaning (asserted to be psychologically normal), it exemplifies in an accentuated and perfected manner the union characteristic of many other experiences through finding the exact qualitative media that fuse most completely with what is to be expressed.

[ … ]

“Revelation” in art is the quickened expansion of experience. Philosophy is said to begin in wonder and end in understanding. Art departs from what has been understood and ends in wonder. In this end, the human contribution in art is also the quickened work of nature in man.

I enjoy reading Dewey. I’m sympathetic to much of what he says, and enjoy sorting out where and why I disagree with him. If you like the above, I highly recommend the book .

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

1 Comment

  1. Dewey speaks with great certainty about an area that is entirely speculative. Some of it sounds cool: “Art is thus a way of having the substantial cake of reason while also enjoying the sensuous pleasure of eating it.” But it is merely his construct of the situation. It actually a little Cartesian since it postulates two idioms, i.e. reason and sense. Of course they are “joined” in Art, which, I take it, “vivifies” things. Mr. Marx would not be happy. No dialectic at all. (I first read “vilifies” which made me wonder.)

    Comment by Dr. C. — August 9, 2009 @ 4:35 pm


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