Dewey and Duncan

by beccaborrelli

It seems my deceased philosopher crush John Dewey, and the Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have a shared interest in art class. I found myself pondering today:

What would Dewey say to Arne about all this?

“So look Arne, I’ve got to get some shampoo, and was thinking about hitting up Wal-Mart for some roll back savings. Care to join me for a retail philosophical experience? Awesome!*

Speaking of experience, I wanted to get your take on these ideas I’ve spent most of my life pondering… Mkay, thanks! I’ve been thinking experience isn’t just our thoughts or feelings you know. Experience is more like a transaction between us and the world. Like, you know how there’s this space between us and these blue vests and yellow smiley faces? Well that space is where some seriously cool shit can happen Arne!

Get this, get this… We’re walking down the aisle, so let’s pretend. Can you pretend Arne? Sure you can, you pretend a lot of things. Let’s pretend you’re looking for deodorant, when an adorable baby locks eyes with you and flashes a gigantic smile. Normally you would have thought it nice and all, but this time is markedly different. All the events of your day somehow brought you to the perfect physical and emotional place to receive this smile in a deep way. You feel instant gratitude, peace, and immersion in the moment. Your standardized heart melts. It’s like that baby’s smile is all that is right with the world. The moment becomes unified, fulfilling, and complete.

Some call this magic. Some call it ‘flow.’ Some call it religious or spiritual. But for our sake Arne, I will call it some seriously cool shit. I’m vibing with you Arne, I know what you like, and you like cool shit. Cool shit is very good for the economy.**


Actually Dewey called this ART AS EXPERIENCE 

When people witness or create profoundly powerful life experiences from something seemingly ordinary like a baby smiling, they are going through many of the same processes an artist does when making art. Dewey believed art making was one of the best ways to practice creating optimal life experiences.

Life mimics art or something like that…

Think about smooching.

When you kiss someone passionately, you are engaging all the tools at your disposal in the ways an artist would. It’s an organic process: considering yourself, your partner, selecting how you will touch, kiss, and speak to them. The goal is to give pleasure while also expressing your own feelings.

Similarly, an artist will consider the audience while choosing what marks to make and what tools to use. She has the same goals as the lovers– expressing herself while giving pleasure to others.

OR… consider lying on your back in the ocean, sun on your face, water lapping, body rocking slowly back and forth, the sounds of silence with your ears submerged. You are absorbing experience as someone might absorb an aria at an opera.It is more passive than kissing, but it is engaging all of your senses in physical, emotional and spiritual ways.

Art witnessing and making flexes the same muscles as living a meaning-rich life– therefore art class becomes an excellent place to practice making meaning out of the mundane

Things like serenity in the toothpaste aisle, or hopefulness when talking to the Secretary of Education about standards.


As with all philosophy, Dewey’s points need not be exhaustive. We don’t need more dogmatic checklists surrounding the value of art. It is okay after all, to lay in the ocean and feel nothing,

Yet when and if children gain daily practice in creating artful experiences (i.e.. manipulating their perspective as an artist manipulates media), this really cool thing happens…

Creative power extends beyond collages and Crayola (or TAKS tests)… out into the whole wide world.

Their canvas no longer resides on just an easel.

The canvas is now their life.


* Paraphrasing philosophy is not a forte. You should really read this.

** Although if Dewey talked like an excited teenager… then I guess never mind.