John Dewey via Giles Gunn - Everyday Art as Generative Context - Gianfranco Baruchello via Michael Principe

In the edited volume The Aesthetics of Everyday Life, Michael Principe, in his essay "Danto and Baruchello: From Art to the Aesthetics of the Everyday," uses Gianfranco Baruchello's farm (this is described in the book How to Imagine) to compose a rejoinder to Arthur Danto's apocalyptic tale of art-as-pluralistic morass in The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art. It is a subtle argument that needs to be read in its entirety to appreciate fully. The gist of the position is that Danto argues that we have reached the end of art history and that this leaves us lost in the "age of pluralism." What Principe points out is that Danto's reading mimics a complaint Danto makes of Plato - that he too banishes art from the world:

"But art history can only end, in a context where history does not end if art is separated off from the world in a crucial way, that is, precisely in the manner Danto shows has occurred in the history of aesthetics from Plato onward."

Ultimately, Principe argues, Danto offers only the possibility of the everyday entering the artworld and not the reverse. What Principe sees in Baruchello's farm-as-art, is precisely the implications of allowing for the latter. Of particular interest to us is Baruchello's conceptualization of art as context-making. As Principe puts it, "For Baruchello, his farm is crucially both a context for generating works of art, and as such a context is itself a kind of artwork." He goes on to note Baruchello's analysis of the importance of Duchamp's Bicycle Wheel as "a context for further work." This work is not confined to the art world, and thus we see that Baruchello's farm, like Duchamp's readymade, is imagined as "a resource for all kinds of creative activity...that Baruchello's aesthetics of the everyday is connected to the ability to see the world as such a resource, for example, as the appropriate sort of context for creative thought and activity." Or even more directly Principe summarizes, "That is, his art [Baruchello's] is a context for speaking and acting in the world."

Art as context-making moves art out of the confines of art history as imagined by Danto and art "...no longer finds direction qua art, but only insofar as it aligns itself with other nonartistic projects." Thus we find art that has made its way off the pedestal and re-connecting art history with history nullifying Danto's negative position as Principe notes, "The end of the history of art only leads to directionless pluralism if the artist is forbidden from entering real history."

The notion of art as a context for imaginative practice, or even imaginative practice as art dovetails nicely with Giles Gunn's reading of John Dewey in Thinking Across the American Grain. Once again, we can only provide a cursory summary here [a specialty of ours!]. Gunn quotes Dewey:

"The history of human experience is the history of the development of art. The history of science and its distinct emergence from religious, ceremonial and poetic arts is the record of a differentiation of arts, not a record of separation from art."

The implications of this view relative to the art history vs. real history conflict outlined above should be obvious. But it might be less obvious how this radically opens possibilities for an aesthetics of the everyday. Gunn's reading of Dewey situates his aesthetic theory of being wholly synchronous with everyday concerns. The site of imaginative activity, of meaning-making, of creative engagement with the world, and of creating further contexts for these various activities, is not confined to the art world, but squarely placed within our day to day milieu. Gunn again quotes Dewey:

"[aesthetics should seek to restore]...continuity between the refined and intensified forms of experience that are works of art and the everyday events, doings, and sufferings that are universally recognized to constitute experience."

This is precisely the sort of integration Baruchello was exploring within the context of his farm. It is a claim, as Principe puts it, for "...an aesthetics of the everyday where the world becomes an occasion for speaking, acting and imagining[emphasis ours]." Dewey's radically inclusive aesthetics supports such a project, one that is conceived as a site of the endless and critical production of contexts, or as Gunn describes it, "...culture is, or should be, comprised of forms not only critical of previous cultural closures but also potentially creative of further extensions and realizations of experience itself." This is a living aesthetics, one that sees its power drawn from everyday life. Gunn summarizes how art may be conceived within this framework, "Works of art constitute what might be called, if we can dissociate the word 'art' from its honorific connotations, the fullest possible appreciation of the processes and possibilities of ordinary existence..." This leads us back to Principe's concluding remarks concerning Baruchello, "...an aesthetics of everyday life need employ no particular or special way of seeing an environment that is out there and separate, but rather aspires to find a context for living that promotes speaking, acting, and imagining [emphasis ours]."