Formalist Method of Art Critique


Triumph of the Will, Formalist, dangers of beautiful evil  (525)


The Formalist Method of art critique centres on evaluating a given art work in aesthetic terms alone. This approach was made popular in the early 18th century by Edward Bullough. The idea is to look at each work in relation to its ‘craft’ alone, rather than evaluate its message. If we are looking at a painting we could look at the use of colour, brush technique, use of space/dimension etc. We would ignore that is was a painting of a pregnant 8 year old girl smoking dope.


When considering art when we were still apart of the art theory of imitation, the formalist view is natural and complete. But art has changed. Triumph of the Will is an example of that change. When one experiences this film, one certainly notices the technical wonders it demonstrates.  Its cinematic methods grabs your attention and brings you into the films narrative. At this point the experience of the audience changes.  No longer are we enjoying beautiful cinema. We are now enjoying beautiful cinema and being fed a story. In the case of TofW, that story is a morally corrupt message. A message that has since being called evil propaganda. This message is as much a part of the artwork as the cinematic processes followed – ie what the formalist method would critique the film on.


The message of the film is of such integral part of the film, that if we ignore its existence we ignore the art in the film. The artistic value of the film is significantly diminished. This vision in the film is the art pieces essence. To pay attention only to the formal aspects of the film and not to what it means will require us to loose the true art of this piece. Thus formalism is not an appropriate method to critique the film.


To be beautiful and evil…it seems an oxymoron. We intuitively link the beautiful and the good. Plato identified the beauty and the good in that beauty gives pleasure to the senses and engaged and satisfied the mind and the spirit. This is the power of beauty. What has been demonstrated in the TofW is that art can make evil beautiful. We are sitting watching a film and the beauty of what in on the screen gives us all the sensations of beauty. We relax and enjoy the feeling. In this state we are far more likely to accept ideas that are placed before us. We are not on guard. Our experience tells us we have no need to be concerned. So when the evil is beautiful, we are open to accept that evil.


This is where the power of the film TofW sits. The viewer is watching the beauty and at the same time open to the evil message heard inside the art work. In the case of TofW the propaganda of the film is delivered effectively to the audience without the normal warning signs we would normally detect. We buy into the message, because of the effect of the beauty.


Propaganda like TofW proved to be a very important tool to mobilise the German population.  History tells that story…


Categories: Philosophical Essays

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1 reply

  1. Reblogged this on Vive la Rock n Roll and commented:
    An awesome summary on the Formalist Method of art criticism by Tim Neal. (Follow his blog!!! … And your welcome 🙂 . )

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