In Chapter IX of Art as Experience, "The Common Substance of the Arts," John Dewey discusses the artist's special awareness of his/her medium, a focus on "means" utterly unlike our ordinary utilitarian notion of "means" as "preparatory or preliminary," simply a way to get from here to there we would gladly skip if we could "get the result without having to employ the means." According to Dewey, "sensitivity to a medium as medium is the very heart of all artistic creation and esthetic perception." For the artist, a medium--paint-and-canvas, sound, words--is an employment of "means that are incorporated in the outcome." They don't disappear into the results. They are the results.
Dewey illustrates his point by noting the methods of "inferior" artists:
Something which Delacroix said of painters of his day applies to inferior artists generally. He said they used coloration rather than color. The statement signified that they applied color to their represented objects instead of making them out of color. This procedure signifies that colors as means and objects and scenes depicted were kept apart. They did not use color as medium with complete devotion. Their minds and experiences were divided. Means and ends did not coalesce. The greatest esthetic revolution in the history of painting took place when color was used structurally; then pictures ceased to be colored drawings. The true artist sees and feels in terms of his medium and the one who has learned to perceive esthetically emulates the operation. Others carry into their seeing of pictures and hearing of music preconceptions drawn from sources that obstruct and confuse perception. (200)
As with painting, so with fiction: The inferior writer fastens words onto his/her "represented objects" rather than making them out of words. In both cases, the artist fails not only to show "sensitivity to a medium as medium" but essentially denies the value of the medium as anything other than the laborious means one would readily avoid if the "represented object"--presumably locked up in the artist's head--could be accessed in a more immediate way. The medium and its "objects and scenes" are kept so far apart that the former collapses into its barest utility.
It is typical of Dewey that in this passage he stresses both the procedure of the artist and the aesthetic perception of the viewer. Throughout Art as Experience, he insists that an aesthetic act is not complete until the viewer/reader/listener is able to "emulate the operation" undertaken by the artist. When the painter and the poet succeed in incorporating "medium" in the outcome, that is, in creating a work of art, the work in turn provides the viewer and the reader with a potentially rich aesthetic experience that becomes all the richer when they are able to perceive the way the medium itself is being "used structurally" to create an aesthetic whole that precedes any "idea" the work putatively conveys.
Unfortunately, the "other" kind of audience that "carry into their seeing of pictures and hearing of music preconceptions drawn from sources that obstruct and confuse perception" is all too prominent, even including some critics. If anything, the preconceptions that obstruct and confuse are more seriously debilitating in literary criticism and discussion, which often introduce not just preconceptions about appropriate form but also about the non-literary ends to which artistic means are presumed to point. A preoccupation with ideas, with "themes" or social commentary or political efficacy or the author's biographical circumstances, deflects attention away from the work's primary reason for being, its exploitation of "medium," and reduces the experience of literary art to an ordinary form of communication.