John Dewey

John Dewey (1859-1952), an American pragmatist philosopher, who placed experience as a central axis in the construction of thought and democracy, had a very great influence in the first half of the 20th Century, in politics, psychology, philosophy, pedagogy (Célestin Freinet, for example, claimed to be inspired by Dewey’s thought). Then it was forgotten, seen as too optimistic.

John Dewey’s ideas have come back to the forefront since the beginning of the 2000s. In my opinion, they are valuable tools to accompany the implementation of efficient systems of human cooperation: in his book The Public and its Problems (1927), he postulates that no political system can function if it is not capable of questioning itself in depth as it experiments. In his work Art as experience (1934), he argues that art is first and foremost a lived, shared experience, and not an external and superior object.

The work of art is generally identified with the building, book, painting or statue whose existence is on the fringes of human experience. Since the true work of art is in fact composed of the actions and effects of that product on experience, this identification does not promote understanding.

I find John Dewey inspiring because, in contrast to the quest for “good principles”, his approach supports the legitimacy of concrete and agile methods of experimentation, which seem to me the most adapted to actions, especially cultural ones, in our uncertain and constantly changing world, due to the upheavals linked to digital technology, ecological mutations, and others. This agility seems to me to be necessary so that culture can be one of the incarnate tools of a living democracy.

Benoît Labourdette


“Art as experience”, or restoring the continuity between art and life

By Colette Tron

In his famous book “Art as Experience”, the pragmatist John Dewey argued that experience is the secure basis on which the theory of art and aesthetics can be founded, all aesthetics coming from experience, thus restoring its meaning to the Greek term aisthesis as sensation, or sensible experience.

“There is constantly experience”, wrote Dewey, but its completion and its unity towards the aesthetic consists in “composing an experience”, passing by “the realization of a process” and consisting in an interaction between the man and his environment, his realities, raising thus the link “significant with the conditions of appearance” of the culture and the art.

However, he wrote: “Once an artistic product is recognized as a classical work, it is somehow isolated from the human conditions that presided over its creation and from the human consequences that it engenders in the real life and experience. When artistic objects are separated from both the conditions of their origin and their effects and actions in experience, they become surrounded by a wall that renders their overall meaning almost opaque.”

Dewey’s conceptual goal is to “restore this continuity”, or to abolish “the distinction”, between “the refined and intense forms of experience that are works of art” and everyday life, its events, as constitutive elements of experience, i.e., to “understand aesthetics, its formation, its genealogy, or generation (the philosopher Bernard Stiegler had developed the idea of”genealogy of the sensitive“) in the ordinary conditions of the life, individual and collective,”raw material of the experience“, of its activities, in the vitality, the presence and the attention to the world that every individual invests there. This participation in the world passing by the senses as much as by the spirit, by the sensitive with the intelligible. It is a question of understanding the cultural context and the living practices which give place to the realization of the works, and to their significance, whatever their nature. Against”a separation between the art and the objects and scenes of the ordinary experience" and the decline of the aesthetic experience.

And again, according to Dewey: “The works of art which are not distant from the ordinary life and are widely appreciated by a community are the signs of a welded collective life”.



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