“James taught me how to think, Santayana taught me how to feel, and Dewey taught me what is involved in educating people to new ways of thinking,” claimed American art collector and critic, Albert Barnes. Although Barnes explicitly named John Dewey's Pragmatism as the source for his method of art education, and George Santayana's Naturalism as the foundation of his criticism, mine is the first study to consider Barnes' thought within the context of American philosophy.
I discuss the development of Barnes' criticism and educational method between 1918 and 1935. Inspired by Dewey's Democracy and Education , Barnes worked on several projects in 1918, attempting to put into practice Dewey's theory of education and social reform. These included promoting the Alexander Technique, and introducing industrial democracy into the workforce at Barnes' Chemical Company.
In the 1920s, as Dewey began to consider art as the qualitative ideal of experience while writing Experience and Nature, the collector established the Barnes Foundation to house his collection of modern art, and to promote the progressive method of art education he had developed.
Barnes' method of evaluating “Plastic Form” in modern painting and sculpture introduced the aesthetic theory Santayana proposed in The Sense of Beauty and Reason in Art into the contemporary critical discourse on art. Promoting a theory of ideal forms of a naturalist philosophy, Barnes was intent upon distinguishing his Formalism from contemporary critics such as Roger Fry, Bernard Berenson and Thomas Craven.
The philosophies of Dewey and Santayana not only provided the foundation of Barnes' criticism and educational method, but determined the scope of his collection and his arrangement of objects within the galleries of his Foundation. Under the influence of Santayana in the 1920s, Barnes added traditional African sculpture and Old Master paintings to his collection of French Impressionist paintings. In the 1930s, collaborating closely with Dewey while the philosopher applied his Instrumentalism to the realm of aesthetics in Art as Experience , Barnes was inspired to expand his collection again, to include decorative arts, rearranging the wall ensembles in his gallery to illustrate his new theory of “Transferred Values.”