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Experience and The Expressive Object

In Chapter 3, Dewey explores what it means to Experience. Experiences occur “because of the interaction of live creatures and environiong conditions (36).” As a result, we are all living, or better yet, experiencing. “Things are experienced but not in such a way that they are composed into an experience (36).” Dewey lays the framework of the chapter by defining a clear separation between monotonous, day to day experiences which don’t logically equate to a whole, and having an experience in such a way that things are composed into a complete whole. Dewey believed that in an experience, events flow towards a total sum. “Because of continuous merging,...no holes, junctions, and dead centers…” (38) appear but rather places of rest in the experience that “punctuate and define the quality of moment (38).” 

Thinking, as Dewey describes, “goes on in trains of ideas(39).” The ideas are thought to travel in phases of variations, “not separate or independent(39),” but are similar to the developing shades and hues in a working painting. Dewey compares intellectual “thinking” experiences and aesthetic experiences of  fine art. “We say of an experience of thinking that we reach or draw a conclusion…(Dewey, 39)” Dewey states that this conclusion, which becomes a manifest, “Hence an experience of thinking has its own esthetic quality (Dewey,39).” It differs from those experiences that are acknowledged to be esthetic, but only in material (Dewey, 39).” Dewey is suggesting that there isn’t a defined distinction between the intellectual and fine art experience. “The material of the fine arts consists of qualities; that of experience having intellectual conclusion are signs or symbols having no intrinsic quality of their own, but standing for things that may in another experience be qualitatively experincined(39).’’

Dewey explains theories throughout the entire book in relation to literature, science and fine art. His articulations on aesthetic experience could suggest that this has had an influence on the birth of design thinking principles. While the context today reads differently, I could imagine his theories serving a radically new understanding of the working artist during the time the text was published. One of the intrinsic themes found in Dewey’s aesthetic experience is purpose. “An experience has pattern and structure, because it is not just doing and undergoing in alternation, but consists of them in relationship (46).” While he does not use the word directly, Dewey is suggesting that the artist is after the fulfillment, the aesthetic experience, which is reached by the artists’ keen attention to the accumulation and successions of all the qualities.The qualities “possesses internal integration and fulfillment reached through ordered and organized movement (40).” It’s in this ordering and reordering, the artist questions the qualities purpose. Experiences are satisfied because of an internal integration. Dewey believes aesthetic qualities are dynamically emotional meaning they unfold similar to a plot in a drama. Emotions are tied directly to qualities or objects but not to experiences. Again, Dewey is suggesting a tie of accumulating actions undergoing a condition in which they change and form a new ending. 

Dewey's clear distinction between an experience and an experience leaves little room for process without a final outcome. Having an experience, in the eyes of Dewey, seems to lack consideration for experience of making in which it may not produce a qualified final product. What happens when an artist doesn’t produce an outcome that is aesthetic? What if the final outcome becomes the literal process leading to the qualified whole experience? Is there one particular element that qualifies the final experience or can we experience a process aesthetically in only the process alone? Dewey limits his definition of esthetic, “to experience as appreciative, perceiving, and enjoying (49).” What if the final experience is not “framed for enjoyed receptive perception (49).” Artists can work in recognition with what has previously been done before, to craft an experience in which serves as a statement not necessarily tied to Dewey’s original esthetic definition.

In the experience exercise, the artspace group made a “portal” for the user to craft their own experience. The goal was to emphasize the clear distinctions between experiences we shared collectively. “For to perceive, a beholder must create his own experience (56).” As a perceiver, one undergoings the experience, in this case, viewing art. Dewy suggests that the “beholder must go through...operations according to his point of view and interest (56).” This is particularly important because stating back to the beginning of the chapter, “Experience is...the interaction of live creatures...and conditions (36).” While the “player” of our portal can choose which experience, we also presented the experiences as a whole “package” in the application. “The form of the whole is therefore present in every member (58).” Apart from our experiences individually, there is a collective experience within which the small experiences or qualities we each hold are “series of doings in the rhythm of experience that give variety and movement..the undergoings are the corresponding elements in the rhythm, and they supply unity (58).”Unity in an experience “is a whole and carries with its own individualizing quality and self-sufficiency. It is an experience (37).”

The Expressive Object “like construction, signifies both an action and result...the object that is expressive, says something to us.” Dewey emphasized that the two, Expression and Object go hand and hand despite other theories which describe art as purely representative. Dewey believes something can be representative but never in a pure form so to speak. “They ignore the individual contribution which makes the object something new (85).” While it’s often confused with expressing personal discharge, Dewey claims that “representation may also mean that the work of art tells something to those who enjoy it about the nature of their own experience of the world..that it presents the world in a new experience which they undergo (87).” My personal experiences in ArtSpace were displayed on “postcards” collages. Toward the left, my interpretation of each artist, and on the right my collage images of past experiences I believe contributed in some shape or form to my comprehension of who they are, what they do, and what experience I had with the artist.

Personal emotions are always fused to individuals previous experiences. Emotion is linked to our comprehension of everything, and as a result, the viewer is never a clean slate. “The juice expressed by the wine press is what it is because of a prior act….yet it has something in common with other objects and it is made to appeal to other persons than the one who produced it (86).” The artist, for example, displays qualities which are common materials from other experiences, leading to an abstraction, a new experience for the viewer to perceive.

Dewey states that the work of art is “clarifying and concentrating meaning contained in scattered and weakened ways in the material of other experiences(87).” Dewey uses the word “clarifying,” but a better term might be “packaging.” Art isn’t always presented in an experience which aims to clarify its subject. A work can exhibit mockery qualities, in which the receiver isn’t receiving a clarification at all but rather the artist intends to question personal value systems. Dewey claims art expresses meaning and science states them. Science provides us with the directions to X, Y, Z. Art would express the emotional essence of the location of X, Y, Z. Artist “perform” outside of a lab by association of previous experiences tied to the new object. What happens in the future when we don’t have previous experiences associated with whatever creation imaginined. In this sense, products can never be aesthetic art, but technology clearly develops in a linear pathway. The prior technology informs the  future technology incrementally. In this sense, the development of technology is aesthetic in experience, but isn’t expressive in the same matter. The future of technology will start to manifest what it means to have an experience as we begin to have more control over our experiences. How we view and experience art with the integration of technology and control could change the context of an artwork significantly.

Work Cited 

Dewey, John. “Art As Experience.” New York. The Berkley Publishing Group. 1934. Print.

Having an Experience

Artspace is a visual arts center inspiring innovation through opportunities to experience the creative process and engage with artists
— http://artspacenc.org/about-us/

Artspace, a counterculture place, is a fresh take on what it means to experience art. While art museums do curate collections, sometimes a barrier between the viewer and the work still exists, regardless of prior efforts in designing exhibits with intention. Art museums radiant an overall tone of seriousness. Museums are places of quiet space. We feel restricted to make comments out loud. We can all imagine hearing the echo of a pin drop. A whisper will carry instantly advertising our thoughts to the public. We feel watched as the security guards trail just a few steps beside us. Every observation we make about a work of art, is inevitably projected outwards by our subtle twitches and facial expressions. When sound is accompanied by an audience, the environment becomes a stage. Some might argue that an art museum makes them feel uncomfortable. Regardless of what the art is asking the perceiver to experience, there is already a distinct tone that the receiver will have to push past. I would argue that this primes the viewer to be wary of truly experiencing an artwork. All of these senses do not construct an environment in which the receiver of art becomes an active participant in experiencing an artwork. “Experience occurs because the interaction of live creature and environmental conditions is involved in the very process of living (36).”


Most art museums are a sort of one way transaction; walking in a specific order, viewing the artwork, occasionally taking a seat, and exiting through the gift shop. Museum trips usually follow the previous format while the work in the exhibit is the only differential difference between each visit. While artwork could be very engaging dewy primes the question I ask myself whether we are actually experiencing the art in a museum or experiencing the museum as the experience? Is the space of a museum sterilizing the perceiver? If so then the artist is the only one who “experiences” the true work of art. 

My observations and notes about Artspace as a “experience” are as follows. Artspace has multiple points of entry. Compared to an art museum, this is an entirely different approach as the experience of the space immediately suggested it's not a linear model. I enter Artspace from the NE corner of the intersection of David Street and Blount Street. Upon entering the building, I can see clusters of black and white children's drawings that all share the same sense of innocence and ingenuity. These drawings are curated by Casey McGuire’s and part of her “dream home” installation project. The drawings conceptualize the housing crash and the myth of the american dream that every child will learn to imagine. Further towards the right, these houses have been translated from drawing to a tanagable space, which immediately reminded me of a scene in The Wizard Of Oz where the house gets swept up by the tornado. Everything is floating and all sense of stability is lost. I feel encouraged to walk between these floating houses. Maybe the nature of the material, cardboard, juxtaposed beside the brown, tile flooring suggests an environment meant for a working class, a place for storage and shipments. While I'm sure what is exhibited in this space could alter this view, I feel welcomed by the children’s free play of expression. 


There is a digital screen, but rather off towards the side. I imagine purposely not intended to be the first encounter for the perceiver. It serves more as a digital billboard, rather than a screen meant for interaction. While I do believe Artspace is a contemporary take on what it means to curate artwork, there isn’t a profound appearance of digital integration just yet. While the space encourages its visitors and the artist to interact, it’s means to provoke communication are by traditional methods. 

Walking further into the space, I come across another exhibit which transforms the main gallery into this field of 2-dimensional drawings, experienced by physical spatial relations. Nicole Simpkin, “Giving What It Takes” is a collection of site-specific installations “which examine the true nature of invasive species, such as kudzu, to explore what plants can teach us about myth-making, resilience, and adaptation.” There are points in which the drawings and nuances are tangled and one can observe the feeling of struggle and growth in the imagery. “When we take time to deeply examine these spaces, both the positive and negative impacts on the overall system are revealed.” The wildly, “composed” jungle is constructed with a similar expression in line quality as the children’s house drawings. These two exhibits are clearly curated with intention. The experience of these two exhibits feel united in the sense that they share aesthetic characteristics and follow this structure of translating a 2-dimensional image into a 3-dimensional space. 

I take a right and wander down the hall towards the other entreece. Waiting for others to arrive, I take a side detor into the studio of Omi Powers, who previously mentored the designers of Art2wear 2019 and donated many hours of her time towards the success of the production. While, I felt rushed because I know I should wait before “experiencing” the studios with the others in my group, I took a detoured regardless, and entered into the space of her studio. The threshold the door provides seems to aid in priming you for the next “experience.” The studio of Omi Powers, is lit brightly by the sunlight. While both the studio and the hallway share the same ceiling height, I observe a feeling of a greater sense of space. The room is a hazy, white in which the sunlight’s reflection creates a type of glow behind the carefully displayed pieces. The combination of expressive line, surreal and imaginative imagery, and delicate details of Omi’s work are not only experienced visually, but are experienced physically. Viewing the work of an artist in the environment it’s created, offers a richer total experience. From my understanding of Artspace, the artist chose to display their work as they wish. Omi’s space is carefully curated, providing the right headspace to appreciate the details. I don’t feel overwhelmed by a mass volume of work, but clear and focused to appreciate what’s truly presented in front of me. 

While I lost the group for a minute, I quickly managed to find them, not too far away, in the studio of Ryan Fox, who is a watercolor painter. The feeling between Ryan and Omi’s studio is distinctly different. In some ways, Rayan’s studio feels much smaller. The room is plastered with watercolor images from floor to ceiling. All of the images he paints are from photos he took during his travels abroad. Ryan’s watercolor, highly expressive in values, takes me back to florence, where I feel as if I could run into Ryan working on his paintings in the Piazza del Duomo. Ryan is happy to talk with us and shared many different tips and tricks about his medium. “It’s all about the paper. I buy cheap brushes, and just throw them out when they are worn.” Ryan even shared some of his business insights as a working artist. He tends to make the most of his smaller prints and cards. I find the carousel of postcards ironally fitting. He says he enjoys the public coming in while he is working and rarely feels the need to shut the door while he paints. Ryan informed us that this is an important value for Artspace. If you rent the space, you are expected to be accessible.. If Artspace feels you aren’t in your studio enough, they will evict you from the space. This isn’t something I would have neccerally thought about. The working artists of Artspace have a great deal of responsibility because they are expected to provide access for the public in which they can experience their creations. 

It’s highly probable that when you do visit artspace, you will never visit all of the artists. Although, if we consider the positive, each time you visit, you will experience a different set of artists. We were in Artspace for a total of two hours and only had enough time to visit three studios in their interiality. The time spent with the artwork becomes an interaction. It isn’t simply viewing the art in which we are experiencing the artist. We are engaging with the stories and personal experiences of the human who created the art. There isn’t a need for a lengthy placket description. On the studio doors that are closed you come across a small artist statement but nothing more.

 It’s clear that artspace is a place which celebrates a sense of community between the public and the art world. According to Dewey, “to perceive, a beholder must create his own experience and his creation must include relations comparable to those which the original producer underwent. The beholder must go through these operations according to his point of view and interest. In both, an act of abstraction that is of extraction of what is significant, takes place.” (56) Doesn’t this mean in order to grasp an artist’s work, we need to understand what that artist experienced in the process of production?! I could agree with this statement to an extent. While I am a strong avacorder for providing process, I do believe we can experience an artwork if we also share an understanding of the artist’s values instead. 


Our final stop proceeded upstairs, in the studio of Autumn Cobeland, a watercolorist who has a passion for celebrating the unique places in her hometown. She finds passion in the spaces she is most familiar with. Her paintings are highly graphic snapshots of different sections of the Raleigh greenway system. She is clearly passionate about Raleigh’s greenway system and enjoys spending time outdoors. She says she wants to promote and hopefully grow the popularity of this unique local treasure. While her prints could easily take digital form, her choice to paint by hand is clear followed by our short discussion with her. She values the quintiness and distinctive traits of a place she calls home. Those subtle nuances, which she explains, are what make the difference between a digital print and the original. She says she sells more prints than originals, but if they want the special reflective gold line to show, they will have to purchase the original. Her images are loud and bold and I feel she values these trails deeply. Off in the corner of her studio, you will find a framed copy of the greenway system map, which she strongly feels needs a facelift. She uses the map to share with the public where the locations are in her paintings. Most of her sales come from those who have a personal connection with the greenway system or Raleigh in general. They too have experienced these locations and in this sense, I would argue that this is a case where the perceiver is truly experiencing the artwork for what it is. They have engaged with the piece, because there is an emotional connection. Dewey states that “the esthetic experience-in its limited sense-is thus seen to be inherently connected with the experience of making (50).” While these customers are not making the artwork, they have however made the experience in which Autumn Cobeland materializes in an esthetic experience for the preceivers enjoyment. I believe in the case of Cobeland’s work, Dewey’s commentary on having an experience as an artist or perceiver, this example outlines a very rudimentary example as to how exactly a perceiver could experience the artwork in its entirely. 

Design the Experience as an artifact: Portal landing screenshot for “Choose your Experience”

Design the Experience as an artifact: Portal landing screenshot for “Choose your Experience”

Portal Map: Dots indicate location of each of our Experiences

Portal Map: Dots indicate location of each of our Experiences

"Experience” as Postcards, Content generated for my “portal experiences” as following: What I bring prior and what I see as a visual representation of the artist and their space

Casey McGuire "Dream Home" and my home memories

Oami Powers & my Art2Wear experience

Ryan Fox and my travels

Ryan Fox and my travels

Autumn Cobeland and my greenway experience

Work Cited

Dewey, John. “Art As Experience.” New York. The Berkley Publishing Group. 1934. Print.