Art and Form: From Roger Fry to Global Modernism

University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press (2019)
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From the publisher: This important new study reevaluates British art writing and the rise of formalism in the visual arts from 1900 to 1939. Taking Roger Fry as his starting point, Sam Rose rethinks how ideas about form influenced modernist culture and the movement’s significance to art history today. In the context of modernism, formalist critics are often thought to be interested in art rather than life, a stance exemplified in their support for abstract works that exclude the world outside. But through careful attention to early twentieth-century connoisseurship, aesthetics, art education, design, and art in colonial Nigeria and India, Rose builds an expanded account of form based on its engagement with the social world. Art and Form thus opens discussions on a range of urgent topics in art writing, from its history and the constructions of high and low culture to the idea of global modernism. Rose demonstrates the true breadth of formalism and shows how it lends a new richness to thought about art and visual culture in the early to mid-twentieth century. “This book is a gem. It gives the most comprehensive and accessible account of the importance of form in the last hundred years of writing about art. It should be compulsory reading not just for art historians, but also for aestheticians and anyone interested in visual culture.” —Bence Nanay, author of Aesthetics as Philosophy of Perception “This is an exceptionally wide-ranging and successful study of a central topic in the history of modernism. Rose moves with enviable facility between archival research and historical concerns and a crisply incisive discussion of the status and integrity of the key ideas. The final section, which extends the story outward into new areas, will be an invaluable spur to future research.” —David Peters Corbett, author of The World in Paint: Modern Art and Visuality in England, 1848–1914 “It’s time we had a sophisticated account of form in the modern visual arts to replace the crude caricatures that have dominated the literature on so-called modernist formalism. Sam Rose supplies this with precision (in his careful readings of modernist texts that have too often been oversimplified) and imagination (in relating them to wider, sometimes surprising, contexts). Demolishing the notion that formalism must be escapist, he provides a cogent explanation for how the study of the Old Masters could go hand in hand with the theorization of a modern art. This lucidly written book not only challenges preconceptions about formalism but shows why we cannot ignore the question of form in discussions of the visual arts up to and including the present day.” —Elizabeth Prettejohn, author of Art for Art’s Sake: Aestheticism in Victorian Painting “A brilliant and timely account of aesthetic form and formalism. Debates about form are fundamental to modernism, and indeed to the story of the arts in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, yet until now we have been lacking a sustained investigation of how this came to be. Art and Form is a great work of art history, and it will also prove indispensable to literary scholars, philosophers, and cultural critics.” —Rebecca Beasley, author of Ezra Pound and the Visual Culture of Modernism

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Sam Rose
University of St. Andrews


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