Time for formalism: Illusion, taste and the experience of art

Hanfling, Edward (2011) Time for formalism: Illusion, taste and the experience of art. In: Sleight of Hand: The Port Nelson Suter Biennale. Suter Gallery, Nelson, New Zealand.

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This is an essay about formalism informed by hindsight. Over the last fifty years, artists and writers have staged a revolt against formalist ideas. The main target has been Clement Greenberg, the American art critic who identified the greatest art of the mid twentieth century by attending to its form. His critics successfully promoted an alternative set of values by reversing Greenberg’s ideas, concentrating on "concept" rather than form, "meaning" rather than aesthetics, and therefore emphasising "interpretation" rather than "taste". Yet to reject formalism – that intense scrutiny of the visual – is to wipe its significance and its discoveries, to turn a blind eye. More useful would be an approach to looking at art that builds on formalism, taking the good from it while modifying the more problematic aspects – seeing where it might lead rather than seeing it as a dead end. Supplementing formalism may require a heightened awareness of the fact that art has multiple audiences or interpretive communities, who "use" artworks in a variety of ways. Illusion has always been discussed in scholarly accounts of art, and it is factored into Greenberg’s formalism. But illusion, in other respects – that is, as an inordinate preoccupation with artistic techniques that create a convincing reality effect or otherwise trick the eye – is linked to an experience of art formerly and formally regarded as peripheral, extrinsic, inferior, "easy", lowbrow, vulgar, certainly not associated with "good taste" or the discernment of quality in art. The issue of "taste" obscures it. If we are to build on formalism, and build into it an experiential and time-based component, we need to interrogate the concept of taste, its various interpretations and ramifications.

Item Type:Book Section
Keywords that describe the item:Art, illusion, formalism, taste, interpretive communities, art theory
Subjects:N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR
N Fine Arts > NB Sculpture
N Fine Arts > ND Painting
N Fine Arts > NE Print media
Divisions:Schools > School of Media Arts
ID Code:1158
Deposited By:
Deposited On:09 Aug 2011 21:39
Last Modified:03 Jul 2012 23:28

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