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Democratic ArtThe New Deal's Influence on American Culture$
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Sharon Ann Musher

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780226247182

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: January 2016

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226247212.001.0001

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Art as Experience

Art as Experience

(p.146) Five Art as Experience
Democratic Art

Sharon Ann Musher

University of Chicago Press

Faced with budget cuts, growing anti-communist sentiment, and decentralization, administrators across Federal One increasingly embraced the idea that participation in creative experiences could turn Americans into better and more engaged citizens. This chapter examines the efforts of Margaret Valiant, Charles Seeger, Holger Cahill, and Constance Rourke who advocated, to use John Dewey’s term, “Art as Experience.” Through projects, such as community art centers and the Index of American Design, this cohort aimed to make art part of everyday life. Although art produced under the scrutiny of local boards rarely challenged accepted norms within the community–and caused problems when it did–its power lay in encouraging lay people to view their own lives and possessions as endowed with beauty and meaning. “Art as Participation” represents one of the most successful and enduring of the New Deal’s aesthetic approaches.

Keywords:   art, experience, Holger Cahill, Margaret Valiant, community art centers

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