Archive of Week Two Forum on Beauty--
"Live," "Lost" and "Tearless" Creatures:
Our Responses to Dewey, Percy, Elkins

Current Forum and Forum Archives

first post for readings
Name: ()
Date: 01/20/2005 20:26
Link to this Comment: 12136

I found that alot of the reading related back to my section's discussion about the contrast between ideas of beauty- if we had found images on the survey beautiful because of a cultural construction of beauty that we buy into (i.e. appreciating Michangelo's "David" because we know it is an example of beautiful craftsmanship) or if we found things beautiful because they moved us emotionally/instinctually. It seemed that the authors of all three readings put a greater value on beauty that is discovered by oneself, and in the personal relationship between the individual and what the individual finds most beautiful. Perry writes " The highest satisfaction of the sightseer that his sigh should be certified as genuine." After our discussion in seminar today, I did come away with the idea that what is most important is our gut reaction to an image - whether we choose to use the word beautiful or not. So it was interesting to me that Elkins was also saying this- that art historians may appreciate a work of art in a scholary manner, but if they are not being emotionally moved by it- their response is not as valid. I'm a little conflicted here- I think we have to go with our gut about what we find beautiful because it is such an inherently personal decision, yet I don't believe that the only way something is truly beautiful to us , is when we make that discovery without outside information. The levels of appreciation of beauty, or worthiness can come so many different places, as long as you come away with that appreciation- the experience has still been valid.

Name: Amy (
Date: 01/20/2005 20:29
Link to this Comment: 12137

the above post is mine and i forgot to put my name

we, the creatures
Name: Sharon (a.k.a., dr.b.) (
Date: 01/22/2005 11:45
Link to this Comment: 12147

Thanks, Amy, for opening up the forum discussion on the essays by Dewey, Elkins and Percy. Like you, I was excited to find so many points of connection to our small group discussion of last Thursday. What about the rest of you? Please share below your reactions to a particular thesis or to the composite of ideas proposed by these three writers.

Name: Flora (
Date: 01/22/2005 13:48
Link to this Comment: 12150

I would have liked to have seen more diversity in the choice of readings about beauty as experience. All 3 writers had similar opinions about the best way to experience art: to remove as much baggage as possible. I liked reading these 3 selections in the order they were presented in the packet because they seemed to move from a more abstact to a more specific discussion of the same theme. Dewey’s more general “creature” turned into Percy’s tourist from Boston, turned into specifically named art historians that Elkins actually talked to.

I found a couple passages in Dewey’s writing to be beautiful, especially the first paragraph on pg. 5 where he discusses every day human experiences, what he later names “art in germ.” Percy’s discussion of the dogfish intrigued me. The student ready to dissect the dogfish is trying to learn not just dogfish anatomy, but also the proper way to use his lab instruments and how to record labs in his notebook. The student may not see the dogfish as well as the kid on the beach, but the kid on the beach is not going to see the standard scientific process. And I think that’s more of a loss than Percy explains. Even the brilliant researcher reaching into the dogfish with his thumbnail is well versed in basic biological procedure, otherwise he would not have a PhD. and be working at Harvard. It’s hard to find a balance between learning proper jargon, which is necessary to participate in any intellectual community, and self discovery. I found Elkins' essay very ironic. While discussing so thoroughly why art historians and intellectuals have less emotional reactions to art and maybe should, he was adding another expectation that would interfere with the experience of looking at art, much the way his beloved history would.

Name: Brittany (bpladek@bmc)
Date: 01/22/2005 14:20
Link to this Comment: 12152

I was most interested by Walker Percy's piece. In general, I agree with his argument: that it's better to experience "beauty" or have "beautiful experiences" on a personal, individual level, outside the framework of expertise; that it's better to learn about life by living it rather than reading about it.
However, I do take issue with a few of his points (or at least, a few of his examples). Firstly, Percy seems to damn poetry/literature to things that somehow cripple actual experiences. For example, he writes that those who "recognize the title of the object, to return it to the appropriate expert and have it certified as a genuine find" can't really "see the thing--as Gerard Hopkins could see a rock or a cloud or a field." Maybe it's just me, but my previous experience with good poetry actually enhances my outside experiences. For example, looking out the window right now, I see the snow and think of T.H. White, who once said that the way snow *should* lie is like icing, thick and white (or something to that effect). Because of that, the snow is *more* beautiful to me. For another, I'm sure Gerard Hopkins himself didn't write his poetry in isolation. He'd probably read a few poems about, I don't know, falcons before, but that didn't make "The Windhover" any less genuine. In fact, who knows? Maybe he didn't even notice how amazing birdflight was until he read a poem that pointed it out to him; that doesn't make *his* poetry any less inspired.
The second point I disagree with is Percy's insistence that educational environments stifle poetic enjoyment, and that if you read Shakespeare in a classroom you'll "recall the smell of the page and the smell of Miss Hawkins." My response: well, you've gotta read poetry *somewhere*, right? Just because we accept our role as "consumers of experience"---because we read sonnets in class instead of stumble upon itinerant poets in meadows (or dogfish on beaches)---doesn't mean we can't fully digest what we consume. In a way, it's our responsibility to take sovereignty over something we read, whether we find it on a beach or in a classroom. Percy is right in that artistic experiences should be individual ones. But because they are, it is our individual task to make a poem mean something to us.

...I would respond to some of Percy's points on the scientific side (like the dogfish thing), but I always wormed my way out of dissecting things in high school....

Appreciation of the Unappreciative
Name: Catherine E. Davidson (
Date: 01/22/2005 22:47
Link to this Comment: 12165

All three authors seem to bring about the question whether background knowledge of the object in question of beauty enchance the object's beauty to the observer, or make the object less beautiful, or does knowledge simply have no impact. They also seem to agree that experiencing art is the only way to fully appreciate and understand it and they explore what it means to experience something.
Elkins uses the criterian of how emotionally impacted one is by a work of art, which is determined by whether or not they cry as a result of observing the art, to determine whether or not that person is capable of fully appreciating art. He explores this idea aggressively by asserting that people seem to fear allowing the "picture" or work of art fully impact their emotions, and this stagnant emotional state in response to art is often amplified with increased knowledge of art. Upon first reading Elkins, I thought he was full of it. I thought the tone of his work was that of a pompous, over educated art historian who has nothing better to do with his time than write about how people cry or dont cry and didnt really understand his argument. What I have come to understand, is that he is encouraging people to interact with the art. To not let knowledge interfere with the appreciation of a work, and that sometimes, no knowledge allows one to explore the art more, draw conclusions on ones own, and dont try to overanalyze or understand the work, just appreciate the beauty of it.
Percy emphasises the problems that arise when people hold expectations for the experience they are excited to encounter, and one's appreciation of an experience, or art, is heavily dependant on the medium in which the work is experienced. I fully agree with Percy. He almost seems to argue that the less knowledge one has of art, the less likely they are to have expectations, and the more of a chance they will have to learn about the work first-hand. I strongly agree with Percy's emphasis on "hands-on" learning. I spent a year of high school in France. Prior to my exchange I had spend years falling in love with the country, and culture. I knew France by the books as well as anyone could have. During my experience though, I learned that France was much more than the Eiffel Tower and that, in fact, the Eiffel Tower really is not that beautiful.... but the cheese is more beautiful than I could have ever imagined from the books I had read. It is important to find a balance between the books and practical experience in order to fully appreciate anything.
Finally, Dewey carries the opinion that yes, flowers can be esthetically pleasing to the observer even if the observer does not know anything about flowers, but he cannot appreciate them through understanding if he knows nothing about them. I found this idea interesting. It gives both the unknowledgeable and the knowledgeable the chance to appreciate something, maybe not on the same level, but it does not make judgement as to whether one is better than the other.
It is very interesting how each author had a different approach to answering the question on how to appreciate art, and how knowledge, and life experiences impact this appreciation.

week2 readings
Name: Rachel Usala (
Date: 01/23/2005 11:53
Link to this Comment: 12167

I did not like the reading by James Elkins at all. He treats aesthetics as simply a spontaneous phenomenon that one cannot experience unless one is ignorant. I found his tone overly critical of art historians in general. The reading also, to be frank, depressed me a little. If spontaneity is the criterion for a deep aesthetic experience, everyone with each passing day is becoming less and less capable of experiencing beauty because we, at least I believe, learn something everyday. Elkins also ignores the thrilling aesthetic quality of the discoveries of physics or chemistry because these discoveries can hardly be called spontaneous phenomenon. For example,gravity, if looked at from the perspective of someone unschooled in physics, is just the pulling of the earth or the falling of an apple. To a physicist, gravity is the very warping of the curvature of space and time. Which is more elegant? To me the theories of general relativity are more beautiful.
That's not to say all spontaneous experiences are not beautiful, and I think Percy's article grated my nerves a little less. I can relate to his example of the Grand Canyon tourists. The article, in many ways, was a critique of present day education, and he makes a strong point that educational packaging makes independent discovery and sovereignty in learning more difficult.
I found the article by Dewey most interesting. In his text I heard a reverberation from our discussion in class that need is often the seed for art or the aesthetic experience. In fact, his description of the aesthetic experience sounded alot like a discussion of its creation through a kind of evolution. I also liked his historical discussions, how the ancient Greeks viewed art and how modern industry transformed art, for example. One of my favorite points he made was his idea that aethetics is the coming out of hardship and into harmony. I do feel some of the most beautiful experiences are ones that follow hardtimes. Finally, I liked his description of the artist vs. the intellectual, how the artist and intellectual are not so very different. Both cultivate tension and disharmony. Only their emphasis is different. Where the artist cultivates tension because it has the potential for harmony, the intellectual cultivates tension because it in itself is an area of fascination.

Art As Experience
Name: Alanna Albano (
Date: 01/23/2005 14:18
Link to this Comment: 12169

All three writers brought up some very powerful points -- Elkins and Percy, in particular, struck my fancy. Elkins demonstrated a rather sad truth when he presented to us the results of his informal survey: many famous art historians completely downplayed any kind of show of emotion for the artistic masterpieces they studied. Their responses to Elkins almost seemed to suggest that there was some kind of unspoken law that made it illegal to express one's true feelings for art. What a thought! That art could be considered "too good" to be associated with any sort of ordinary or normal human emotion. I thought art was supposed to be a type of outlet for the free expression of human emotion. Placing art up on a pedestal, as mentioned by Dewey, seems to only bring about the opposite effect -- human emotion is bound, imprisoned, and left to rot as scholarly pursuits brutally tear emotion from the art with which it was once permitted to intermingle. I am not trying to say that there is anything wrong with scholarly pursuits, but I am saying that there is something wrong when people let those pursuits suppress their ability to live and act as a full human -- not just someone who can think, but also someone who can feel.

It is easy to get lost in all of the knowledge surrounding a painting or other object of beauty, and completely forget that we are supposed to appreciate and experience the art just as it is, for what it is! This message was touched upon by Elkins, but greatly discussed in Percy's essay. Percy mentions the "extra packaging" surrounding the dissection of the dogfish and the reading of the sonnet, which it makes it all the more harder to experience the object just as it is. The many books and articles written about a painting could be considered "extra packaging" as well. While this extra packaging is meant to help add to our experience of the object, it rather takes away from our true enjoyment of and appreciation for the object.

Week 2 posting
Name: Marissa (
Date: 01/23/2005 15:21
Link to this Comment: 12172

I really felt a great attraction to the thoughts of all three writers, but to Percy and Elkins in particular. Percy described the way I feel often, especially on trips I've taken to foreign countries. They are supposed to be a certain way, food should taste a certain way, the people should act a certain way, and the sights I see should look a certain way. Though I agree with his statements that this is not the best way to approach a new experience, sometimes I feel that the only way to confirm that it really happened is to have it be perfect. It is very hard to explain to other people the way it would feel to sit on the beach and watch the sea roll in, but it would, absurdly, somehow make more sense to tell your friends about the crazy natives that tried to sell you knock-off designer dresses in town. If you can have the experience that is "expected" of you, it seems more real. I hope that perhaps through this course I will be able to approach life in a way more attuned to what these writers spoke of, not experiencing what I feel I "should be" experiencing, but rather a more basic joy in art or life or a distant place simply for its own sake.
As a person who enjoys science and biology I understood very well Percy's comments on disecting a dogfish. However, it seems to me that if you think too hard about it, if you approach it in an attempt to "see" it, you cannot learn exactly what it is you are trying to learn. You might gain an appreciation for the shine of the scales or the curve of the heart, but does that really teach you more about biology than the actual anatomy of the fish? While I can appreciate that it is amazing how complex the fish can be and how each of its parts join together to make a whole creature, it seems as if there would be a different time and place (and perhaps class) for that reflection, though I am not sure what it would be.

Week 2 Posting
Name: Meera Jain (
Date: 01/23/2005 16:25
Link to this Comment: 12173

I found the articles intriguing if you believe in what they were saying. I especially liked John Dewey's article because he states what I experience when viewing art. That people are fascinated by colorful change and imagination and gives an excellent example of a flower. I enjoy paintings by Monet, Degas without thinking of how they formed and the circumstances they were designed under. However, I like how Dewey percieves the journey of understanding art to be of importance. "The readier should be carried forward by the pleasurable activity of the journey itself." Everyone's journey is ultimately difference and their perception of art is based on that journey. I agree with his poing in chapter 2; when he questions why high achivement of fine arts is repulsed when connected with common life. I see art and beauty if almost everything, whether it is small or large things. From the sunrise to a flower arrangement to architecture to a snow fall. Walker Percy's article was extremely abstract and boring, because he thinks that the only way to experience "it" was by discovering something in it's natural state which is not a practical theory.
James Elkins was a nice ending to the denser reading and I was surprised to learn that only a small percentage had cried over a painting, but again everyone experiences emotions differently. The art historians attachement to art was an intellectual relationship, Elkins should have questionned common folk with no history of art background.

Response to Week 2
Name: Liz Paterek (
Date: 01/23/2005 17:17
Link to this Comment: 12174

I really couldn't relate the articles to each other in my head. I tried but my reaction to them was very different. I felt that Elkin's based his logic in facts, whereas Percy seemed to use only his own opinions and experiences. Therefore I disliked Percy and tended to disagree with him.

I was really impressed by Elkin's essay. I wonderred as I read if the people who do art are moved in some other way that is not necessarily tears. I wondered if the individuals attracted to the profession were those who were naturally immune to the emotional response of the painting. I wondered how many people had really cried from a painting. I wondered if the lack of tearful emotional response almost the result of too much understanding and a desenstization from that. Do these historians even see art as art anymore? Afterall sometimes the distance is necessary for us to analyze things intellectually. For example, some people will get upset if they see a dead animal; however, they distance themselves from the thought of it when they eat meat. I wish I had more answers to these questions but I suppose the thought provoking nature of the article was what impressed me.

I strongly disagreed with Percy's stance that having no knowledge is the best way to expeirence something. I agree that a more free learning environment would be beneficial; however, what does one gain by knowing nothing. The person who looks at the dogfish on the beach will understand and gain nothing. They do not see how the internal organs work together. Furthermore they'll probably destroy the insides of the thing and gain no knowledge. There is a reason for a classroom. However, if you taught the students general internal anatomy and how to cut without hurting the internal organs but then let the students decide how they would dissect the dogfish, they would gain the most knowledge. the same with Shakespear. If I had a copy of Shakespeare without footnotes, I would probably find myself so frustrated from a lack of understanding that I'd never touch it again. We need some guidance if we wish to learn something from something that is very far removed from our everyday lives.

In Art as an Experience, I found myself most struck by the idea that there is a difference between art that has at one time served a purpose in society, like a totem, and fine art. I find myself strongly agreeing that I tend to see a difference between the two myself, although I find it hard to pinpoint what that difference really means to me. I suppose I accept less asetetically pleasing objects as beautiful, if they were useful.

Experiencing Art
Name: Alice Kaufman (
Date: 01/23/2005 21:02
Link to this Comment: 12177

The first two articles made me want to never see a piece of 'art' again. I don't know why they were so difficult and downright unpleasant for me to read the first time through. Dewey's writing style is so obtuse that for me, any brief lyricism he attained was moot. Dewey's early sentiment of artistic dignity to the common man felt very hypocritical--he seemed to be saying that ordinary people were finding their own art in life because of Fine Art's seclusion from mundane human experience. But the style of both chapters was so elaborate and academic that I can’t imagine that Dewey is destined to bridge the gap between art and real life, using art to live more fully. I feel like he’s part of the ivory towered, self-referential problem. If I’ve misinterpreted his meaning, please let me know. My understanding is probably clouded by my frustration with lines like “Compartmentalization of occupations and interests brings about separation of that mode of activity commonly called ‘practice’ from insight...” I’m pretty sure I know what he means, but why on earth does he have to express it that way? I interpreted Dewey’s ‘live creature’ to be the person completely appreciative of the present, enhanced or enabled to do so by art. This reminds me of readings of saints and enlightened ones, people who can appreciate life in every possible way, enabled by spirituality. I thought that was interesting; would a follower of Dewey’s see art as a path to divinity? Or is this a characteristic of many theories of art? And does ‘the creature’ in Percy’s writing describe the same thing? I thought that Percy’s creature was sublime artistic appreciation itself, but it seems impossible that the phrase could be used again without any intentional reference to Dewey. (And now I use the same convoluted sentence structure that I criticized. Shame on me.) Percy’s ideal way of experiencing art seems too extreme to me, as Liz said. I don’t see how you can appreciate a human made thing without any reference. Maybe anticipation caused by familiarity is most harmful to experiencing naturally occurring things or places. Of course, according to Elkins, over familiarity with man-made things certainly hurt the emotional impact of art on art-historians.

Art as Experience
Name: ()
Date: 01/24/2005 02:31
Link to this Comment: 12183

I found John Dewey's writing (and I'm sure that others felt the same way too) to be incredibly dense- although he does make many thought provoking points, his ways of going about it are so abstruse that I found myself having to read some paragraphs several times over. He does make great points about art and art as experience, however, that are definitely worth noting. I especially like his idea of art as experience: one must experience art to understand the true aesthetics of it.Most importantly, he made me ask the question "who exactly am I looking to to tell me what is fine art or not?" Certain remnants and objects from the past, like pottery, weapons, cave paintings etc. are put on pedestals in different galleries around the world for people to look at in awe and admiration, but when one looks at the time period that these objects came from, he/she might discover that these objects were merely tools that helped people in their everyday lives, and probably didn't have nearly as much value to those people as they do with us today. Just because some imperialists put pieces of art into a museum and call it fine art, does it necessarily mean that those displayed pieces and those like them should become universals for fine art? As a society I feel like we've learned to accept certain things (like Michaelangelo's David or pottery from the Aztecs) as fine works of art without even looking deeply into the object and deconstructing it and truly appreciating it ourselves, and Dewey made me realize that it's actually a great shame.
Percy's article was very similar to Dewey's article as a whole- it seems like he/she was trying to convey the message that an object or event is genuinly beautiful when one lacks expectations for that object/event. In general, beauty is tainted when people come to view something not for what it is (as in, they don't take the time to experience the art), but rather to view this something in order to fulfill their expectations that they've learned about or developed from society- this again goes back to our discussion in class about the David statue, and how society teaches us that certain objects are just understood to be beautiful.

As for Belkin's essay, I wasn't all that fond of it mainly because it seemed too cynical. I think that a person's background knowledge about a particular work of art will affect the way they look at the painting, but I don't necessarily think that it will affect their view in a negative way, which is what the author seemed to be implying. The background knowledge that a person has about a painting or sculpture could in fact make them appreciate the work of art much more, although this knowledge will undeniably alter their raw experience with the work.

Name: jaya (
Date: 01/24/2005 02:32
Link to this Comment: 12184

the last comment is mine, i just forgot to insert my name. my mistake!

Accessible Art
Name: Muska (
Date: 01/24/2005 12:57
Link to this Comment: 12188

I enjoyed all the of the readings this week, especially John Dewey's Chapter II: The Live Creature and "Etherial Things." The chapter began with a series of questions--"Why is the attempt to connect the higher and ideal thigns of experience with basic vital roots so often regarded as betrayal of their nature and denial of their value? Why is there repulsion when the high achievements of fine art are brought into connection with common life, the life that we share with all living creatures? Why is life throught of as an affair of low appetite, or at its best a thing of gross sensation, and ready to sink from its best to the level of lust and harsh cruelty?"

When I read those questions, I thought immediately about an article I read in "Poets and Writers" magazine last year. I should explain briefly that I'm a Creative Writing minor and want to become a writer after I graduate...which explains my strange choice of magazine subscriptions. Anyway, I read an article about a year ago in which a man wrote an angry article about how he hated the Poetry In Motion movement that brought poetry into the public eye through posting them on the sides of buses or inside trains. He found it insulting that poetry would be displayed so freely for the common man to read. In his opinion (I'll look up his name for future reference), the poems that were being posted in public were serious works of literary art that deserved to be analyzed and studied...not merely read in passing or on the way to work. I was very upset when I read this article because it reinforced the antiquated stereotypes that literature and poetry (or any art form, for that matter) should only be accessible to a small, select group of elite intellectuals who can truly understand and appreciate it.

The same can be said of writers/poets who are described as "accessible." Some of my favorite poets--Pablo Neruda, Billy Collins, Yehuda Amichai--have all been described as "accessible." However, in the literary world the term "accessible" isn't always considered a compliment. Often times it's comparable to being called "simple." This has always bothered me about the word "accessible" because I think the term merely means that a wide variety of people can find beauty in the words. God forbid someone actually understands the content of a poem!

But what I'm getting at is that the questions that Dewey raised about why society devalues works of art that are closely related to common life really interested me a lot and I hope to dig deeper with this topic.

Name: Tanya Corder (
Date: 01/24/2005 14:56
Link to this Comment: 12191

I am going to begin by apologizing if I happen to repeat something someone had said previously. I did not have time to read all of the comments, so I’m sure I will reiterate other’s comments.

Although I did not fully understand Dewey’s theory dealing with art as a unifying experience, I did find a lot of his arguments and points to be quite interesting. I had trouble some trouble seeing how they supported the main argument though. The conclusion of the first chapter captivated me the most. “Only when the past ceases to trouble and anticipations of the future are not perturbing is a being wholly united with his environment and therefore fully alive. Art celebrates with peculiar intensity the moments in which the past reinforces the present and in which the future is a quickening of what now is” (18). The truth and directness of this statement applies not only to art, but life in general. It seems to show that when experiencing beauty, worries and anticipations are lost, but the best of the past and present are felt. I think he also finds a “consummation” (I’m going to use this word because he used it so much and it stuck to me) between the artistic interpretations and spontaneous reactions that Elkins addressed. “Experience in the degree in which it “is” experience is heightened vitality…it signifies active and alert commerce with the world; at its height it signifies complete interpenetration of self and the world of objects and events”(19). It is this “heightened vitality” that an art historian must feel in order to be drawn into the study of the piece. He most likely does not begrudgingly study a work of art unless it incites his curiosity or appeals to him in one way or another. And through this exploration and investigation of the piece does the art historian experience esthetics. One does not need to cry to show that they are truly experiencing beauty. That’s just absurd.

Week 2 posting
Name: Alice Stead (
Date: 01/24/2005 15:03
Link to this Comment: 12192

I agree with an earlier commment that these three articles all seemed to be presenting very similar ideas. I have to confess that I am really confused about what I believe in terms of these articles. At first I really didn't agree with Elkins' argument that the more knowledge we have on a painting, the less emotion we feel when we see it. I thought about my experiences when I have seen famous paintings. When I saw the Mona Lisa, I didn't have strong emotions, and it is probably in part due to the fact that we see some kind of recreation of the Mona Lisa daily. However, when I saw Monet's Water Lilies, I definitely felt a shiver down my spine. I remember that feeling very distinctly. It is another painting that is well known and is often recreated on posters and postcards, etc. So, again I am not sure whether I agree with these articles. I think that maybe if I saw a painting I knew nothing about, maybe there would be this raw emotion, as Elkins suggests. However, I think it is possible to have a truly unique experience even if we have see pictures of recreations of a place or image a thousand times, contrary to what Percy suggests. I think an image can still take us by suprise and take our breath away, or even make us cry, even if it is something that is an everyday, mundane image. That is why I could not relate to Percy's example of the Grand Canyon. He said that our experience could only be one millionth of the experience that Cardenas had, but I truly don't believe that is true. It seems like such a cynical way to look at the world, and I think I would rather believe that when we see the Grand Canyon, for example, it can be as unique and wonderful and just as valuable as when it was first discovered, naive as that may seen.

How is beauty seen?
Name: Megan Monahan (
Date: 01/24/2005 15:39
Link to this Comment: 12194

Percy's essay struck me as the most in keeping with how I personally feel about beauty, or anything pleasurable for that matter. The most amazing experiences of beauty are those that are completely without expectations. When you anticipate anything it allows for you to apply your own preconcieved ideas to it and hardly anything can ever live up to what your own mind creates. You end up forcing the experience into someone else's mold of beauty when you are exposed to what other's have already contemplated at great lengths. A movie is usually the most funny when you don't know what all the jokes will be, a book is most fascionating when you can't wait to turn the next page and find out what happens to all the characters, and a beautiful sight is most captivating and awe inspiring upon first viewing when you are cought completely off guard. The Grand Canyon is a perfect example because I can imagine that discovering something so vast and rare would have been much more amazing if you didn't know that such a natural phenomenon existed or that it was even possible for it to exist. Now, however, I have seen pictures of it as well as film and imagined it in my mind. If I went there now it would only be a confirmation of what I had already experienced and anticipated. A participant in Elkins' study confirmed this notion when he said said that he had gasped when he first saw certain paintings but that that feeling was never the same the second or third time around.

Interestingly enough I had read Percy's Loss of the Creature in high school and I really agreeed with it. It seeemed like an amazingly accurate explanation for why things that ought to be beautiful sometimes weren't. It was a revelation for me. However, this time, while I still agree strongly with it, it was not as powerful since the point he was making had already been conveyed to me. I guess this only further supports his theory about tainting beauty.

Stone Henge
Name: Malorie (
Date: 01/24/2005 15:52
Link to this Comment: 12196

Even though I agree that all the articles where very similar, I think that their specific content complimented each other. Dewey was saying that we should not define art by what was placed in galleries or what we are told is beautiful. We need to experience it ourselves and decide what we think is beautiful, even if it is not conventional. Percy talks about how we must strive to have unique experiences so as to really see an object. He thinks that we have too much background information on most things to really be able to “see” them. Elkins believes that that all the information we gather reduces our emotional connection with a piece.

I have a hard time disagreeing strongly with any written piece, I don’t know if that is because I am to nice and want to find something good in everything or if it is because of my preconceived notion that if I am reading it for class, there must be something positive and worthwhile that I must get out of it. Even though I can agree with what people have said negatively about some of these pieces, I can’t help but see the relevance in the pieces. I see why people have not liked the Percy’s article, saying that he is asking to much to say that we are forever tainted and that we can only truly see something if there is no context or background. For me though, when I read the beginning of the article, it reminded me of when I visited Stone Henge over break. The first thing me and my friends said when we got there was “It’s so small, I always thought it was bigger.” And while I thought it was beautiful, we where there at sunset, and wonderful and a bit eerie, as I read the Percy work, I couldn’t help but think that my experience was tainted by all my preconceived notions, not to mention the audio tour. I also liked/connected to what he said about seeing a place through a camera. I always feel like I need to take pictures to “capture the moment”. Here are some of my pictures that I took-I hope you enjoys them! ( the sheep where behind a fence surrounding Stone Henge)

Go here for the pics:

Stone Henge again
Name: Mal (
Date: 01/24/2005 15:55
Link to this Comment: 12197

Yeah, so just paste the link into the adress bar and it should pop up. It did for me. :) If It doesn't work or sends you somewhere werid, tell me and I'll try to post it again. Also, the people in the pictures are me and my friend Sarah.


Name: Kat McCormick (
Date: 01/24/2005 16:16
Link to this Comment: 12198

I thought "the Live Creature" was not nessecarily so interesting as an artistic essay, but was more valuable as a reflection on being a corporeal human, and what it means to be a living something WITH a body- in this way it strongly reminded me of religious document I've read, on how Jesus was used by God to bridge the gap between purely spiritual beings and us humans, who have the majority of our input and experience connected to the physicality of having a body: the constant input/output attention it demands- food, excreting, emotional closeness expressed through touch or sex- all these things are things we perform constantly, and yet throughout western history, there seems to have been a conscious effort made to forget or ignore that we need these things, to pretend that we are not, in fact, messy creatures. The idea was that humans could only understand or come to God through Jesus, who offered the benefit of shared experience in a bodily form, who had likewise experienced the "rhythm" of connecting and disconnecting with the world through our senses.

This made me think, again relationaly, of the cyclical nature of our fisions and unions in relationships with each other intrapersonaly- which is a version, i suppose, of the same rhythm which Dewey sees as producing art- except in this case creation (of art) is instead a means of communicating the alternating lonliness/closeness that humans feel when trying to relate to each other.

reading responses
Name: eugenia (eebs) (
Date: 01/24/2005 16:27
Link to this Comment: 12199

i happened to find all of the pieces rather interesting to read. i thought that though dewey had some interesting points, i did not find them to be necessarily true in all cases. in dewey's work, he seemed to support the idea that whatever has a "long history" or some sort of a "classical status" that it would automatically gain "unquestioned admiration". i found this statement rather interesting in that so many traditions admires practices and artwork that are painful to do or look at. perhaps then, it isnt the "curiosity" as dewey states to be the driving force - such as poking burning wood to see sparks fly, rather, it could be some pleasure or joy people find when they encounter something they are familiar with or perhaps conditioned into doing. this is possible, because after awhile, one knows the outcome of poking burning wood with a stick-- it isnt necessarily curiosity at this point, but maybe an expectation of something to come that brings excitement.

i think dewey's thinking may be limited because he is neglecting to consider all aspects of art- for example customs/traditions and the artwork that follows. something that came into mind was the chinese art of footbinding. for the longest time, footbinding was considered a work of art as women's feet were bound into a ball of crushed bone no bigger than 3 inches. this custom did have a long history, and it had unquestioned admiration but it wasnt done because all the girls were dying (curious) to experience the pain of breaking most of the bones on their feet.

but this isnt limited to asian customs- during the height of european fashion, wearing a corset made of whale bones was considered beautiful and it also had unquestional admiration. this got me thinking (once again), does beauty and pain go hand in hand? especially for women?
as for percy and elkins, i thought the two writers had two opposing views that were paradoxically true (for me at least). elkins mentioned how he prepares/researches before going to see a painting to arm himself with thoughts and questions-- this is how some people achieve the "richer experience", by knowing the story behind it- and to them, this may be beautiful. however, according to percy... it is the surprise/shock of the first encounter that makes the experience more vivid (since the senses are more active in trying to make sense (har har har) of something they havent experienced before.

i personally found both of these ideas to be true. i first saw the phantom of the opera about 10 years ago and again during winter break. when was younger, i didnt quite understand the story but i recall the music and the acting to be more dynamic than the second time i saw the musical. the second time i saw the musical, i found myself to be more critcal of each character's actions- why someone did something and how it was done. this made me lose touch of the actual 'artsy' part of the musical, which made the second experience of the musical less breathtaking in the 'artsy'way but more stimulating. either way, i still remember both encounters of the musical very vividly in memory.

there are indeed several ways to appreciate the arts :) i find both percy's way and elkin's way effective in their own ways- perhaps there is a time and place for each method of appreciation.

Name: Rebecca Donatelli (
Date: 01/24/2005 16:31
Link to this Comment: 12200

I found the article wrtitten by Dewey to be very interesting. Anyone that knows me will tell you that I have a love for beautiful things. Beautiful restaurants, beautiful homes, etc. However, I have never really had a great interest in fine arts. In fact I usually find exhibits of paintings quite boring. As I was reading the article I realized that my favorite pieces of art are the pictures that one of my friends takes. She'll take pictures of a peace sign she made in the sand or of her feet in the waves on a beach. I find these pictures to be much more beautiful because I am much more in touch with them. The fine art pictures in the museum are very distant and hard to connect with. I agree with Dewey that this is because it is so hard to understand the reason why they were created. WHen I look at my friend's picture I can imagine her taking them.

Re; how is beauty seen?
Name: Elizabeth Newbury (enewbury at brynmawr dot edu)
Date: 01/24/2005 16:34
Link to this Comment: 12201

Rather then repeating the statements above, which seem to summarize my reactions to the articles more accurately, I would like to take one of the comments that struck a particular chord with me and take it a step further. Sorry to put you on an examination table here, Megan, but it's only because I agree with the major points in your argument.
I guess the reason why this comment and the Percy reading struck me the most is due to the fact that I really find beauty in the places where I'm not told to look. Perhaps I just have a flair for trying to be unique, or maybe I'm just quirky. But beauty for me is not about art -- and yes, I realize that this statement puts me a step closer to being lynched by a mob of English and Art majors. Formalized art perhaps is the least 'beautiful' to me, a statement which is rather ironic because I do dabble in doodles and paintings...but it's much harder for me to consider a painting or a sculpture beautiful as opposed to a flower caught in a morning dew, or a young child's smile.
I'm not saying that formalized art isn't beautiful. What I'm trying to say is that I agree with Megan: because I am expected to, or told how beautiful a painting by Monet is, or how beautiful the Grand Canyon is, or how beautiful Mozart's works are, and so forth, my expectations for them are much higher. I already know that they are beautiful, I'll concede that they're great, but they're tainted. But I can walk around and find all sorts of little things beautiful around me -- how artful that piece of frost is on my window, how beautiful the piano music coming from the living room is...and these to me have a far more lasting impression on my psyche because they are pure.
Which is one reason why I think that the world we live in is so jaded. Anything can be art now, from paintings to trash that's been glued together. The world we're in is small and closing fast, and soon there will be little left for everyone to discover on their own, to find beauty untainted.

Week 2 Posting
Name: Beatrice (
Date: 01/24/2005 16:42
Link to this Comment: 12203

I really enjoyed this week's readings. Although I do agree with those who found the Elkins essay to be somewhat cynical, I must also say that I believe it to be pretty accurate. The way he explained how doing research on a painting lessens any emotionality when finally viewing it up close made sense to me. Even though it is not the same exact idea, this all sort of reminded me of how difficult it was for me to appreciate the images on the survey we took once I was expected to analyze it more closely to determine whether it possessed certain characteristics. I especially liked when he wrote, “Each fact is a shield against firsthand experience.” It is difficult – if not impossible - to not let our experiences be affected by any information we receive about artwork. Regarding the Percy chapter, I felt that it too made sense on some level. Even though there is no doubt that the Grand Canyon is beautiful, I will never be affected by the beauty of it in the same way that its discoverer had been. Exposure to images of the Grand Canyon and/or knowledge of its discovery prepares an individual for what they will be viewing. Obviously, Cardenas could never have expected to stumble across such a breathtaking sight. The fact that it has already been discovered does not lessen its beauty, but there will never be an identical experience to that of Cardenas. Lastly, I really enjoyed the way that Dewey had compared the artist and the scientist, showing that the work of each is similar, despite how it may seem.

Comments on Week 1 Readings
Name: Kara Rosania (
Date: 01/24/2005 16:42
Link to this Comment: 12204

I have to say, I was really frustrated by Dewey's writing style, and I may have a bias agaisnt his ideas as a result of that. It was difficult for me to get through the denseness of his writing and understand the point that he was trying to make, but I did get one thing out of it that I liked. Art should not simply be defined in the context of paintings and sculptures and writing, but as anything beautiful that has been created. By this definition, anyone who creates something beautiful can be considered an artist, including someone who has strong relationships with others. Relating to others well is a gift, and when used properly, can create beautiful things. As someone who is not skilled in the traditionally artistic sense (I cannot draw or paint to save my life) I appreciate this broader definition of art.
Elkins' writing also appealed to me as someone who is not very good at creating works of "art" according to the traditional definition. Whenever I try to appreciate art that has been deemed a masterpiece by scholars, I feel like I cannot do it justice because I have no concept of what went into creating the work. However, if I am able to create my own standard for what is beautiful and what isn't just based on my own instincts, I don't have to feel inadequate when I am unable to find the beauty in something that others deemed beautiful. I am allowed to have my own definition that is no less accurate.
I enjoyed the style but not the content of Percy's writing. I don't believe that he is wrong to think that an experience is better when it is fresh and real and untainted by prior knowledge and expectation. However, it is very difficult to have too many experiences like that. It is natural to have a curiousity about things that you can't see first-hand, and even though it may not be as poignant to look at a picture of something incredible in a book, it certainly is better than not seeing it at all. Also, if we were able to experience all things the way Percy believes we should, we would probably not appreciate how special a new experience can be. It is because it is a rare occurrence to be able to discover something on your own that makes it so exciting when it does happen.

Week 2 readings
Name: Krystal Madkins (
Date: 01/24/2005 16:43
Link to this Comment: 12205

I really enjoyed this week's readings and I thought it was interesting how the readings tied in with the smaller group discussions on Thursday and my own feelings while I took the survey (along with other times in my life). The whole idea that it's more difficult to appreciate art that has received constant adoration over the years came up in class and also resonated with me. Like others said in class, when I say 'classic' works like Michelangelo's David, I thought it was beautiful but it didn't make me stop and say 'gosh' or 'wow' the way that some new, unknown piece of work might have. There was also this feeling that even if I didn't like the statue of David I would have to like it because it's been proclaimed a great piece of work by so many throughout the centuries. Something that the readings brought up that was also brought up in class was the idea that the process of creating the piece should be considered when trying to appreciate the artwork. When I was filling out the survey, I would often catch myself pausing momentarily to think about all the hard work and precision and etc. that were necessary to create a certain piece and I usu. gave the pieces higher marks. When I took art in high school I would also find the process of creating pieces to often be the most rewarding. All of the care and thought that went into the pieces were enjoyable to me.

Another area of the readings that I found really interesting and easy to connect with was Percy's piece in which he talks about how there is often this need for things of beauty to live up to their reputations. I have been on trips and seen different sights which I knew were supposed to be wondrous and beautiful but I would often feel like 'oh that's it?' or pretty disappointed because of how much something has been built up. I thought the line where Percy talks about a man comparing the real Grand Canyon to a postcard of it in an attempt to gauge it's beauty really funny but sadly true. And although I do hate having things built up by others or having others tell me what I should think about something, I do find that I refer to experts to see if I have the right idea about things. For example, after I watch a movie I usually go to read various critics reviews of the movie or interpretations of the movie. I feel this need to know whether or not my thoughts on the movie were 'correct.' I know it's silly but I can't help it! Whenever I read critics' reviews of movies and they resemble my own thoughts I feel this weird sense of vindication and when I see that they differ in opinon I get a little sad but defensive.

Subjective Hypnosis
Name: Lauren Sweeney (
Date: 01/24/2005 16:43
Link to this Comment: 12206

It is interesting to note that many people's responses to the readings differentiated between what is called beautiful because of social constructions of beauty and what is called beautiful because it "moves" us to do so. I tend to agree with the theory that something is beautiful if it has that mesmerizing, hypnotic effect; you are so taken with the subject that it has something of a transcendent quality and makes itself the center of attention. This is how I gauge the beauty of (for example) a person, a ballet performance or a painting. The subject's beauty moves you to recognize that it is beautiful and commands attention. The degree to which this experience asserts its "hypnotic powers" is how I tend to gauge the quality of its beauty.
On the other hand, there are some experiences that have a different way of fascinating us and grabbing our attention, but in a negative way. This idea is often applied to witnesses of crimes or accidents. The feeling that I-want-to-look-away-but-I-just-can't is similar to the power that a beautiful experience has on us, but rather than seducing our attentions it violently demands them.
I take this to be the "creature" element of which Dewey writes. Our response to beauty is an almost instinctual reaction. In this sense, we are naturally attracted to beauty but the question remains of how much influence society has on our perceptions of what is beautiful. I noticed in class Thursday that some of the objects that people presented were not things that I would have called beautiful initially, but after hearing what people had to say about the objects, I began to see why they found them beautiful. I don't think that this makes my experience of their beauty any less justified, (as Elkins suggests) but I do feel that there is a significat difference of between an encounter with beauty that is recognized instantly, (without preface or agenda,) and one which is taught and learned.

Beauty and Emotions
Name: Amanda G. (
Date: 01/24/2005 16:48
Link to this Comment: 12207

James Elkins writes in "The Ivory Tower of Tearlessness" "The damping-down of my reactions has been a slow process. In part I grew up and away from the paintings I loved when I was younger. I suppose everyone gets sober as they get older; and I've also grown toward books and away from fresh encounters with paintings." This statement contradicts itself. He may have "dampened down" his reactions to paintings, but in doing so, has he increased his literary reactions? The books are helping Elkins to create reactions to the paintings. His library resources are helping him feel emotions about the beauty of the paintings. But, he also feels that the books are hurting the images seen in the paintings. They limit the viewer to other's ideas. Despite this, Elkins feels that art-historians shying students away from books is dangerous. But is all of the "how to look at art" conflicting with what art is supposed to bring out, emotion.
Elkins conflicting views brought me to think about what influences my emotions and my thoughts on beauty. In my thesis work, I am looking to see if peers or the media affect others appearance through pressure. The same question can be asked about whether these pressures affect the emotions of beauty. I agree with Elkins that some texts push a person to see a painting one way or another, but the texts can also open up someone's eyes to see what would otherwise not be seen. A painting is seen a thousand different ways by a thousand different people, and all those people can draw out the emotions of the others by sharing their ideas. Different resources may be beneficial in letting loose one's own emotions.

Dewey, Percy and Elkins
Name: Mo Rhim ()
Date: 01/24/2005 16:51
Link to this Comment: 12208

I thought Dewey was a little too dense and that a lot of what he was trying to say could have been condensed and equally as useful and insightful. The main point that I got out of the pieces by him was that art should be experienced in relation to the common life and experience and that art seen through such a broad lens is not reduced in any way because of its association to what is viewed as common. Art should not be separated and placed on a pedestal only to be observed in the sterile and segregated environment that some theorists want to place art. I also liked his discussion of the force of modern industry and world markets on art and how “objects that were in the past valid and significant because of their place in the life of a community now function in isolation from the conditions of their origin” (9). In general I agreed with his argument that art should not be isolated and segregated from experience and common life. But I did not understand fully the purpose of even the meaning and direction of his lengthy discussion on life and the rhythm of breaks and re-unions. I can’t even really summarize what he was talking about, but it starts on page 13.

I somewhat agreed with Percy’s main point, but his writing style did not appeal to me. Also, though I can see where Percy is coming from and can understand the basic logic behind his argument, I don’t think that what he is saying is very practical. Most people simply are going to take the discount tour package and go on the fenced in roads. Students are still going to learn Shakespeare’s sonnets in the classroom, with a book, by a teacher. At some moments it seemed as though he was actually trying to get people to wake up at dawn in some remote area of the Grand Canyon and I did not think that very clinical, dry, concrete solution was the way to appeal to the reader. At the beginning he gave too many “packaged” solutions and who is he to say how a sightseer or a student should unwrap the layered packaging dulling his or her experience. I think that the most useful part of his piece was simply to question and think about what society does to “package” experiences and how that affects the quality of that experience.

I did not like the Elkins piece very much. I thought that he sounded really whiny throughout the piece and the ending was just a nice compromise between his urge to be an academic intellectual and his more sensitive urges to cry. Also I don’t quite understand why he has placed the physical act of crying and tears as a marker for an emotional and raw reaction. Why does it matter so much if people actually cried or not? Why is that the indication of something more “real” or “raw?” I did however like his statement towards the end about trusting what attracts you.

Privacy Invasion
Name: Arielle Abeyta (
Date: 01/24/2005 17:05
Link to this Comment: 12209

On Tuesday we talked about the survey and what we thought was beautiful. There were things that I objectively know are "beautiful" by accepted definitions and things that I was more attracted to because they were more real to me. I had more capacity to "experience" them or to interact with them- perhaps because they are such common things- fotos of people, individuals, walking down the street or looking off to the side. Something I could relate to and wrap my brain around in the most tangible sense. I suppose this is a prime example of Dewey's argument of art as experience. He talks about the need for there to be a "connection with the objects of concrete experience."
Honestly, I get a little squeamish talking about beauty as a personal experience. Reading Dewey I felt myself start to grimace bit by bit. Not because I necessarily disagree, but because to think of one's personal experience in relation to art, seems to be taking beauty out of it's traditional academic "holier than thou" frame. It's one thing to say "the snow is beautiful" to a friend, it's quite another when it is such an experience that one seems to be inextricably linked to the outside stimulus- snow or otherwise. It seems too intimate to share in an academic sense and space, the things that I think are gorgeous, beautiful are yes indeed, based on my experience and relationship with the world around me. It is demanding on myself as an individual to feel like so much of myself is on display- even when I don't share I can still feel the emotions and memories and dreams rushing to the surface - and it in a way seems grossly inappropriate for the classroom. I'm surprised at how conservative I feel as if I want to keep what I find beautiful to myself rather than share with all of you women I don't know- oh yes, and of course the worldwide web. I'm very curious as to how this class will go. Art as experience, sure Dewey- personal experience.

Beauty Within
Name: Annabella (
Date: 01/24/2005 18:06
Link to this Comment: 12211

I loved Dewey's piece though it was a little heady in places. But I particularly enjoyed his idea that nothing lives without its environment. Equating that to beauty, none of us could think anything beautiful or not beautiful without our past and present and our hopes for the future. Nothing is beautiful or not beautiful on its own.
Which leads me to suspect that beauty can not be on the outside. Since there can be no absolute standard of beauty, it can not exist outside of the beholder.
Therefore all beauty lies within the beholder, who then places it (or misplaces it) onto the object they choose to call beautiful. There is nothing wrong with this process. Without the thing on the outside, the beauty within would not be revealed at all. It would stay hidden within. So all of this calling of a thing beautiful is beauty itself, unfolding before us, from within us, beautifully. This thing called beauty.

What is beauty to someone who is deaf and blind?
Name: Anne Dalke (
Date: 01/25/2005 17:54
Link to this Comment: 12225

A student of mine stopped in for a conference today, and we got to talking about beauty...
Ro. said, "What is beauty to someone who is blind? What is beauty to someone who is deaf? What is beauty to someone who is deaf and blind? Can beauty be entirely internal, entirely imagined"--rather than the interactive relationship between self and world that we were exploring today?

I'd really be interested in hearing stories/gathering data about how those who don't have the use of certain senses, particularly those we've identified as primary in our perception of beauty--sight, sound, smell--experience beauty.

Not a lot of sense, even less grammatical correctness...
Name: Brittany (bpladek@bmc)
Date: 01/27/2005 18:56
Link to this Comment: 12276

So I started reading CS Lewis's "Surprised by Joy" today... and came across this description of "Joy". It doesn't seem based on anything visual/sensory in that the Joy Lewis experiences is a sensation caused by the memory of a memory:

"The first is itself the memory of a memory.... there suddenly arose in me without warning, and as if from a depth not of years of of centuries, the memory of tha tearlier mornign at the Old House when my brother had brought his toy garden into the nursery. It is difficult to find words strong enough for the sensation which came over me; Milton's 'enormous bliss' of Eden (giving the full, ancient meaning to 'enormous') comes somewhere near it. It was a sensation, of course, of desire; but desire for what? not, certainly, for a biscuit tin filled with moss, nor even (though that came into it) for my own past.... and before I knew what I desired, the desire itself was gone, the whole glimpse withdrawn, the world turned commonplace again, or only stirred by a longing for the longing that had just unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. I call it Joy, which is here a technical term... Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with [Happiness and Pleasure]; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again."

Reading Lewis's experience of beauty (at least, it seems like he'd apply "beautiful" to that experience, if asked) set me to thinking of our discussion today---particularly the list on the blackboard of what we find beautiful. Most of the examples were emotional, and weren't based on visual/sensory experiences at all. Sure, a lot of our memories of our families, friends, and other "beautiful people and moments" include visual/auditory stimulation, but that's only because we were raised to connect that particular visual image with that particular beloved object (aka, I know what my mom looks like). Someone raised blind, deaf, and mute would attach a touch rather than a sight or a sound to her mom; but the memory of her mom, how "beautiful" she finds her, would be no weaker or less meaningful than someone who could look at a photograph, point, and say: "This is my mom. She is beautiful because I love her."

If emotional connections are the things which make life beautiful for us (for example, a gorgeous sunset reminding us of a special time spent with family or friends), then beauty isn't dependent on sense at all, but it's a function of our own relationship with the world, however we experience it.

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