Tag Archives: Richard Shusterman


The idea of art and the aesthetic as a separate realm distinguished by its freedom, imagination, and pleasure has as its underlying correlative the dismal asumption that ordinary life is one of joyless, unimaginitive coercion. This provides an excuse for the powers and institutions that structure our everyday life to be brutally indifferent to natural human needs for the pleasures of beauty and imaginitive freedom. These are not to be sought in real life, but in art, whose contrast and escape from the real gives us human sufferers temporary solace and relief. By thus compartmentalizing art and the aesthetic as something to be enjoyed when we take a break from reality, the most hideous and oppressive institutions and practices of our civilization get legitimated and more deeply entrenched as inevitably real; they are erected as necessities to which art and beauty, by the reality principle, must be subordinated. Still worse, those rigid and cruelly divisive institutional realities then further justify and glorify themselves through the high art our civilization produces in trying to transcend and escape them. Art becomes, in Dewey's mordant phrase, “the beauty parlor of civilization,” covering with an opulent aesthetic surface its ugly horrors and brutalities. These, for Dewey, include class snobbery, imperialism, and capitalism's profit-seeking oppression, social disintegration, and alienation of labor.

-from Richard Shusterman, Pragmatist Aesthetics, Rowman and Littlefield, Oxford, UK, 2000, p24.
(referring to John Dewey, Art as Experience, 1934)