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BothFry and Greenberg use formalism to critique art, but their view ofthe specific aspects that constitute formalism differ and converge inseveral ways. By definition, formalism is the method of critiquingart that puts into consideration the abstract elements of the artsuch as space, composition, line, and color rather than analyticalaspects such as the story behind it or the content1.Likeother formalist critics of the 1920s, Greenberg and Fry elaboratedhow modern art could be understood through formalism2.Formalism majorly shaped the positions of other different artcritics. In fact the formalist ideas of Rodger Fry shaped the ideasof Greenberg because the former was among the first at theorists tocritic art using the formalist approach. Greenberg’s formalistmethods were more complex and self-conscious than Fry’s becausethey were largely influenced by both American and British earlyformalist critics. Today, formalist criticism does not dominate thediscussion the discourse of art forms such as painting. Formalistssuch as Fry and Greenberg articulated the philosophy that wasinherent in critical principles. One of the philosophers thatmotivated the criticism is Immanuel Kant3.Although Fry systematically analysed and critiqued through formalismhe did not out rightly acknowledge the influence of Kantianphilosophy.

Fryarticulated formalism in a more specific and systematic approachwhile Greenberg build on the works of the former to create a new waveof formalism. In his essay, AnEssay in Aesthetics, Fryconsiders the emotional elements of art as significant to its meaningand thematic implications. Thus, he identified the emotionalelements different features in art such as mass, space, rhythm,shade, light, color, variety, and order. Fry formalist criticismidentified the emotional response that a work of art identifies asessential because it is integral to the aesthetic value it portends. Vision is of critical importance to Fry. In the essay he writes,

“Thisis at once more intense and more detached from the passions ofinstinctive life. Those who indulge in this vision are apprehendingthe relation of forms and colors.”4

Fryexplained and articulated how forms embody creativity rather thanjust a function in poetry. The creativity is in the ability of apiece art of elicit aesthetic experiences to its audience. Specifically, Fry’s method of form reveals his belief that a givenfeature possesses aesthetic significance is proportion other factorsthat define a work of art. Aesthetic factors, according to Fry, lackin individuality and are not constant because they have differentemotional effects on different people.

WhereasFry detached the morality from art Greenberg acknowledged that artemanates from the self-justification of the artist that indulges in awork of art.

Thepeculiar similarity between Greenberg’s and Fry’s formalismmethods is that they both shared some perspectives on thepost-impressionism. Fry’s account actually shows that Greenbergshared a lot of views that Fry had earlier written in his essay. Frystated that,

“Someartists who were peculiarly sensitive to the formal relations ofworks of art…..had almost no sense of emotions’…”5

Frybelieved and expected artists to convey, hence, Greenberg’s viewthat art is purely dissociated from the aesthetics reality of artistand the accessories therein. Greenberg was also indifferent about therealities in relation to their portrayal in different art forms.

BothFry and Greenberg also agree that artists communicate through art byusing both extrinsic and intrinsic features. The texture, color,line, and other elements usually have an embedded message from theartist. Nonetheless, Fry considered analyses the socialcommunication of art in the abstract sense rather than concrete senselike Greenberg. Greenberg believed that an artist concretelycommunicates their thoughts in art without which the work of artwould be rendered invalid6. Greenberg considered deductive thinking as a means to establishembedded message in art and that it is through the self-justificationof the artist uses art form to make their individual contribution tohuman experience. Thus, in Greenberg’s view, art is not separatefrom morality because in communicating their own experiences, anartist hopes that it would cause resultant action, which is moralityin real life. Fry’s abstract view of art was that it is separatefrom moral justifications of the artist. The need for a piece of artto elicit human experience implies that art has a moral responsibly,a fact that Fry debunked by writing,

“Art,then, is an expression and stimulus of the imaginative life, which isseparated from actual life by the absence of responsive action. Nowthis responsive action implies in actual life moral responsibility.In art we have such moral responsibility- it presents a life freedfrom the binding necessities of our actual existence…”7

Inconclusion, Greenberg differed and agreed with Fry in their formalistmethods partly because they existed in different times of arthistory. Fry established the era of aesthetics in art whileGreenberg built on and criticised Fry’s perspectives by invokingphilosophy of Immanuel Kant.


Eikhenbaum,Boris. &quotThe theory of the formal method.&quot Readingsin Russian Poetics(1978): 6.

Fry,Roger. &quotAn essay in aesthetics.&quot Visionand design2 (1909): 11-25.

Greenberg,Clement. &quotofArticle/Chapter Modernist Painting.&quot(1988): 90-96.

1 Eikhenbaum, Boris. &quotThe theory of the formal method.&quot Readings in Russian Poetics (1978): P.6

2 Ibid

3 Greenberg, Clement. &quotof Article/Chapter Modernist Painting.&quot (1988): p. 90

4 Fry, Roger. &quotAn essay in aesthetics.&quot Vision and design 2 (1909): p. 13

5 Fry, p.18

6 Greenberg, p. 5

7 Fry, p. 19

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