Signiﬁcant Form (Formalism)• English art critics Clive Bell and Roger Fry.• Bell’s contention was that the form was more important than the content. The combination of line and colour was what mattered not the mimetic representation of the real.• The power of the combination of these elements was an artworks ‘signiﬁcant form’ and this form produced an aesthetic emotional’ response in a viewer.
Signiﬁcant Form the emphasis on surface, material form of work
Alexander von Wagner “The Chariot Race” 1898Manchester City Art Gallery
Form• A pure direct, emotional form of communication (musical).Inﬂuenced by ‘primitive’ art and the art of children.• Uncontaminatedespecially ‘modern world’, by the the value placed on utilitarianism.• Art for art sake.
“To those that can hear Art speaks for itself...To appreciate a man’s art I need know nothingwhatever about the artist’ Clive Bell
• “they conceived of this by emotion as aesthetic - which they meant relevant to the experience of art as art - to the extent that it was distinct from what Bell called ‘the emotions of life’• Charles Harrison, Signiﬁcant Form in Modernism (Tate Publishing)
Paul Cezanne “the decorative elements preponderate at the expense of the representative” Roger Fry
Form over content?Pablo Picasso. Les Demoiselles dAvignon. 1907. Oil oncanvas, 8 x 7 8" (243.9 x 223.7 cm). The Museum ofModern Art, New York.
Clement Greenberg - The Primacy of Form...The Tyranny of Form ? 17
Greenbergian Modernism (formalism)• American critic Clement Greenberg.• Key texts ‘Avant Garde and Kitsch’(1939) and Modernist Painting (1960).• Extends Bell and Fry’s analysis. Like them stresses that the what of an artwork is less important than the how. An artwork should ‘orientate itself to ‘effects 18
• For Greenberg the value of art lies in its independence and autonomy from the everyday.• He celebrates art by comparing it with the negative aspects Kenneth Noland, of popular mass Drought 1962 culture (kitsch). 20
Morris Louis, Saraband, 1959. Magna on canvas, 101 1/8 x 149 inches. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.64.1685
Typical features of Modernist Art• Medium speciﬁc - the established time honoured disciplines of painting and sculpture• The production of autonomous art objects• Purely optical / visual - form over content.• “The ideal modernist spectator was a disembodied eye, lifted out of the ﬂux of life in time and history, apprehending the resolved (‘signiﬁcant) aesthetic form in a moment of instantaneity” Paul Wood
The World comes ﬂooding inJasper Johns. (American, born 1930). Flag. 1954–55 (datedon reverse 1954). Encaustic, oil, and collage on fabric,mounted on plywood. 42 1/4 x 60 5/8" (107.3 x 153.8 cm).The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Philip Johnsonin honor of Alfred H. Barr, Jr.. 25
THE MODERNIST BREAKDOWN• “If I could sum up the shift that occurred in art and criticism in 1967, it would be the widespread assault on the dogma of Modernism as an exclusively optical, art-for-art’s sake, socially detached, formalist phenomenon that inevitably tended toward abstraction’• Barbara Rose, The Critical Terrain of High Modernism 28
The reaction against..........• The domination of American abstract expressionism• For a younger generation this works formalism was read as being academic and by virtue of its ‘muteness’ complicit with political power. Impotent and institutionalised. Foyer decoration for corporations.• Lucy L Lippard described post painterly abstraction as visual muzak
• 1968 “A year that marked every generation on every continent. ..it was a year of hope, when those who accepted the world as it is were the ones who felt disinherited, while the wretched of the earth, the dispossessed, began to discover their inheritance” Tariq Ali Marching on the Streets
Visual Muzak? Decorative wallpaper. Lobby art. Jules Olitski “Instant Loveland” 1968Anthony Caro “Early One Morning” “Silence is assent” Carl Andre
An embrace of manufacturingtechniques (serialisation, industrymaterials and fabricationtechniques) that reﬂectedsomething about the realities ofpost war American industryculture. As the artist RobertMorris stated “clear decisionrather than groping craft”.Implicit in this adoption ofstandardised industry materialand procedures is rejection of a Robert Morris Installation at the Green Gallery, 1964European tradition of artisanalproduction, which was regardedas being antithetical to theideals of democracy and antielitism of American culture.
The adoption of antiexpressionist forms ofmaking art - artworks thatdisplay no signs of touch orthe hand.Carl AndreEquivalent VIII1966
Criticisms of Minimalism1. Minimalism replicated the cold,impersonal, alienating properties of capitalistculture.2. An alienating masculine aesthetic whichdespite the claims of the artists was perfectlysuited to be co-opted by an art market /corporate art market for furnishing theirofﬁces and spaces with an artistic stamp ofapproval.3. Minimalism appeared compromised in itscontinued devotion to the production ofobjectsʼ. Objects which could be exchangedtraded and which like abstract expressionismwere largely politically mute.4. The critic Michael Fried regardedminimalism as the ʼopposite of artʼ. For FriedMinimalismʼs concentration on making theviewer aware of time and place was ʻanti-modernʼ and inherently theatrical.
Conceptual ArtIdea as FormGreenbergianmodernism had placedtoo much emphasis onfeelings generated byart, as well as aconcentration on thehow as opposed to thewhat - it had downplayed the cognitiveaspect of art -especiallythe role of language increating meaning andvalue around art.
“In conceptual art the idea or concept is the mostimportant aspect of the work. When an artist uses aconceptual form in art, it means that all of theplanning and decisions are made beforehand andthe execution is a perfunctory affair”Sol LeWitt ‘Paragraphs’ 1967
“Who has the authority to say whether aparticular conﬁguration of shapes andcolours constitutes a ‘formal harmony’,an ‘aesthetic totality’ - or whether it failsto do so? In practice this came down tothe word of one artist, or more pointedly,the art critic. A system dependent oncritical authority is also clearly a systemripe for lampoon. Hence the early avantgardist joke of tricking a critic intowaxing lyrical over an ‘abstract painting’made by a brush tied to a donkey’s tail”Paul WoodConceptual Artpg. 11
• Drawing attention to the function of ideas and language within the production and interpretation of art• Anti optical - a suspicion about the power of images and the visual 41
Investigation of thestatus of the art object-the ontology of art. Aself consciouslyreﬂective approach tothe idea of ‘makingart. Exploration ofnon-traditional formsfor ‘expression’. Theidea that the old forms Joseph Kosuth remarked that the ‘purest’ deﬁnition of conceptual arthad exhausted would be that it is an inquiry into the foundationsthemselves (painting of the concept ‘art’.and sculpture).
New mediums - the embraceof non conventional forms forartistic communication - text,photography, video,performance- the search formore democratic forms andsites for communication. ‘Bringing the war home’ Martha Rosler, 1976-72
• A self consciously reﬂective approach to the idea of ‘making art’.• What might an art object look like? What materials were viable as art. Exploration of non-traditional forms Joyce Kozloff for ‘expression’.• A rejection of the idea that ‘authentic’ art production was rooted in the acquisition and learning of traditional skills• Keith Arnatt “Trouser Word Piece” 1972
The dematerialisation of the art object. Resistance to the art market / tocorporate buying power. Critique of the institutions of art (museums,critics, dealers) Valie Export – Action Pants: Genital Panic (1969)
Anti Aesthetic“Art doesn’t require being able todraw, or being able to paint well orknow colours, it doesn’t require any Marina and Ulay Abramovicof those specific things that are inthe discipline, to be interesting”Bruce Nauman
A re-imagining ofthe role of thespectator - a shiftfrom a passiveconsumer ofaesthetic objects- toan active ‘reader’and interpreter. John Baldessari
The Sociology of Art• Demonstrates the ideological dimension to aesthetics. Politicising dominant modernist ideas about autonomy and the aesthetic.• Speciﬁcally makes link between class exclusion and the exercising of ‘good taste’. 48
• “The denial of lower, coarse, vulgar, venal, servile -in a word, natural enjoyment, which constitutes the sacred sphere of culture, implies an affirmation of the superiority of those who can be satisﬁed with the sublimated, reﬁned, disinterested, gratuitous, distinguished pleasures forever closed to the profane. This is why art and cultural consumption are predisposed, consciously and deliberately or not, to fulﬁl a social function of legitimating social difference’.• Pierre Bourdieu, Introduction to Distinction 49
Dave Hickey• Key texts “Air guitar” “The Invisible Dragon - Four Essays on Beauty”• A critique of the austere, censorious politically correct culture that has, for Hickey, engulfed American art since the early seventies.• Hickey’s writing aims to place questions of aesthetics - of visual pleasure, experience, fun and most importantly for him beauty, back on the agenda.• “A lanky graduate student had risen to his feet and was soliciting my opinion as to what “the issue of the Nineties” would be. Snatched from my reverie, I said, “Beauty”, and then more firmly. “the issue of the nineties will be beauty [..] the total, uncomprehending silence that greeted this modest proposal lent it immediate credence for me. “ (Enter the Dragon, On the vernacular of beauty pg. 11)• His essays aim to invoke a relationship to art based on enthusiasm and being a fan, rather than theoretical interpretation, critical deconstruction or a demonstration of arts social usefulness.
Early One Morning Whitechapel Gallery London 06 July - 08 August 2002 Their work demonstrates a sensuous enjoyment of materials, which they activate in dynamic and unexpected conﬁgurations. Largely abstract in composition, their work reclaims beauty and pleasure, sampling from the formal strategies of Modernism at the same time as design, fashion, music and advertising. Their works can be spatial, tactile and riotously colourful.http://www.whitechapel.org/images/disappearer360h_0.jpg
Eva Rothschild Installation view at Whitechapel Gallery
New Formalism? A Reactionary Turn?“Why is that whilst the worldoutside spirals in ever tightercircles of terror and repression,and the potential avenues ofavoidance or resistance becomesqueezed by the growingdominance of capital and its civiland military bulldogs, artistsretreat further into a hermeticworld of abstraction, formalism,deferred meanings and latentspiritualism?”Nick EvansTired of the Soup d’Jour?Variant EVA ROTHSCHILD Early Learning, 2002
Form and Content the phoney opposition “There is a danger in this rivalry of thinking that art which is not visually interesting must ipso facto be clever, or alternatively of discarding visually interesting art as being ipso facto not clever.“ Dave Beech Artmonthly