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Formalism Lecture

Today I attended a Formalism lecture, we were introduced to the basic theory of Clement Greenberg and the progression and theory of Formalism along with the context of what was happening around the world at that time. Formalism is the neglection of subject matter in favour of form and the pure visual of the material. Greenberg believed that this would make the work more accessible and understood by the masses. This is because no prior knowledge and understanding is required, the viewer is just to enjoy the aesthetics of form.

This idea of accessibility through subject matter is relevant to my work and is a conversation I am very interested in. I can appreciate and can engage with the logic behind Greenberg’s argument that no subject matter allows the piece to be accessible as no prior knowledge is required, this therefore makes the work non elitist, however I would disagree and argue that this has quite the opposite effect. I believe that a familiar recognisable subject matter is the main element of a piece of work that makes the piece accessible to a wide audience. Furthermore I believe that taking subjects from popular culture is the most effective way to engage with an audience that feels a sense of elitism surrounding the art world. Although this might be the case in 2016 and Greenberg’s argument might have been more valid at the time which he was writing, for example the friction of the cold war between the capitalist individualistic America vs the communist togetherness of the Soviet Union. I found the context of this time period very interesting, and found it fascinating that the CIA made it a priority to promote the movement as it played a political role in promoting and represented individualism and freedom of choice. For example some people believe that Jackson Pollock was being paid by the CIA to promote action painting which was an expression of freedom.

I also believe that Formalism does not provide much comment on the world and does not allow the artist to express their opinion as much as other movements, such as Pop Art or Dada. Although I understand it is not always the artist’s job to comment and attempt to change the world. In my opinion however i would like to express an opinion or tell a narrative rather than create an aesthetic. This does not mean that I do not appreciate artists that are less overtly political and do not work in the realms of social commentary. For example one of my favourite painters is Willem De’ Kooning, I deeply admire the process and visual of abstract expressionism and the visual excitement and energy of action painting and find the viewing very moving, I also find the the process very freeing and enjoyable.

To be perfectly honest, listening to this lecture cemented in my head the decision I made to step away from the process of making and focus more on the conceptual element of my work through the language of satire. Although I wish to stress that this does not mean I do not appreciate the logic of Formalism.

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