Dewey Dictionary

Art As ExperienceAs I read through John Dewey’s (1934) Art As Experience, I began collecting various “definitions” and mentions of terms that seemed to pop-up frequently. This list of terms can serve as a jumping off point to read more about each topic. I note the page number of each quotation so that a reader could locate and expand upon their understanding of how Dewey defines these terms by viewing these quotations in context. The list of terms and corresponding text will be expanded as I continue to read and re-read.


  • in reference to a “product of art” – “every product of art is matter and matter only, sot that the contrast is not between matter and form but between matter relatively unformed and matter adequately formed” p. 198
  • “a quality of doing and of what is done” … “qualifies what is done and made as to induce activities in those who perceive them in which there is also art. The product of art […] is not the work of art. The work takes place when a human being
  • “union of the universal and individual” (p. 243)
  • “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 […] 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” (p. 271)
  • art as an experience: “actuality and possibility or ideality, the new and the old, objective material and personal response, the individual and the universal, surface and depth, sense and meaning, are integrated in an experience in which they are all transfigured from the significance that belongs to them when isolated in reflection[…] Of art as experience it is also true that nature has neither subjective nor object being; is neither individual nor universal, sensuous nor rational. The significance of art as experience is, therefore, in comparable for the adventure of philosophic thought.” (p. 309)
  • “Art is a quality that permeates an experience; it is not, save by a figure of speech, the experience itself.” (p. 339)


  • beauty as “objectified pleasure” instead of pleasure in the object, so much in it that the object and pleasure are one and undivided in the experience” (p. 258)


  • has the power to “move and stir, to calm and tranquilize” p. 191


  • in order to be esthetic, structure has to be more than physical and mathematical. It has to be used with the support, reenforcement, and extension, through enduring time, of human values. The appropriateness of clinging ivy to some buildings illustrates that intrinsic unity of architectural effect with nature which is seen on a larger scale in the necessity that buildings fit naturally into their surrounding to secure full esthetic effect.” (p. 240)

esthetic experience: 

  • “the work of art in its actuality is perception. Only as these rhythms, even if embodied in an outer object that is itself a product of art, become a rhythm in experience itself are they esthetic” p. 169
  • speaking of misconception – “esthetic experience is an affair of immediacy of perception.” p. 169
  • esthetic experience is “imaginative” – “all conscious experience has of necessity some degree of imaginative quality.” (p. 283)
  • “all the elements of our being that are displayed in special emphases and partial realizations in other experiences are merged in esthetic experience. And they are so completely merged in the immediate wholeness of the experience that each is submerged: it does not present itself in consciousness as a distinct element” (p. 283)
  • “since all esthetic experience is imaginative, the pitch of intensity to which the imaginative may be raised without becoming outre and fantastic is determined only by the doing, not by the a priori rules of pseudo-classicism” (p. 294)
  • “the way in which material of other experiences enters into esthetic experience is its nature for art” (p. 297)
  • in reference to esthetic experience and contemplation – Drawing on Schopenhauer, “contemplation is the sole mode of escape, and that, in contemplating work sof art, we contemplate the objectifications of will, and thereby free ourselves from the hold will has upon us in all other modes of experience” (p. 307)
  • “Esthetic experience is always more than esthetic. In it a body of matters and meanings, not in themselves esthetic, become esthetic as they enter into an ordered rhythmic movement toward consummation” (p. 339)
  • “Esthetic experience is a manifestation, a record and celebration of the life of a civilization, a means of promoting its development, and is also the ultimate judgement upon the quality of a civilization. For while it is produced and is enjoyed by individuals, those individuals are what they are in the content of their experience because of the cultures in which they participate” (p. 339)

esthetic recurrence: 

  • that of relationships that sum up and carry forward. Recurring units as such call attention to themselves as isolated parts, and thus away from the whole. Hence they lessen esthetic effect” p. 172
  • is “vital, physiological, functional. Relationships rather than elements recur, and they recur in differing contexts and with difference consequences so that each recurrence is novel as well as a reminder.” p. 176

esthetic perception: 

  • is “a name for a full perception and its correlative, an object or event. Such a perception is accompanied by, or rather consists in, a release of energy in its purest form; which as we have seen, is one that is organized and so rhythmic” p. 184

esthetic product: 

  • “results only when ideas cease to float and are embodied in an object, and the one who experiences the work of art loses himself in irrelevant reverie unless his images and emotions are also tied to the object, and are tied to it in the sense of being fused with the matter of the object.” (p. 289)

esthetic quality:

  • esthetic quality does not belong to objects as objects but is projected into them by mind. It is source of the definition of beauty as “objectified pleasure” instead of pleasure in the object, so much in it that the object and pleasure are one and undivided in the experience” (p. 258)

esthetic status: 

  • the “completeness of the integration” of subject and object (or organism and environment) (p. 289)


  • “When all materials are interpenetrated by rhythm, the theme of “subject” is transformed into a new subject-matter[…] the reciprocal interpretation of parts and whole, which have seen to constitute an object a work of art, is effected when all the constituents of the work, whether picture, drama, poem or building, stand in rhythmic connection with all other members of the same kind – line with line, color with color, space with space, illumination with light and shade in a painting – and all of these distinctive factors reenforce one another as variations that build an integrated complex experience” p. 177
  • “In every experience we touch the world through some particular tentacle; we carry on our intercourse with it, it comes home to us, through a specialized organ. The entire organism with all its charge of the past and varied resources operates, but it operates through a particular medium, that of eye, as it interacts with eye, ear, and touch. The fine arts lay hold of this fact and push it to its maximum significance. In any ordinary visual perception, we see by means of light; we distinguish by means of reflected and refracted colors; that is truism. But in ordinary perceptions, this medium of color is mixed, adiulteate. While we see, we also hear; we feel pressures, and heat or cold. In a painting, color renders the scene without these alloys and impurities. They are part of the dross that is squeezed out and left behind in an act of intensified expression. The medium becomes color alone, and since color alone must now carry the qualities of movement, touch, sounds, etc. that are present physically on their own account in ordinary vision, the expressiveness and energy of color are enhanced.” (p. 203)
  • “In every experience, there is the pervading underlying qualitative whole that corresponds to and manifests the whole organization of activities which constitute the mysterious human frame. But in every experience, this complex, this differentiated and recording, mechanism operates through special structures that take the lead, not in dispersed diffusion through all organs at once – save in panic when, as we truly say, one has lost one’s head” (p. 204)
  • “we may indeed speak of red, and then of the red of rose or sunset. But these terms are practical in nature, giving a certain amount of direction as to where to turn. In existence no two sunsets have exactly the same red. They could not have it unless one sunset repeated the other in absolutely complete detail. For the red is always red of the material of that experience.” (p. 223)
    • “there are no two reds in a picture exactly like each other, each being affected by the infinite details of its context in the individual whole in which it appears” (p. 224)
  • “rigid classifications are inept (if they are taken seriously) because they distract attention from that which is esthetically basic – the qualitatively unique and integral character of experience of an art product.” (p. 226)
  • an experience is ” a product, one might almost say a by-product of continuos and cumulative interaction of an organic self with the world. There is no other foundation upon which esthetic theory and criticism can build” (p. 229)
  • experience is “too rich and complex to permit such precise limitation. The termini of tendencies are bands not lines, and the qualities that characterize them form a spectrum instead of being capable of distribution in separate pigeonholes.” (p. 233)
  • experience is “constituted by interaction between “subject” and “object.” between a self and its world, it is not itself either merely physical nor merely mental, no matter how much one factor or the other predominates” (p. 256)
  • projection is “wholly dependent upon failure to see the self, organism, subject, mind – whatever term is used – denotes a factor which interacts casually with environing things to produce an experience. The same failure is found when the self is regarded as the bearer or carrier of an experience instead of a factory absorbed in what is produced, as once more in the case of the gases that produce water. When control of formation and development of an experience is needed, we have to treat the self as its bearer; we have to acknowledge the causal efficacy of the self in order to secure responsibility. But this emphasis upon the self is for a special purpose, and it disappears when the need from control in a specified predetermined direction no longer exists – as it assuredly does not exist in an esthetic experience, although in case of the new in art it may be a preliminary to having an esthetic experience” (p. 261)
  • “the roots of every experience are found in the interaction of a live creature with its environment, the experience becomes conscious, a matter of perception, only when meanings enter it that are derived from prior experiences.” (p. 283)
  • experience is “rendered conscious by means of that fusion of old meanings and new situations that transfigures both (a transformation that defines imagination)” (p. 286-287)
  • “experience is a matter of the interaction of the artistic product with the self. It is not therefore twice alike for different persons even today. It changes with the same person at different times as he brings something different to work. But there is no reason why, in order to be esthetic, these experiences should be identical. So far as in each case there is an ordered movement of the matter of the experience to a fulfillment, there is a dominant esthetic quality. Au fond, the esthetic quality is the same for Greeks, Chinese and American.” (p. 345)


  • drawing from Barnes, “Form is, as he says, “the synthesis of all plastic means…their harmonious merging.” p. 122
  • “how” it is said/done/etc. (whereas substance is “what” is said), p. 111
  • “form as something that organized material into the matter of art,” chapter 6 talks about what form is when it is achieved, when it is there in a work of art, whereas Ch. 7 looks at how form “comes to be” (p. 139)
  • “a name for certain aspects of the matter when attention goes primarily to just these aspects (in reference to stuff, which is everything).” p. 199
  • Dr. Barnes’ defintion: “the integration, through relations, of color, light, line, and space” (wherein color is the medium) (p. 209)
  • esthetic form: “only when the object having this external form fits into a larger experience. Interaction of the material of this experience with the utensil or machine cannot be let out of account. But adequate objective relationship of parts with respect to most efficient use at least brings about a condition that is favorable to esthetic enjoyment.” (p. 355)

human contribution: 

  • those aspects and elements of esthetic experience that are usually called psychological


  • imagination and beauty tend to be the “chief themes” of esthetic writing. Imagination, “more perhaps than any other phase of the hum,an contribution, it has been treated as special and self-contained faculty, differing from others in possession of mysterious potencies.” (p. 278)
  • Coleridge used the term “esemplastic” to “characterize the work of imagination in art. If i understand his use of the term, he meant by it to call attention to the welding together of all elements, no matter how diverse in ordinary experience, into a new and completely unified experience” (p. 278)
  • “the roots of every experience are found in the interaction of a live creature with its environment, the experience becomes conscious, a matter of perception, only when meanings enter it that are derived from prior experiences.” (p. 283) –> 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” (p. 283)


  • “that meeting of the old and new in which the readjustment involved in every form of consciousness is effected suddenly by means of a quick and unexpected harmony which in its bright abruptness is like a flash of revelation; although in fact it is prepared for by long and slow incubation” (p. 277)


  • two kinds – external to that which is accomplished, the other “taken up into the consequences produced and remains immanent in them.” (p. 204,205)


  • “means that are incorporated in the outcome. Even bricks and mortar become a part of the house they are employed to build; they are not mere means to its erection. Colors are the painting; tones are the music. A picture painted with water colors has a quality different from that painted with oil. Esthetic effects belong intrinsically to their medium” (p. 205)
  • means become media “when they are not just preparatory or preliminary. As a medium, color is a go-between for values weak and dispersed in ordinary experiences and the new concentrated perception occasioned by a painting” (p. 207)


  • in fine art, “denotes the fact that this specialization and individualization of a particular organ of experiences is carried to the point wherein all its possibilities are exploited. The eye or ear that is centrally active does not lose its specific character and its special fitness as the bearer of an experience that it uniquely makes possible. In art, the seeing or hearing that is dispersed and mixed in ordinary perceptions is concentrated until the peculiar office of the special medium operates with full energy, free from distraction.” (p. 204)
  • “sensitivity to a medium as a medium is the very heart of all artistic creation and esthetic perception.” (p. 207)
  • “the medium is a mediator. It is a go-between of artist and perceiver.” (p. 207)
  • “the artist has the power to seize upon a special kind of material and convert it into an authentic medium of expression. The rest of us require many channels and a mass of material ot give expression to what we should like to say.” (p. 208)
  • “what makes a material a medium is that is is used to express a meaning which is other than that which it is in virtue of its bare physical existence: the meaning not of what it physically is, but of what it expresses” (p. 209)


  • should be thought of “primarily” as “a verb” – denotes every mode and variety of interest in, and concern for, things: practical, intellectual, and emotional. It never denotes anything self-contained, isolated from the world of persons and things, but it always used with respect to situations, events, objects, persons, and groups. […] It signifies memory […] also signifies attention […and] purpose. […] In short, “to mind” denotes an activity that is intellectual, to note something; affectional, as caring and liking, and volitional, practical, acting in a purposive way.” (p. 274)


  • “the expressed material” (p. 288)
  • “is not merely the accomplished purpose, but it is as object the purpose from the very beginning” (p. 288)
  • subject = organism, object = environment (discussed on p. 289)


  • “for esthetic purposes, is defined and measured by functional and operative traits” p. 172

organized energy: 

  • means that “rhythm and balance cannot be separated, although they may be distinguished by thought.”

recurring relationships: 

  • “serve to define and delimite part, giving them individuality of their own. But they also connect; the individual entities they mark off demand, because of the relations, association and interaction with other individuals. Thus the parts vitally serve in the construction of an expanded whole” p. 173


  • “esthetic rhythm is a matter of perception and therefore includes whatever is contributed by the self in the active process of perceiving[…] The notion I refer to identifies rhythm with regularity of recurrence amid changing elements” p. 169
  • “involves constant variation” p. 170
    • “The greater the variation, the more interesting the effect, provided order is maintained – a fact that proves that the order in question is not to be state in terms of objective regularities but requires another principle for its interpretation. This principle once more, is that of cumulative progression toward the fulfillment of an experience in terms of the integrity of the experience itself – something not to be measure din external terms, though not attainable without the use of external materials, observed of imagined”, “Had not the term “pure” been so often abused in philosophic literature, had it not been so often employed to suggest that there is something alloyed, impure, in the very nature of experience and to denote something beyond experience, we might say that esthetic experience is pure experience. For it is experience freed from the forces that impede and confuse its development as experience; freed, that is, from factors that subordinate an experience as it is directly had to something beyond itself. To esthetic experience, then, the philosopher must go to understand what experience is.” p. 171
  • “For whenever each step forward is at the same time a summing up and fulfillment of what precedes, and every consummation carries expectation tensely forward, there is rhythm” p. 179


  • “an immersion so complete that the qualities of the object and the emotions it arouses have no separate existence” (p. 288)


  • “helps constitute form. But it is directly felt, sensed and as quality also.” (p. 214)
  • “space is room […] a chance to be, live and move” (p. 217)

space and time/space-time:

  • common to the substance of all works of art […] found in the matter of every art product.  (p. 214)
  • what science does to space and time –> reduces them to relations that enter into equations (p. 215), so “art makes them abound in their own sense as significant values of the very substance of all things” (p. 215)
  • “not only qualitative but infinitely diversified in qualities” (p. 217)
  • “are also occupancy, filling – not merely something externally filled. Spatiality is mass and volume, as temporality is endurance, not just abstract duration” (p. 218)
  • space and time “reciprocally affect and qualify one another in experience” (p. 220)


  • “what” is said/done/etc. (whereas form is “how” it is said) p. 111


  •  “Putting it briefly and schematically, when attention dwells especially upon the traits and aspects in which competed organization is displayed, we are especially aware of symmetry, the measuring of one thing in relation to another. Symmetry and rhythm are the same thing felt with the difference of emphasis that is due to attentive interest” p. 185

work of art: 

  • “The fact that a work of art is an organization of energies and that the nature of the organization is all important, cannot militate against the fact that it is energies which are organized and that organization has no existence outside of them” (p. 199)
  • “the organism which is the work of art is nothing different from its part or members” (p. 200)
  • “must have about it something not understood to obtain its full effect” (p. 202)
  • work – “any activity becomes work when it is directed by accomplishment of a definite material result, and it is labor only as the activities are onerous, undergone as mere means by which to secure a result. The product of artistic activity is significantly called the work of art” (p. 290)

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