Recent Reads/Micro-Reviews - Experience, Leisure, and the Art of Living - Lucas Ihlein, John Neulinger, John Lachs, and Larry Hickman

Reading Dewey: Interpretations for a Postmodern Generation ed. Larry Hickman - Excellent anthology of writings on John Dewey. Of particular interest to us were: "The Art of Life: Dewey's Aesthetics" by Thomas M. Alexander (micro-review of his book devoted to this topic) in which he outlines Dewey's argument for art as enriched experience and how the aesthetic ties into the core issues of Dewey's philosophy. "Dewey's Ethics: Morality as Experience" by Gregory E. Pappas in which he explicates the vision of a morality intertwined with the aesthetic and how both are rooted in experience rather than abstraction or as he puts it "...the moral life that is lived in the context of a situation, by means of the resources found within the situation, and for the situation." And lastly "John Dewey's Philosophy as Education" by James W. Garrison which Larry Hickman summarizes thusly, "Garrison argues that the flowering and fruit of philosophy as education is a kind of moral poetics, in which lifelong learning converts what would otherwise be disconnected and discordant into experience that is refined and harmonious." Excellent introductory text to Dewey and good supplement for those already familiar with portions of his oeuvre.

"Bilateral Blogging" by Lucas Ihlein - The essay appears in The International Journal of Arts in Society Vol. 1 Number 7. We like to imagine Ihlein as a kindred spirit. If nothing else we share many of the same interests and seem to draw on many of the same sources. Links to his various activities can be found here: bilateral. In the essay, Ihlein considers social art practices in the context of blogging and specifically contextualizes this with his own project Bilateral Kellerberrin. The official keywords for the essay are: blogging, practice-led research, participation, conversation, interactivity, relational aesthetics. We throw those out so you get a sense of the timeliness of the essay and its direct correlation to many of the issues explored at LeisureArts. In describing micro-utopian projects Ihlein notes the "...desire to make pragmatic models of living in the here-and-now (wherever one may be) rather than constantly deferring to some unattainable future." This dovetails nicely with the Pappas essay concerning Dewey's morality/ experience mentioned in the review above. Ihlein does a good job considering critiques of the micro-utopian impulse, including the now de riguer Claire Bishop. He grants some legitimacy to the "exclusionary" line of criticism before offering a trenchant alternative line of analysis - "When artists like Rirkrit Tiravanija create high-profile aestheticised versions of these ordinary spaces of resistance inside art galleries, they risk perpetuating the myth that the right and proper place for non-commodified exchange (and aesthetic experience), is a special architectural space, rather than recognizing that everyday life itself is riddled with such opportunities." This statement is crucial in understanding how we might develop the sort of critical-democratic aesthetic milieu that John Dewey (whom Iheiln draws from extensively) envisioned, and which Iheiln argues blogging enables, "...the blog as a tool of documentation and interaction is a useful alternative to gallery-based situations, in accommodating the ongoing rhythms of ordinary lived experience." Our only concern is that far too often artists that literally work outside the gallery still work within it conceptually due to internalizing the ideological and discursive constructs of the professional art system. They bracket off portions of their lives and list them as "projects" or "works" on their resumes, they "document" their explorations into so-called conviviality, etc. Of course, doing this is not inherently a problem, but doing so without understanding, and making explicit, the complications and contradictions of doing so, is.

To Leisure: An Introduction by John Neulinger - A nice overview of the various definitions and conceptualizations of leisure. Neulinger prefers using to leisure rather than leisure " leisure is not a thing one has (as one might 'have' free time), but an experience, a process, an ongoing state of mind." His emphasis on the experiential dimension of leisure is a welcome move to get outside of the more conventional idea of static leisure. The book, like many on leisure, suffers from textbook syndrome and a faith in a technocratic solution to the equitable distribution of leisure potential outside of political struggle and other forms of sociality, but there is plenty of worthwhile material here.

In Love with Life: Reflections on the Joy of Living and Why We Hate to Die by John Lachs - Speaking of technocratic faith, this book is tough slogging for anyone who might think that society might need to be re-configured along more humanely centered lines than it is currently. Lachs, through the book, aims at "...making a good life better," but too often seems to be an apologist for the status quo and doesn't concern himself enough with making bad lives better.

Update on current activities

We've started diagrammatic to replace the web presence of the now defunct Studiolo54 [R.I.P.].

To replace the off-line portion of Studiolo54We'll be starting he said...she said... - an irregularly ongoing collaborative curatorial-ish project in Oak Park early next year. A website is currently in the works with all of the details.

And the founder of LeisureArts will be speaking at Alogon Gallery as part of Other Options on November 4th. Lord help us all.

Experience Economy - Art as Experience - Relational Aesthetics

Perhaps it's obvious that one of the central texts guiding LeisureArts is John Dewey's Art as Experience. Then again, it might not be considering how marginal the text is in contemporary art discourse. The book was published in 1934 and yet we can still have legions of artists and critics discussing Nicholas Bourriaud's Relational Aesthetics published some sixty years later as if it raised something new. In some sense, admittedly, it did, but the current amnesia about Dewey's rich theoretical precursor diminishes its significance. Judith Rodenbeck does an excellent job exposing the same amnesia with regard to the history of art practices that precede those Bourriaud dubs as "relational" in her lecture "The Open Work: Participatory Art Since Silence."

Art as Experience does a good deal to complicate the simplistic division between object based work and experience based work by noting the experiential dimension of all art. From the opening paragraphs [emphases ours]:

By one of the ironic perversities that often attend the course of affairs, the existence of the works of art upon which formation of an esthetic theory depends has become an obstruction to theory about them. For one reason, these works are products that exist externally and physically. In common conception, the work of art is often identified with the building, book, painting, or statue in its existence apart from human experience. Since the actual work of art is what the product does with and in experience, the result is not favorable to understanding...

When artistic objects are separated from both conditions of origin and operation in experience, a wall is built around them that renders almost opaque their general significance, with which esthetic theory deals. Art is remitted to a separate realm, where it is cut off from that association with the materials and aims of every other form of human effort, undergoing, and achievement. A primary task is thus imposed upon one who undertakes to write upon the philosophy of the fine arts. This task is 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.

Likewise much of the discussion of the experience economy (Pine and Gilmore) and its various critics would be well served by reading Dewey. While we're at it, the current champions of Jacques Rancière would benefit from coming to terms with Dewey as his work on the relationship of aesthetics to ethics precedes Rancière by about a half century. Of course Dewey, will never have the theoretical sex appeal of the "continental" intellectual set. He, like the other American pragmatists, and their Transcendentalist antecedents just don't seem to captivate the art intelligentsia the way the French seem to even though they worked out anti-foundationalist, and radically contextualized epistemologies many decades beforehand. Don't get us wrong - Bodies without Organs, Différance, and the litany of other poetic-theoretic tools invented by continental theorists and their progeny are important and useful, but there is much to be done with the tools of the American philosophical tradition in art circles as well.