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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The term formalism describes an emphasis on form over content or meaning in the arts, literature, or philosophy. A practitioner of formalism is called a formalist.



In general in the study of the arts and literature, formalism refers to the style of criticism that focuses on artistic or literary techniques in themselves, in separation from the work's social and historical context.

Art criticism

formalism (art)

Aesthetically speaking, formalism is the concept that everything necessary in a work of art is contained within it. The context for the work, including the reason for its creation, the historical background, and the life of the artist, is not considered to be significant. Examples of formalist aestheticians are Clive Bell, Jerome Stolnitz, and Edward Bullough.

Literary criticism

formalism (literature)

In contemporary discussions of literary theory, the school of criticism of I. A. Richards and his followers, traditionally the New Criticism, has sometimes been labelled 'formalist'. The formalist approach, in this sense, is a continuation of aspects of classical rhetoric.

Russian formalism was a twentieth century school, based in Eastern Europe, with roots in linguistic studies and also theorising on fairy tales, in which content is taken as secondary since the tale 'is' the form, the princess 'is' the fairy-tale princess.

The Arts


In modern poetry, Formalist poets may be considered as the opposite of writers of free verse. These are only labels, and rarely sum up matters satisfactorily. 'Formalism' in poetry represents an attachment to poetry that recognises and uses schemes of rhyme and rhythm to create poetic effects and to innovate. To distinguish it from archaic poetry the term 'neo-formalist' is sometimes used.

See for example:


Formalist film theory

In film studies, formalism is a trait in filmmaking, which overtly uses the language of film, such as editing, shot composition, camera movement, set design, etc., so as to emphasise graphical (as opposed to diegetic) qualities of the image. Strict formalism, condemned by realist film theorists such as Andre Bazin, has declined substantially in popular usage since the 1950s, though some more postmodern filmmakers reference it to suggest the artificiality of the film experience.

Examples of formalist films may include Eisenstein's The Battleship Potemkin, Parajanov's The Color of Pomegranates, Resnais's Last Year at Marienbad and Hitchcock's Blackmail.

Intellectual method

Formalism can be applied to a set of notations and rules for manipulating them which yield results in agreement with experiment or other techniques of calculation. These rules and notations may or may not have a corresponding mathematical semantics. In the case no mathematical semantics exists, the calculations are often said to be purely formal. See for example scientific formalism.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Formalism" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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