Clive Bell and the Formalist Theory

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Clive Bell and the Formalist Theory “Art is a recurring form of human practice. Some have argued that all human societies have shown evidence of artistic activities.” (Carroll 5) Man has long created art, this much is certain. However, man has never ultimately defined art. There are so many things which qualify as art and as many qualities to each piece that trying to find answers only seems result in more questions. The formalist theory of art, as present by Clive Bell, makes an attempt at defining art and answering many of these questions. Below is a discussion of the formalist theory; its definition, its strengths, and its weaknesses as evidenced by the work of Clive Bell. Clive Bell theorizes art in terms of a theory known as Formalism. Formalism is based upon a relatively simple line of logic. All art produces in the viewer an emotion. This emotion is not different but the same for all people in that it is known as the Aesthetic Emotion. There must be a factor common to all works of art that produces in the viewer a state of Aesthetic Emotion thus defining the works as art. This common factor is form. Formalism defines artworks as that which has significant form. Significant form is a term used by Bell to describe forms that are arranged by some unknown and mysterious laws. Thus, all art must contain not merely form, but significant form. Under Formalism, art is appreciated not for its expression but instead for the forms of its components. Examples of these forms include lines, curves, shapes, and colors. Abstract art, twentieth century, or modern art such as color field painting or the works of Mondrian, are examples of art that are not representative and thus are most lik... ... middle of paper ... ... truly bad artwork, thus this poses a serious threat to the good standing of the Neo-formalist theory. Another problem with Neo-Formalism is that of art without content. For example, tap-dancing has no content. However, it has been determined that tap-dancing is indeed art. These are problems with the theory of Neo-Formalism for which we do not yet have an answer. Neither Formalism nor Neo-Formalism is the defining answer to the questions raised in the nature of art. As before, we are left to wonder, what theories will be created and indeed shot down by the philosophy community in relation to the nature of art next? Works Cited Carroll, Noel. Philosophy of Art: A Contemporary Introduction, New York, NY: Routledge, 1999. Goldblatt, and Brown. Aesthetics: A Reader in Philosophy of the Arts, Upper Saddle Ridge, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1997.

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