Dewey and Brün

In “Art as Experience,” John Dewey defines the elements that constitute artistic expression. In his analysis, “expression […] signifies both an action and its result” (p.82), so to process of creation of a work of art is equally important as its form in which the audience will relate to it. The process of art creation is defined by Dewey as taking origin in an impulsion, or necessity, generated by a relation of the artist to their surrounding and generating in them an emotion. This has then to go through a process of selection – of emotional material as well as medium of communication. This brings to another factor necessary in the artistic practice – that of the “existence of motor dispositions previously formed” (p. 97), or the set of skills and previously learned information that an artist, not differently from a surgeon or an athlete, needs to have in order to be able to convey an artistic message through a chosen medium. The perceiver of an artistic message also needs to have a similar sort of “aesthetic education” (p.98), that will allow them to “decode” the message of the artist in the correct way.

Herbert Brün analyzes the aesthetic properties of computer-generated music by comparing composition and programming. Both are defined as systems that share the purpose of conveying some sort of communication, defined in its turn as “based on analogies, on degrees of compatibility between different systems.” Programming is similar to composition, in that, given a virtually endless set of possibilities, users “find or construct the system in which their problems can be expressed and solved.” Both composers who work with a computer or who write with pen on paper are faced with the same choices. But “there is a difference. The composers at a desk generate the piece step by step” and can “edit while they work. The composer who write a program has to predict all of that, is then out of the game while the computer executes the given instruction.”

I think that the core of artistic expression and aesthetic value, that can be found in both Dewey’s and Brün’s vision, is intentionality. In Dewey, it refers to the choice of what emotion to convey and through what medium. In Brün, it can refer to the set of parameters that a computer-based composer needs to encode in a program in order to achieve a desired compositional effect. In this sense, I don’t think that the fundamental engagement of an artist with new media differs much from “old” media. In both cases, a process internal to the artist has to happen, and a set of skills is needed in order for the artist to express this internal process. Definitely the material form of a medium plays a role in the nature of its mediation. Brün’s choice of composing computer-generated music in the 60’s and 70’s, at a time when human agency felt threatened by the rise of automation, is certainly a message in itself. A visual artist who chose to use primarily oil painting in 2016, in a society where images are predominantly constituted by digital photography, would make another type of provocative use of media.



  1. I can’t agree with you more on how an artist who would choose to use primarily analogue tool nowadays in a provocative use of media in itself. It is fascinating to think how people felt threatened by the rise of automation back in the 60s and 70s, when now this is actually happening to us today, yet we mourn the loss the more organic creations of art works with tools available at that time.


  2. I agree with your statement that ‘the core of artistic expression and aesthetic value, that can be found in both Dewey’s and Brün’s vision, is intentionality.’ I think amidst the digital landscapes we find ourselves ensconced in (from our phones, games, art exhibitions, etc.), we often tend to forget that there is indeed a human/artistic mind and internal emotions of that specific artist that is imbued within a work of art/digital platform.


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