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24. Aesthetic Formalism, the Form of Artworks, and Formalist Criticism

Jonathan Loesberg

Subject Literature

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780470658734.2013.00025.x


As my title indicates, the words “form” and “formalism,” even when limited to the contexts of aesthetic and literary theory, can have different meanings and refer to ostensibly very different formal objects. Specifically, “formalism” can refer to an aesthetic theory about either what artworks do or what they ought to do: they are autonomous and either do as a matter of definition or ought to, as a matter of evaluation, attend to their autonomous aesthetic form. But, of course, formalism can also refer to a school of art criticism, opposed to various other schools, claiming that art criticism, at least if it wishes to focus on the specifically artistic qualities of artworks, ought to attend to the features of form that makess the object of its attention an artwork and not something else. The Oxford English Dictionary , it should be noted, dates the first use of the word “formalism” in an aesthetic sense to the Russian Formalists and, without offering a separate definition of the second use, under “formalist,” offers the first citation that describes a type of criticism as occurring in 1967. Given the work, not only of the Russian Formalists, but of Adorno, Greenberg, and the New Critics, one can doubt that that is the earliest such usage, but one cannot doubt that the concept dates, as does the first usage, to the rise of modernism in the early twentieth century. From this coincidence ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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