Reflections on Art: A Source Book of Writings by Artists, Critics, and Philosophers

By Susanne K. Langer | Go to book overview

On the Problem of Artistic Form

PAUL STERN

THERE ARE TWO prevalent opinions, apparently quite opposite, on the nature of art: according to the one, the ultimate function of art is to express convincingly some process or condition of the inner life; according to the other, its function is to create images which, by clarity and harmony of form, fulfill the need for vividly comprehensible appearance, which is rarely satisfied by reality. Actually, neither clear representation of external form, nor the expression of an inner life or experience, however achieved, is in itself sufficient to create art; rather, each depends on the other. In the living work of art the two concepts can be separated only by means of an abstractive process, and hence neither one by itself can be judged aesthetically. Form and content are unequivocally coordinated, and any change in one necessarily entails a change in the other. Critical judgment will, indeed, always be restricted to pointing out individual traits of the inward content or the external appearance of a work. Thus one or the other still seems to determine the evaluation of the whole. But even though in criticism we can extract and fix only single elements, in direct artistic judgment we do not lose their interrelation, nor forget the whole from which we separate them. -- The Dionysian and the Apollonian elements,

-71-

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