Teaching is an Art (John Dewey)

I’m re-reading John Dewey’s 1934 book Art as experience in connection with an article I’m writing. This passage, near the end (p. 347), jumped out at me:

It is by way of communication that art becomes the incomparable organ of instruction, but the way is so remote from that usually associated with the idea of education, it is a way that lifts art so far above what we are accustomed to think of as instruction, that we are repelled by any suggestion of teaching and learning in connection with art. But our revolt is in fact a reflection upon education that proceeds by methods so literal as to exclude the imagination and one not touching the desires and emotions of men.

In the first 346 pages of his book, Dewey argues that art is an experience that a person has while interacting with an artwork. It is not the object, the work of art; it’s the interactive experience. Great teaching is interactive and improvisational, and when it’s effective, the interaction has the characteristics that Dewey calls “aesthetic experience.”

7 thoughts on “Teaching is an Art (John Dewey)

  1. John Dewey’s out-of context quote sounds contradictory. He seems to dislike using Art in Education: “we are repelled by any suggestion of teaching and learning in connection with art”

    then says it is too literal: “our revolt is in fact a reflection upon education that proceeds by methods so literal as to exclude the imagination and one not touching the desires and emotions of men.”

    Maybe I’m misunderstanding this, but art **includes and adds more** imagination and emotions. ….?

    1. When he says “we are repelled” that is rhetorical, he’s not saying that he thinks this, but rather is criticizing those people who are “repelled”. Maybe it’s just an older style of usage of English…perhaps it should say “many are repelled” or “some are repelled” (or even “some idiots are repelled and let me tell you why you’re wrong” but he’s using his typical dry, academic language!)

  2. Thanks for bringing up this important point – about experience vs object.
    “Aesthetics” can sometimes be a confusing topic (mired as it often is in philosophical debate) But one thing that I find useful is to consider our more familiar use of the word An-aesthetic – to numb the senses, or to sleep. In this way, aesthetics would refer to ‘waking-up’ via the senses which I believe is the original Greek sense of aesthesis. I find this a really useful way of thinking about aesthetic experience – and of teaching as an aesthetic experience also!
    Look forward to reading your article. Will it be on your website?
    Thanks
    Carl

    1. Thanks for your interest! I won’t finish the article until July, then it will take a year for the book to be published, and you’re not supposed to post something until it’s published in the book. Sorry! I’ll keep blogging, though.

  3. Thank you for sharing this quote. Perhaps the mechanical and industrial influence on education has led us to where we are in just having “literal methods”. Today, more than ever before, we see how imbalanced that is and therefore how much we need the art of education to bring back again the true joy of learning.

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