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Art as Experience

Throughout the year, impressive art work is being created in all three divisions. This work often finds itself the center of attention at our annual  divisional Art Shows. The shows provides an opportunity for the community to enjoy a wide range of works produced by students in all grades. In putting on these shows, it is our hope that the viewer will not only have the opportunity to consider the works themselves, but will take advantage of the opportunity to speak with the artists who created the works. Through this dialog, we hope that you will be better able to appreciate the art as an embodiment of a particular and unique experience. As John Dewey comments in the opening of his seminal work Art as Experience:
 
By one of the ironic perversities that often attend the course of affairs, the existence of the works of art upon which formation of an esthetic theory depends has become an obstruction to theory about them. For one reason, these works are products that exist externally and physically. In common conception, the work of art is often identified with the building, book, painting, or statue in its existence apart from human experience. Since the actual work of art is what the product does with and in experience, the result is not favorable to understanding. In addition, the very perfection of some of these products, the prestige they possess because of a long history of unquestioned admiration, creates conventions that get in the way of fresh insight. When an art product once attains classic status, it somehow becomes isolated from the human conditions under which it was brought into being and from the human consequences it engenders in actual life-experience.

When artistic objects are separated from both conditions of origin and operation in experience, a wall is build around them that renders almost opaque their general significance, with which esthetic theory deals. Art is remitted to a separate realm, where it is cut off from that association with the materials and aims of every other form of human effort, undergoing, and achievement. A primary task is thus imposed upon one who undertakes to write upon the philosophy of the fine arts. This task is to restore continuity 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. Mountain peaks do not float unsupported; they do not even just rest upon the earth. They are the earth in one of its manifest operations. It is the business of those who are concerned with the theory of the earth, geographers and geologists, to make this fact evident in its various implications. The theorist who would deal philosophically with fine art has a like task to accomplish.

What is it that Dewey wants us to understand? And how might this understanding inform our perspective on the role of the arts in progressive education in general and at LREI in particular? For us and for Dewey, the key notion is that the arts need to always be experienced as being alive in the present where they can provoke "fresh insight." Even when works of art achieve something of the transcendent, Dewey does not want us to forget that they remain human endeavors that were born out of a particular need and created as a means to fulfill that need.

In essence, the making of art represents an attempt to capture something vital about the human experience while existing as experience itself. So LREI artists wrestle with a variety of materials and a variety of techniques in order to capture "an experience for a human being." That said, I’ll get out of the way and let the art speak for itself and to the experience of the students who created it. I look forward to seeing you at on eof the art shows.
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