Formalism vs. contextualism in art history
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
They are described as:
- The approach whereby a work of art is examined in the context of its time; in a manner which respects its creator's motivations and imperatives; with consideration of the desires and prejudices of its patrons and sponsors; with a comparative analysis of themes and approaches of the creator's colleagues and teachers; and consideration of religious iconography and temporal symbolism. In short, this approach examines the work of art in the context of the world within which it was created.
- The approach whereby the artwork is examined through an analysis of its form; that is, the creator's use of line, shape, color, texture, and composition. This approach examines how the artist uses a two-dimensional picture plane (or the three dimensions of sculptural or architectural space) to create his or her art. A formal analysis can further describe art as representational or non-representational; which answers the question, is the artist imitating an object or image found in nature? If so, it is representational. The closer the art hews to perfect imitation, the more the art is realistic. If the art is less imitation and more symbolism, or in an important way strives to capture nature's essence, rather than imitate it directly, the art is abstract. Impressionism is an example of a representational style that was not directly imitative, but strove to create an "impression" of nature. Of course, realism and abstraction exist on a continuum. If the work is not representational of nature, but an expression of the artist's feelings, longings and aspirations, or his or her search for ideals of beauty and form, the work is non-representational or a work of expressionism.
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