Philosophy of Art: A Contemporary Introduction

By Noël Carroll | Go to book overview
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Art and form

Part I

Art as form


Like the expression theory of art, formalism arose as a reaction to representational theories of art. And also like the expression theory, it was prompted by striking shifts in artistic practice. The artistic practices that were particularly relevant to the emergence of formalism were the developments in painting and sculpture that have come to be known as modern art or modernism. Including Cubism and Minimalism, this art gravitates toward abstraction. Modern artists eschewed pictorial illustration, composing paintings out of often nonrepresentational shapes and masses of color. Their aim was not to capture the perceptual appearances of the world, but often to make images noteworthy for their visual organization, form, and arresting design.

Undoubtedly, one important cause of the evolution of this type of modern art was the advent of photography. Photography facilitated the production of pictures of remarkable verisimilitude both automatically and cheaply. Families could obtain portraits easily without the expenses in time and money incurred by posing for a painting. By the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, photography looked like it might put painting as imitation out of business. Artists had to find a new occupation, or at least a new style, in order to survive.

Abstraction was one of the ways they found to adapt to changing circumstances. From the turn of the twentieth century onwards, more and more painters became involved in the creation of nonobjective paintings that are primarily concerned with the articulation of the surface of the painting rather than with reference to “nature. Instead of treating the picture as a piece of glass—a mirror or a transparent windowpane onto the world—painters began to explore the very texture of the glass itself. Rather than looking into it or through it, they turned their attention at it. This was painting for the sake of painting—painting that experimented


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