Key tools of formalist approach

Formalism: Formalism, innovative 20th-century Russian school of literary criticism

Legal formalism - LII / Legal Information Institute

It is significant, and in fact not surprising, that music was the first of the arts in which a formalist approach flourished. From the history of aesthetics, and from the history of music, we know that around the turn of the nineteenth century, instrumental music, which had long been ranked at the lower end of the fine arts because it had no representational content, began to be valued for its very non-specificity of meaning. Rankings of the arts were turned upside down, and suddenly, music, which had always been at the bottom, was now at the top. And so, in the work of Schopenhauer, the first top-tier philosopher thus to honor music, only music, with its absence of external referentiality, could embody the essence of the individual will. Furthermore, instrumental music, with its reveling in purely musical relationships, lent itself naturally to formalism. The growing prestige of chamber music and the symphony also was linked to the development of music analysis. Even as early as 1810, E.T.A. Hoffmann’s well-known essay on Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony combined interpretive and hermeneutic criticism with what we now call analytical close reading—identification of motives and their development, harmonic structure, and the like. Analyses of this sort became more and more common as the nineteenth century progressed into the twentieth, all the way up to the late twentieth century, with its new societies for music theory and analysis. An aesthetic issue that we might ponder, then, with respect to music and its relationship to the other fine arts, is as follows. Leonard Meyer, in his book Music, the Arts, and Ideas, of 1967, with a revised version in 1994, suggests that music, of all the arts, is the art that best lends itself to, or finds itself most vulnerable to (depending upon one’s point of view) formal abstraction and formal analysis. Do we agree?

Formalism/Formalist Linguistics - Encyclopedia of …

And so we have six incarnations of formalism in the history, criticism, and analysis of the arts since 1854. What do they have to do with us, as historians, theorists, and composers? How might we understand them in our language of formalism fair, formalism foul? In Part II, in the remainder of my paper, I will simply comment on some issues relevant to this topic, and I will raise some questions—all with the aim of helping us understand what the formalism of the past has on that of the present, and helping us come to grips with it in our creative and scholarly lives.

The Symbolist movement originated in France with the volume of poetry Les Fleurs du Mal (1857) by Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867), and was taken up by such poets as Stéphane Mallarmé, Paul Verlaine, Arthur Rimbaud, and Jules Laforgue. They aimed to break away from the formal conventions of French poetry, and attempted to express the transitory perceptions and sensations of inner life, rather than rational ideas. They believed in the imagination as the arbiter of reality, were interested in the idea of a correspondence between the senses, and aimed to express meaning through the sound patterns of words and suggestive, evocative images, rather than by using language as a medium for statement and argument.


The Definition of Art (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Using the above definitions and their corollaries, I will offer here a historical sketch of uses of the term formalism in music, visual art, and literary art. Much of my sketch will draw on previously published work in aesthetics or in the individual arts, but what is new here, and what I hope will be useful, is a synthetic approach that focuses primarily on music, but that also coordinates ideas in musical aesthetics, both conceptually and chronologically, with formalism in the visual and literary arts.

The definition of art is controversial in contemporary philosophy

In other words, the problem with analysts is that for them, music is only “form,” and if it is only form, music is thus devoid of content. And again the implication is that a “formalistic” approach is almost by definition a lifeless one.

Whether art can be defined has also been a matter of controversy

For if music is only “sounding form,” the only meaningful study of music is formalistic; and while Hanslick was not an analyst, later critics took it on themselves to analyze music’s sounding form in the conviction that this was equivalent to its content. (Kerman 1980, 314-15)

Literary Theory | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Definitions of art attempt to make sense of two different sorts offacts: art has important historically contingent cultural features, andit also, arguably, has trans-historical, trans-cultural characteristicsthat point in the direction of a relatively stable aesthetic core.(Theorists who regard art as an invention of eighteenth-century Europewill, of course, regard this way of putting the matter as tendentious,on the grounds that entities produced outside that culturallydistinctive institution do not fall under the extension of“art” and hence are irrelevant to the art-defining project(Shiner 2001). Whether the concept of art is precise enough to justifythis much confidence about what falls under its extension claim isunclear.) Conventionalist definitions take art’scultural features to be explanatorily fundamental, and attempt tocapture the phenomena—revolutionary modern art, the traditionalclose connection of art with the aesthetic, the possibility ofautonomous art traditions, etc.—in social/historicalterms. Non-conventionalist or “functionalist”definitions reverse this explanatory order, taking a concept like theaesthetic (or some allied concept like the formal, or the expressive)as basic, and aim to account for the phenomena by working that conceptharder, perhaps extending it to non-perceptual properties.