John Dewey, Albert Barnes, and the Continuity of Art and Life

Revisioning the Arts and Education

by David A. Granger (Author)
©2023 Textbook XVIII, 240 Pages


This carefully researched book offers a dynamic and expansive Deweyan vision for the arts and education. This (re)vision acknowledges the influence on Dewey’s aesthetics of art collector and educator Albert Barnes, while also exploring the various ways Dewey’s writings on the arts, in moving beyond Barnes’ "scientific aesthetic method," were an important resource for many innovative twentieth-century American artists, art movements, and arts-related educational institutions. Neither Barnes’ influence on Dewey nor the features of Dewey’s naturalistic aesthetics that made his Art as Experience a favorite text of many artists and arts practitioners have been fully and adequately acknowledged in existing literature on Dewey’s thinking about the arts and education. This book effectively remedies that situation.

"Granger clarifies, advances, and augments a broad and open-ended ‘Deweyan vision of the arts and education.’ Enlivened on almost every page by concrete historical and contemporary examples drawn from the arts, Granger’s highly readable book is essential for democratic educators, administrators, and policymakers who reject the zombie idea that ‘real’ academic work is inherently separate from aesthetic consummations."
—Steven Fesmire, Professor of Philosophy, Radford University; President of the Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy; Author of John Dewey and Moral Imagination: Pragmatism in Ethics

"One of the most vexing characters on the American art scene was Albert Barnes: the self-styled, passionate collector whose good intentions to educate the masses ran amuck with a museum that, like his art theories, proved too rigid to be realistic. Thus, his friendship with John Dewey, whose wide application of art to life has been puzzling—until now. With Granger, we see that Barnes’ lessons in how to look, while frozen in a formal analysis of modern French art, nonetheless unleashed in the philosopher an expansive way to think about the aesthetic. As demonstrated here, Dewey’s dynamic, embodied understanding inspired the evolution of radical art throughout the 20th century, providing insight into making and being in the world still."
—Mary Jane Jacob, Professor and Director of the Institute for Curatorial Research and Practice, School of the Art Institute of Chicago; Author of Dewey for Artists

"David Granger’s valuable book begins by examining the mutually-influential friendship of John Dewey and Albert Barnes, along with significant differences between the two men. In contrast with Barnes’ comparatively ridged formalism, Granger demonstrates compatibilities and/or relationships between Dewey’s aesthetics and painters Thomas Hart Benton and Jackson Pollock, as well as Black Mountain College artists and educators including John Andrew Rice, John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg, and Merce Cunningham among others. Well researched, the book establishes many surprising relations among people, art, and ideas. Granger concludes with a refreshingly original vision of the arts and education."
—Jim Garrison, Professor Emeritus, School of Education, Virginia Tech; Past-President of the John Dewey Society; Author of Dewey and Eros: Wisdom and Desire in the Art of Teaching

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Credit Lines
  • Acknowledgments
  • Prologue
  • Introduction: John Dewey and Albert Barnes: The Fruits of an Unlikely Friendship
  • Organizational Structure
  • 1. Dewey, Barnes, and Aesthetic Formalism
  • Aesthetic Formalism
  • Organic Unity
  • Form and Content
  • Summary Findings
  • 2. Dewey, Barnes, and the Sociocultural Dimension of the Arts
  • The Sociocultural Dimension of the Arts
  • Barnes’ Formalism and Dewey’s Aesthetics
  • Summary Findings
  • 3. The Continuity of Art and Life: Thomas Hart Benton and Jackson Pollock
  • Thomas Hart Benton
  • Jackson Pollock
  • Summary Findings
  • 4. The Continuity of Art and Life: From Black Mountain College to “Happenings” and Beyond
  • Black Mountain College
  • Josef Albers
  • Robert Rauschenberg
  • John Cage
  • Marcel Duchamp
  • Merce Cunningham
  • Allan Kaprow
  • Contemporary Arts Practitioners
  • Summary Findings
  • 5. Conclusion: Revisioning the Arts and Education
  • Summary Findings
  • Final Thoughts
  • Index

Credit Lines

Author’s note: The author expresses gratitude for the use of material adapted from the following:

Chapter 1 adapted in part from “The Science of Art: Aesthetic Formalism in John Dewey and Albert Barnes, Part I,” by David A. Granger, in the Journal of Aesthetic Education, vol. 52, no. 1, Spring 2018, 55–83, copyright © 2018 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. Used by permission of the University of Illinois Press.

Chapter 2 adapted in part from “The Science of Art: Aesthetic Formalism in John Dewey and Albert Barnes, Part II,” by David A. Granger, in the Journal of Aesthetic Education, vol. 52, no. 2, Summer 2018, 53–70, copyright © 2018 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. Used by permission of the University of Illinois Press.


I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the numerous colleagues, friends, and family members whose advice and support made it possible for me to write this book. I mention just a few of them here.

Megan Laverty and David Hansen gave me the opportunity to share the book project with their students at Teachers College, Columbia University in its earliest stages and again as it neared completion. The thoughtful comments I received from the students were both edifying and insightful, and they provided me with many valuable ideas for strengthening the manuscript.

Richard Bernstein encouraged me to see the project through to the end after I was forced to put it on hold for several years due to other commitments. His interest in the personal and professional relationship between John Dewey and Albert Barnes, shared with me during lunchtime at a conference in Mexico City, reinforced my belief that this was an area of Dewey scholarship needing further attention. Jim Garrison and Steven Fesmire, longtime supporters of my work on Dewey’s aesthetics, also confirmed for me the value of the project. My friend and colleague Craig Cunningham helped reestablish my goals for the book after I temporarily lost sight of my original intentions, and my brother, Ed Granger, encouraged me to attend more closely to the racial politics of the arts, especially regarding issues of access and education.

Dani Green at Peter Lang generously offered me the extra time I needed to complete the final manuscript to my satisfaction without my having to feel rushed by impending deadlines. I must also mention the very detailed and timely advice I received from three anonymous reviewers engaged by the publisher. Their constructive comments resulted in a much stronger piece of scholarship. As always, I accept full responsibility for any shortcomings remaining in the text.

Last but not least, of course, is my family. My parents, to whom this book is dedicated, helped instill and nurture my love of the arts as far back as I can remember. This included many trips to museums, art galleries, antique shows, and concert halls over the years. The cover of the book features a Thomas Hart Benton lithograph, Departure of the Joads, originally commissioned in 1940 for John Ford’s award-winning film version of The Grapes of Wrath. It hung in my bedroom when I was a child, and I can recall countless hours musing on its contents and being drawn inexorably to Benton’s wistful figures and ruffled landscape. My wife, Amy, and daughter, Isabel, both gifted vocalists and lovers of choral music, ensure that the performing arts remain a regular part of our workaday lives, even as we pursue our individual interests. I cannot thank them enough for their patience and understanding when I absented myself from other activities while working on the book.


In its heyday during the first part of the twentieth century, the philosophy of John Dewey was often recruited to serve the cause of one or another “big idea.” It is also no secret that Dewey, as a progressive thinker and committed public intellectual, was occasionally a willing partner in these enterprises. Such endeavors were always a gamble, and it is clear that some did not pay off satisfactorily in the end. Others, however, did, and Dewey appears to have benefited from them both personally and professionally. As one of Dewey’s biographers, Jay Martin, astutely observes,

It was and remained a characteristic of Dewey that he was always receptive to alternative ideas. With professional philosophers, he generally held to his own positions, but with intelligent women, non-philosophers, odd thinkers, and ordinary folk, he was a student again.1

This was one of the most significant and profitable ways in which Dewey remained faithful to the moral and intellectual imperatives of democratic openness and life-long learning. Like Emerson before him, he routinely refused to segregate the personal from the professional. The wisdom of Dewey’s impartiality was to prove momentous for his contributions to the arts and education.2

Introduction: John Dewey and Albert Barnes: The Fruits of an Unlikely Friendship

One of the more intriguing and improbable of Dewey’s ventures outside academe began with Philadelphia art collector, philanthropist, and educator Albert Barnes. The catalyst was Barnes’ lofty ambition to develop the means for, in his words, “an objective study of pictures.” Following modern developments in art theory and interpretation, such study was to be based principally on the formal properties of the fine arts, which included the elements color, light, line, and space.1 According to Barnes’ original conception, the endeavor would also enlist a Deweyan theory of perception and culminate in a personally and culturally enriching “scientific aesthetic method” of interpretation. In addition, it was this particular method that students would eventually learn, with Dewey’s seal of approval, through the innovative education programs of the Barnes Foundation and its extraordinary gallery. Located originally just outside Philadelphia in Merion, Pa., the Foundation is now situated more prominently in Philadelphia’s Logan Square (appropriately, near the Philadelphia Museum of Art), and it remains an active center of the arts and education today. Barnes’ circuitous path to the Foundation resembles the quintessential “great American success story.”

A native son of Philadelphia, Albert Coombs Barnes was born a little over a decade after John Dewey in 1872. Through a unique confluence of factors this specific place and time would prove crucial in shaping his famously acerbic personality and uncompromising opinions. As a young boy, Barnes lived in a series of tough, working-class neighborhoods, where, after a string of humiliations, he soon learned to stand tall, be assertive, and fend for himself. Some years earlier, his father had been dependably employed as a butcher, but that prospect had tragically vanished with the loss of an arm during the Civil War. Thereafter, the family lived a modest life at best, moving frequently within the city and struggling to make ends meet when times were hard. Despite these difficulties, Barnes, like his Quaker ancestors, would make the area in and around Philadelphia his home and an ongoing concern for most of his life.

There is no denying that Barnes was a complex, larger-than-life figure. Among both friends and foes, he was routinely described as very ill-tempered, and he blazed his own path through life while leaving his mark, for better and for worse, on everything and everyone he came into contact with, including Dewey.2 He was also, by current standards, a veritable Renaissance man—a trained physician with a knack for chemistry and baseball, a fascination for psychology and philosophy, a passion for art, and, most significantly in the end, an almost messianic belief in human perfectibility through education. Like Dewey, then, Barnes openly espoused the moral and intellectual necessity of life-long learning. And his own education would be extensive.

As an energetic and ambitious high school student in Philadelphia, Barnes had at first endeavored to explore his possible talents as a painter. The arts at that time occupied a prominent place in the curriculum of the city’s schools, including his own Central High School, widely known and respected as an institution for academic elites. By Barnes’ own admission, however, he did not show enough aptitude or skill with the brush to continue beyond that point. (The same was certainly not true of some of his classmates, including William Glackens—who was a close friend—John Sloan, and James Preston, all of whom would secure a place in the annals of American art as members of the popular “Ashcan School” of painting.3) Moreover, given his perfectionist demeanor, Barnes was not the kind of person to carry on with something he could not hope to master.


XVIII, 240
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2023 (May)
(John) Dewey (Albert) Barnes Black Mountain College Barnes Foundation art education (Thomas Hart) Benton (Jackson) Pollock (Josef) Albers (Robert) Rauschenberg (John) Cage (Marcel) Duchamp (Merce) Cunningham (Allan) Kaprow (Henri) Matisse John Dewey, Albert Barnes, and the Continuity of Art and Life Revisioning the Arts and Education David A. Granger
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2023. XVIII, 240 pp.

Biographical notes

David A. Granger (Author)

David A. Granger holds a Ph.D. in Philosophy of Education from the University of Chicago. He is currently Professor of Education at SUNY Geneseo. Granger is the author of John Dewey, Robert Pirsig, and the Art of Living: Revisioning Aesthetic Education, and has published many articles on Dewey in journals in philosophy, education, and the arts. Granger also served as editor of the John Dewey Society journal Education & Culture from 2010 to 2020.


Title: John Dewey, Albert Barnes, and the Continuity of Art and Life