Gavin Smith

University of Western Sydney

John Dewey and The Poetic Experience

Adelaide Workshop 2017

In Art as Experience, Dewey rejects the hierarchical assessment of the arts, that one is finer or better than another, arguing that different artistic media have different tendencies, or “potencies,” that make any such treatment, in his words, “stupid.” However, also in Art as Experience, Dewey argues that literature has one trait unique among the arts, that its medium, language, is already worked over through the “art of communication”; literature, thus, “works with loaded dice.” In Experience and Nature, Dewey argues that language is the primary tool of human communication, critical for cooperative action and shared goals. Language both promotes community and prefigures private thought. Dewey repeatedly elevates poetry in particular throughout his major works because of its association with language. In this paper, I will reconstruct Dewey’s thoughts on literature and poetry in order to demonstrate that, despite his own disavowals, Dewey does, in fact, offer special status to some arts, namely poetry and literature, above others.