Discussion of Formalism
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Discussion of Formalism






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Discussion of Formalism Discussion of Formalism Presentation Transcript

  • Formalism: Discussion
  • Discussing Formalism
  • Discussion Topics • You’ll be given a hard copy of one of the topics that follow. • Summarise it by making up a slogan or catch- phrase for the discussion-point. – 6 words max! • You will feed this back to the board.
  • DISCUSSION TOPIC 1. • What is ‘significant form’? – Some commentators have characterised it as balance or proportion or structure or harmony or wholeness…do you agree? – Is the notion clear to you? – How might you go about defining it? – Does Bell need to give a definition in words?
  • DISCUSSION TOPIC 2. • Can you make sense of the idea of ‘significant form’ across all genres of art? – Where might the idea have ‘traction’ - explain art that other theories struggle with? – Where might the idea struggle? – Does some art have more ingredients than just form?
  • DISCUSSION TOPIC 3. • Are there ‘formal universals’ which have qualities of timelessness and universality? – Are these present in art from all cultures, and in all kinds of art? – Is the fact of art enduring across time explicable only through formalist theories? – …or could it be explained in other ways?
  • DISCUSSION TOPIC 4. • Is ‘significant form’ important enough to be the essence of art? – Is it necessary to art? (in all art to some degree) – Is it sufficient? (the essence of art) – Is it contingent? (in some art but not in other art) – Does all art have ‘significant form’, or is the term just empty in that all it signifies is approval?
  • DISCUSSION TOPIC 5. • Does formalism make too little of the role of art in society, or of other factors which influence our understanding of art? – What would a Marxist say? – Can art really be separate from societal concerns, economic concerns, ‘status anxiety’? – Isn’t art valued for its emotional, mimetic qualities?
  • DISCUSSION TOPIC 6 • How can Bell claim that art is known both only subjectively and that there is an objectively present common quality underlying all art? – Is there a contradiction here? – Do you accept his ideas about exceptional individuals having a greater sensibility than others? – Can we accept the notion of ‘the critic’ and how such people might be trained? – Is training not just really lots of context, though?
  • DISCUSSION TOPIC 7 • What kind of art is well-explained by this theory? – What kind of art less successfully so? – What is wrong with some other kinds of art? (political art, ‘descriptive art’) – Is the art that the theory discounts sufficiently important to show that the theory does not have adequate explanatory power? – Can Bell explain art that we value but he doesn’t using e.g. political, cultural factors?
  • DISCUSSION TOPIC 8 • Is Bell’s view of contextual, historical factors in the understanding of art a reasonable one? – Could an understanding of context, reception, artist’s intention (things outside the artwork) etc enrich our understanding of it? – Does it always? – Could it be better to come to something ‘fresh’? Are ‘naïve’ responses sometimes better? – Could Bell’s ‘critic’ really just be an art historian in disguise?
  • DISCUSSION TOPIC 9 • For Bell, what is the nature of the aesthete or person able to understand art adequately? – How do they come to exist? – Is his account simply elitist, or are there some people with greater capacity in this regard than others? – Is elitism a bad thing?
  • DISCUSSION TOPIC 10 • What characterises the ‘aesthetic emotion’? – Do we recognise its existence? – Is it indeed a special feeling that arises because of art? – Does it arise for another reason? – Why is neutrality (if it is neutrality here) to be praised in our response to art?
  • Discussion: Writing Phase • Now write a paragraph capturing your discussion point.
  • Critique 1 Form is too inclusive a criterion – It collapses the art/aesthetic distinction. – Like Hanslick, Bell fails to distinguish between aesthetic interest (Kant pointed out that most features of our perceptual environment may stimulate this interest) and art (which typically combines aesthetic interest with interpreting the world).
  • Critique 2 Form is not art’s essence – it is necessary but not sufficient. – Bell is right that aesthetic interest in surface appearance is a feature of all art. – We do value formal or compositional features. – Yet art without reference to emotion or representation pretty patterns/ ‘wallpaper’… – A major role of art is to express emotion and offer us interpretations of the world.
  • Critique 3 Formalism is simply ‘elitism’ • Bell values the art of his avant-garde friends, and devises a theory (and a role for the elite critic) to account for it. • But art’s emotional and mimetic qualities have hugely important social roles for all… • (But surely there is a role for the critic to play? Don’t you have to learn to appreciate art?)
  • Critique 4 ‘Form’ makes the artwork unnecessary – ‘Significant Form’ is universal and atemporal. – The feeling of calmness, contemplation etc that SF produces is the thing that matters. – So the artwork is just a vehicle that causes this feeling and therefore can be discarded.
  • Critique 5 Form isn’t universal – Are there formal qualities that apply to all the arts? – How do compositional or formal features in different art forms relate to one another? – Each art form has its own range of techniques and its own scope of possibilities. – Do Bell’s ideas about shape and colour in visual art work more widely? – (A reply: actual sensations produced by different arts differ, but the emotion of aesthetic appreciation is the same)
  • Critique 6 Is the concept of ‘Significant Form’ clear? – Can we define it? – Can we ‘deflate’ it by suggesting that it is simply a term of (emotive) approval… – is the concept of ‘significant form’ simply a way of trying to explain that we like something?
  • Critique 7 Form is reducible to skill. – Does form exist, or is it collapsible to simpler concepts? – Is form, for example, any more than ‘skill’? – Isn’t a great artist just a skilful one?
  • Critique 8 ‘Significant Form’ is culturally relative. – Is appreciation of form a subjective or culturally relative matter? – Clive Bell says that only some can appreciate ‘significant form’ in art but that this judgment is universal. – Isn’t this just empty subjectivism, or, alternatively, a refusal to see that ‘universal’ just means ‘approved of by my culture’?
  • Paired Writing Now that you’ve looked at some issues, pick one then write a paragraph in which you: • Summarise the objection in a phrase. • State the objection. • Illustrate or exemplify it. • Evaluate it initially. • State a counter-objection or alternative. • Illustrate or exemplify this. • Evaluate it. (4-6 ad nauseam…) • Conclude (thesis? antithesis? synthesis? alternative?)
  • Assessment and Evaluation: • For: Allows for an objectivity of aesthetic judgement. Formalism is the only theory to take seriously the view that what we value in art is the art work itself, rather than the more ‘utilitarian’ view presented in expressivism and representationalism (in these theories the artwork is treated as ‘a means to an end’, an expendable vehicle of communication). • Yes and No: Can we appreciate ‘significant form’ without entertaining at least some background understanding of what the artwork is about? Surely the author’s intention and the cognitive features the artwork seeks to convey have to play some role here? • Against: Can we really listen to a piece of music and hear just ‘sound’ or appreciate a painting for the perceptual richness of its colour alone? Ignoring expressive and representational qualities trivialises our reasons for valuing an artwork. Aesthetic delight is an important feature of art appreciation, but it should only ever be regarded as a secondary function and never the primary purpose of such appreciation. – An alternative view could be defended at this point.