Deweys Aesthetics in Art Education

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Dewey's art education


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    Kazuyo Nakamura

    Faculty of EducationHiroshima University

    Abstract. On the occasion of Deweys sesquicentennial anniversary, Kazuyo Nakamura exploresDeweys aesthetics, which holds the plurality of art and culture in high regard. Nakamura develops atheoretical foundation for art education in the present age of globalization based on educational insightsdrawn from Deweys aesthetics. The theme of this essay unfolds based on three topics: Deweys viewof the educational value of art in general education, the fundamental viewpoint of art in relation todemocracy, and the discussion of the educational aspect of individuality and community with respectto the experience of art. Based on Deweys aesthetics, this essay presents new perspectives on arteducation that emphasize the realization of personal values, development of intelligent visual literacy,and enhancement of the quality of communication of art, in the context of globalization.


    In 1919, John Dewey was invited to lecture at the Imperial University inTokyo. Along with his wife, Alice, he traveled around Japan, visiting manyplaces.1 Their letters from Japan to their daughter Evelyn reveal their cosmopolitantemperament, which was unusual at a time when Western empires were the mainagents of globalization. Instead of viewing Japanese culture from the standpointof their own culture, they attempted to understand and experience things forwhat they were in Japan, as inherently Japanese.2 The letters also reveal theirserious interest in Japanese art and culture; during their short stint in Japan,they participated in several tea ceremonies, visited Kabuki and Noh theaters, andfrequented museums and art stores.

    Deweys attitude toward Japanese culture reveals the central place that artisticand cultural pluralism occupies in his work on aesthetics; Deweys work in thisarea can in fact be viewed as one of the most significant factors for advancing arteducation on a global scale. On the occasion of the sesquicentennial anniversaryof Deweys birth, I intend in this essay to shed light on Deweys aesthetics byattempting to gain a perspective on art education for schools in the present age ofglobalization.

    Scholars have noted that the globalization of our time is not a newphenomenon. In the case of Japanese education, globalization was initiated in theMeiji era (18681912), when schools underwent modernization through adoptingthe Western system.

    1. John Dewey and Alice C. Dewey, Letters from China and Japan (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1920).

    2. For example, the letter they wrote on April 15 in Kyoto contains the following observation: Thepaintings on the walls are mostly ruined, but the kakemonas and the screens and the makemonas, thoseare wonderful and I am glad to say that we have got over seeing them as grotesque, and we feel theirbeauty. Dewey and Dewey, Letters from China and Japan.

    EDUCATIONAL THEORY Volume 59 Number 4 2009 2009 Board of Trustees University of Illinois

  • 428 E D U C A T I O N A L T H E O R Y Volume 59 Number 4 2009

    Globalization at present is very different from the time when it impliedWesternization. Today, globalization is characterized by new global culturalnetworks of interconnections and interdependence.3 This kind of globalizationhas significantly transformed several aspects of educational practices. In Japan, forexample, these changes include an education network that extends beyond nationalboundaries.4 This can be seen in the construction of foreign affiliated schools; theaccessibility of significant interactions with different cultures in schools, whichcan be primarily attributed to the increased movement of people across nationalborders; the increase in the number of international activities included in theschool curriculum; and the rising influence of global educational organizationssuch as the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), conductedby the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).5

    In this new situation, the normal activities comprising art education in schoolsthat pertain to globalization have expanded. The most pressing issue currentlyfacing the field of art education, however, concerns how these activities can becarried out in ways that promote the formation of a personality type capable offunctioning well in a world of accelerated globalization. I attempt to tackle thisissue here by drawing insight from Deweys discussion on art, developed mainlyin his book Art as Experience. As noted in Philip Jacksons study, Dewey talkedabout gaining an experience of art that is educative in nature.6 Further, Deweysaesthetics addresses the educational aspects of individuality and community; hedevoted much effort to articulating a type of experience by means of whichan individual can develop an intimate relationship with the social and culturalenvironment. Deweys aesthetics thus specifies a direction for art education that iscapable of enhancing human relationships and personalities in ways that improvehuman life on a global scale, without lapsing into particularism or universalism.

    The theme of this essay can be outlined in three stages. First, I considerDeweys view of the educational value inherent in art; my purpose in thisdiscussion is to develop the view that art education plays an integral role in generaleducation within a global context. Second, I examine Deweys fundamental views

    3. David Held, Anthony McGrew, David Goldblatt, and Jonathan Perraton, Global Transformation:Politics, Economics and Culture (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1999).

    4. Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Report of the InvestigativeCommission on Promotion of International Education in Elementary and Secondary Education (2005), menu/shingi/chousa/shotou/026/houkoku/05080101/001.htm.

    5. The new education policy stated in the course of study for elementary and secondary educationannounced in 2008 was formed by taking into account PISA results.

    6. Philip W. Jackson, If We Took Deweys Aesthetics Seriously, How Would the Arts Be Taught? inTheNew Scholarship on Dewey, ed. Jim Garrison (London: Kluwer Academic, 1995); and Philip W. Jackson,John Dewey and the Lessons of Art (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1998).

    KAZUYO NAKAMURA is Associate Professor of Art Education at Hiroshima University, Kagamiyama1-1-1, Higashi-hiroshima, 739-8524, Japan; e-mail . Her primary areasof scholarship are aesthetic education and the philosophy of John Dewey.

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    of art in relation to democracy in order to consider ways of advancing art educationin the age of globalization toward democratic ideals. Third, I explore the role ofindividuality and community in Deweys aesthetics in relation to the notion of anaesthetic experience. This is aimed at devising approaches to art education thatcan prove effective in developing the childs ability to express him- or herself inways that can enhance the quality of the community in a context of globalization.

    The Educational Value of Art

    Deweys discussion of these issues in Art as Experience is constructed onthe platform of his empirical naturalism. He intended to open new possibilitiesfor human experience by reestablishing the continuity between meaning, value,and spirituality, on one side, and the physical, biological, and sensuous, onthe other. He thus hoped to heal the break that occurred as a result of thedevelopment of modernism. Dewey criticized several theories of art based ondualism, including imitation theory, illusion theory, and cognitive theory. Inchapter 12, for example, which is entitled The Challenge to Philosophy, Deweytook up Platos metaphor of a ladder and launches a critical attack on the ideaof a structure that involves successive rungs leading from raw sense experienceupward, but with no provision for returning from the highest stages where beautyis encountered back to perceptual experience at the lowest stage.7 In order topresent an alternative to Platos account, Dewey sought to open up a new kindof discourse about the experience of art as involving interpenetration of thephysical and biological aspects of human experience with those aspects that aredependent on cultural influences (AE, 2829). Deweys naturalism is based onthe idea that the transformation of a biological organism can be realized throughcultural influences. Moreover, in Logic: The Theory of Inquiry, in the chapterentitled The Existential Matrix of Inquiry: Cultural, Dewey stated that eventhe neuro-muscular structures of individuals are modified through the influenceof the cultural environment upon the activities performed.8 Using Deweys viewabout how human experience is constructed, the following observations about theinherent qualities of art can be identified. They will provide valuable insights intothe processes involved.

    One such insight is that the roots of art are found in the immediate experienceof the senses, through which humans develop relationships with the world and bymeans of which the life of the biological organism emerges. Art stimulates emotionand gives a qualitative unity to situations, thus allowing for the development ofthe aesthetic experience. Dewey identified this quality as the emergence of naturein the sense of habitual as well as in that of primitive and native (AE, 69), whichundergoes transformation by means of artistic expression.

    7. John Dewey, Art as Experience (1934), in John Dewey: The Later Works, 19251953, vol. 10, ed.Jo Ann Boydston (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1987), 295296. This work will becited as AE in the text for all subsequent references.

    8. John Dewey, Logic: The Theory of Inqu