Discussion about Tolstoy and Dewey

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Please see an attachment below for the summary of Tolstoy and Dewey

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Dewey 1. For Dewey, All genuine experiences are aesthetic in nature. This of course does not mean that everything that we experience is aesthetic. Only the kind of experience Dewey refers to as "an" experience is aesthetic--"consummatory" is one of the words he uses to describe it. A consummatory experience occurs when we are taken out of our normal harmonious functioning and forced to deal with something unexpected, unusual, strange, novel, or problematic. What we were implicitly anticipating doesn’t happen, or something challenging occurs, and we are forced to try to restore a sort of balance. When we restore that balance, achieve smooth functioning again, we have learned something (namely how to cope with that type of problem or situation), and hence have grown. This is what he means by consummation, and Dewey labels that type of experience “an experience”—one that is aesthetic in nature. The connection between everyday life and work and aesthetic experience is essential to Dewey, and that is part of the reason he is so strongly opposed to the “museum conception of art” which removes art from the circumstances of its creation and turns it into the sort of thing that we just “look at.” We shouldn’t be just “spectators” trying to figure out intellectually what an art work means—it should engage us and be the occasion for our having a certain kind of experience with it. 2. What is important about art as a form of human activity is twofold. Like any other genuine experience, the production of art is an aesthetic experience. In the creation of the work the artist goes through the process of overcoming difficulties and achieving a consummatory experience. However, art is unlike many other human endeavors, in that the very purpose of art is to produce something deliberately intended to bring that kind of consummatory (aesthetic) experience about. Anything we undergo in life can be the occasion for an aesthetic experience--art aims to bring those kinds of experiences about on purpose.
From John Dewey, Art as Experience, chp. 2 There has been much dispute as to what Keats meant in his famous lines: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty—that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know,” and what he meant in the cognate statement—“What imagination seizes as beauty must be truth.” Much of the dispute is carried on in ignorance of the particular tradition in which Keats wrote and which gave the term “truth” its meaning. In this tradition, “truth” never signifies correctness of intellectual statements about things, or truth as its meaning is now influenced by science. It denotes the wisdom by which men live, especially “the lore of good and evil.” And in Keats’ mind it was particularly connected with the question of justifying good and trusting to it in spite of the evil and destruction that abound. “Philosophy” is the attempt to answer this question rationally. Keats’ belief that even philosophers cannot deal with the question without depending on imaginative intuitions receives an independent and positive statement in his identification of “beauty” with “truth”—the particular truth that solves for man the baffling problem of destruction and death—which weighed so constantly on Keats—in the very realm where life strives to assert supremacy. Man lives in a world of surmise, of mystery, of uncertainties. ‘Reasoning’ must fail man—this of course is a doctrine long taught by those who have held to the necessity of a divine revelation. Keats did not accept this supplement and substitute for reason. The insight of imagination must suffice. “This is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know.” The critical words are “on earth”—that is amid a scene in which “irritable reaching after fact and reason” confuses and distorts instead of bringing us to the light. It was in moments of most intense esthetic perception that Keats found his utmost solace and his deepest convictions. This is the fact recorded at the close of his Ode. Ultimately there are but two philosophies. One of them accepts life and experience in all its uncertainty, mystery, doubt, and half-knowledge and turns that experience upon itself to deepen and intensify its own qualities—to imagination and art. This is the philosophy of Shakespeare and Keats.
Tolstoy: From the vantage point of the late 19th century, Tolstoy (the author of the famous epic novel War and Peace) looks back on the history of thinking about art and concludes that, in large part, accepted ideas about beauty and aesthetics are nothing more than the attempt by a special privileged class to canonize those works of art that pleased them. Aesthetics, he says, was turned into the study of beauty, and beauty, wrongly, was identified with what a certain group of people liked. Tolstoy rejects this idea of beauty, and argues that there can be no theory of aesthetics based on a definition of beauty because there is no such definition. Art can only be defined and appraised in terms of its effect on people—in particular, in terms of its ability to transmit the feelings of the artist to the audience or viewer. When art succeeds in this regard (that is, when something a person creates can be said to be art), it can be judged according to 3 criteria: 1. The specificity of the feeling/emotion conveyed; 2. The clarity of expression of the feeling; and 3. The sincerity of the feeling expressed (i.e., the degree to which what the artist is expressing is authentic). Next, if it is good art (the 3 criteria mentioned so far only apply to the question of whether it is art, not whether it’s any good), then it will convey something of what Tolstoy calls religious perception, and will serve to bring human beings together in the expression and celebration of feelings that are universal. “But the religious perception of our times does not select any one society of men; on the contrary, it demands the union of all-absolutely of all people without exception—and above every other virtue it sets brotherly love to all men” (p. 242). This, in a nutshell, is how we should understand art: as human undertaking exhibiting an infectiousness that leads to unity and brotherly love.

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School: UT Austin


Discussion about Tolstoy and Dewey

Tolstoy and Dewey analyze the perception of art among people and the role it is destined
for vis-à-vis the role that people give it. According to Tolstoy, art, as opposed to popular opinion
does not mean beauty and aesthetic, as ...

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