Dewey, Materiality, and the role of the visual (studio) arts in the liberal arts

Publication Date

January 2019

Document Type


Publication Title

The Journal of Aesthetic Education







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Most of John Dewey's early work on educational theory was directed to K-12 education, and his later ground-breaking work in aesthetics, particularly in Art as Experience, never directly discusses liberal arts education. However, he did sometimes address the nature of liberal arts education: in his discussion of Aristotle's concept of “liberal” in Democracy and Education, in his critique of the Smith-Hughes Act of 1917, in a debate with educator Robert Maynard Judson, and in his small piece, published in 1944, “The Problem of the Liberal Arts College.” Moreover, the impact of his theories on arts education was profound, mainly by way of his influence on Black Mountain College. However, it is Art as Experience that provides the basis for placing the studio arts at the very center of such an expansion. The role of making and materiality in the liberal arts can only be fully understood once we grasp the full implications of Dewey's closely related concepts of experience and medium. His conception of “an experience” as it relates to artistic making and appreciation can be best understood in terms of his understanding of the creative process. Materiality plays an important role in this, especially, again, through the concept of medium


Liberal arts education, Studio art, Democracy, Higher education, Art objects, Vocational education, Liberalism

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