“Clive Bell” by Henry Lamb, Bell lived: 1881-1964 Clive Bell

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“Clive Bell” by Henry Lamb, Bell lived: 1881-1964

Clive Bell (the portrait on the right is by Roger Fry)

Clive Bell “Form in Modern Painting” from his book Art 1914

  • Art theorist and critic.

  • Champion of the post-impressionists.

  • 1899 a student at Cambridge.

  • Bloomsbury group, G.E. Moore, Virginia Woolf, Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant

His books

  • Art (1914)

  • Pot-boilers (1918)

  • Since Cézanne (1922)

  • Civilization (1928)

  • Proust (1929)

  • An Account of French Painting (1931)

  • Old Friends (1956)

G.E. Moore 1873-1958

  • Principia Ethica 1903

  • Bell on Moore “Mr. Moore [asks] what things are good in themselves, as ends that is to say. He comes to a conclusion with which we all agree…"states of mind,“… alone are good as end.” Art

Bell’s own illustration, frontispiece, Art, WEI FIGURE, FIFTH CENTURY

Gu Kaizhi (344-405 CE) Chinese. “The Admonitions of the Instructress to the Court Ladies” [Bell mentions this artist with approval in Art]

46 Gordon Square, Bloomsbury, London, where the Bloomsbury Group met starting in 1905 Vanessa Bell and Virginia Wolfe lived here. Clive Bell visited.

Virginia Woolf (centre) outside a summerhouse with her house guests, economist Maynard Keynes (right) and Angelica Bell, Vanessa Bell and Clive Bell, 1930s.

Charleston, England: home and country meeting place for the writers, painters and intellectuals known as the Bloomsbury Group.

Interior of Charleston

Photograph of Roger Fry, Desmond McCarthy and Clive Bell sitting in the garden at Charleston. 1933

The starting point of aesthetics is the personal experience of a peculiar emotion [aesthetic emotion]

  • Objects that provoke it are works of art, sensitive people agree.

  • The emotions are not the same but are of the same kind.

  • They are provoked by every kind of visual art: pictures, sculptures, buildings, pots, carvings, textiles.

  • This emotion is called the aesthetic emotion.

Common Quality

  • We need to find some quality common and peculiar to all the objects that provoke this emotion to solve the central problem of aesthetics: the essential quality of the work of art, that distinguishes it from all other classes of objects [like Plato].

“work of art”

  • If works of art do not have a common quality "work of art" is meaningless.

  • There must be some one such quality possessing which in the least degree the work is not worthless.

  • What provokes our aesthetic emotions?

Significant Form

  • He gives examples [from many cultures]: Sta. Sophia, Chartres, Mexican sculpture, Persian bowl, Chinese carpets, Giotto, Poussin, Piero, and Cezanne.

  • answer: Significant Form: lines and colors combined in a particular way, certain forms and relations of forms

HAGIA SOPHIA, or Santa Sophia = Greek for "Holy Wisdom"  known as the Ayasofya Museum a former Eastern Orthodox church converted to a mosque in 1453 -    Istanbul Turkey. 360 CE

Rose Window, Chartres Cathedral, France, 1215 CE

Aztec sculpture, Quetzalcoatl, Tenochtitlan, Mexico, 1500 CE?

Bell’s own illustration, PERSIAN DISH, ELEVENTH CENTURY (?)

Chinese rug late 19th century

Giotto 1304-06 Fresco Capella Scrovegni (Arena Chapel) Padua, Italy

Nicolas Poussin, Et in Arcadia Ego. c. 1655

PIERO DELLA FRANCESCA, Flagellation of Christ, Late 1440s or 1460s.

CEZANNE Paul, Apples & Oranges, c. 1899

Cezanne “Grandes Bagnieuses” 1905

Bell’s own illustration CÉZANNE, House in Province near Gardanne, 1886-90, Photo, Druet

Merely Subjective?

  • Is aesthetics then merely subjective because the objects that provoke this emotion are different for each person?

  • Aesthetics cannot be objective: we recognize works of art only by our feeling.

  • About taste there is no disputing.

  • [However] a good critic can make me see things I overlooked in a picture [relation to Hume and Sibley].

The critic.

  • The function of criticism is to point out those parts, the combination of which unite to produce significant form.

  • And in receiving the aesthetic emotion I will see it as a work of art.

  • The critic cannot tell me: he must make me feel it for myself, make me see it.

  • I have no right to consider anything a work of art to which I cannot react emotionally

Possibility of a generally valid aesthetic theory.

  • I am not implying that no theory of aesthetics can have general validity.

  • X may be the only quality believed to be common in the works that move us, even though the works that move us are different: we may just disagree about the presence of x.

  • Significant form is the only quality common to the works that move me, and I ask others whether it is the only common quality that moves them.

Why are we profoundly moved by such forms?

  • The question is irrelevant to aesthetics, where we need consider only our emotions and their object.

  • For aesthetics we have no right, nor need, to pry into the state of mind of the creator.

  • relation of art to life? (saved till later)

  • We need only say forms arranged and combined according to unknown and mysterious laws do move us in a particular way.

The business of the artist

  • The business of an artist is to so combine and arrange forms that they shall move us.

An interruption: forgetting color?

  • Significant form includes combinations of lines and colors. [Kant did not consider color important, but Bell does.]

  • The distinction between form and color is unreal: one cannot perceive a colorless line or space [true?], or formless relations of colors.

  • White and black are counted as colors.

Bell’s own illustration, Picasso

  • “Sometime between October and December 1912, Pablo Picasso (1881–1973) made a guitar. Cobbled together from cardboard, paper, string, and wire, materials that he cut, folded, threaded, and glued, Picasso’s silent instrument resembled no sculpture ever seen before.” Museum of Modern Art

Detail of wall painted by PERSUE X ENUE X JAES AT THE WRITERZ BLOK, SAN DIEGO, FRIDAY, MAY 29, 2009, accessed Oct. 6, 2010

  • The theory that art is significant form helps explain why Descriptive Painting is not art.

Beauty is not the object of aesthetic emotion.

Everyone has called a flower or a butterfly beautiful, but no one feels the same kind of emotion here as with a cathedral or [a great painting].

  • Some people [artists] sometimes see in nature what we see in art.

  • There is an aesthetic and a non-aesthetic use of “beautiful.” “Beautiful huntin” is non-aesthetic.

  • To the man in the street “beautiful” usually means “desirable.” To many, the sexual flavor of “beauty” is stronger than the aesthetic: for them a beautiful picture is a photo of a pretty girl.

There are pictures that interest and excite us but do not move us aesthetically as works of art.

  • In “Descriptive Painting” forms are used as means of suggesting emotion or conveying information [realism a la Gombrich]

  • Examples: portraits, topographical works, pictures that tell stories [Paddington Station example], illustrations

  • A drawing can be excellent as illustration but worthless as art.

Not Art!

  • Many descriptive pictures possess formal significance and are art, but many do not, and do not move us aesthetically, and so are not art.

  • It is not their forms but the ideas conveyed by the forms that affect us.

Sir Edwin Landseer (1802-73), 
Dignity and Impudence
Oil on canvas. 1839. Tate Gallery, London, UK.

Edwin Landseer, Monarch of the Glen (1851)

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema Expectations 1885

Paddington Station

  • “Few pictures are better known or liked that Frith’s Paddington Station; certainly I should be the last to grudge it its popularity. Many a weary forty minutes have I whiled away disentangling its fascinating incidents and forging for each an imaginary past and an improbable future. But certain though it is that Frith’s masterpiece, or engravings of it, have provided thousands with half-hours of curious and fanciful pleasure, it is not less certain that no one has experienced before it one half-second of aesthetic rapture — and this although the picture contains several pretty passages of colour, and is by no means badly painted.” Bell Art

W. P. Frith The Railway Station [Paddington Station] 1862

Frith, detail

Not a Work of Art

  • Paddington Station is not a work of art; it is an interesting and amusing document. In it line and colour are used to recount anecdotes, suggest ideas, and indicate the manners and customs of an age; they are not used to provoke aesthetic emotion. Forms and the relations of forms were for Frith not objects of emotion, but means of suggesting emotion and conveying ideas.”

Photography makes such paintings useless!

  • “The ideas and information conveyed by Paddington Station are so amusing and so well presented that the picture has considerable value and is well worth preserving. But, with the perfection of photographic processes and of the cinematograph, pictures of this sort are becoming otiose [superfluous, useless].”

April 16, 1912, Sinking of Titanic

  • “Who doubts that one of those Daily Mirror photographers in collaboration with a Daily Mail reporter can tell us far more about “London day by day” than any Royal Academician? For an account of manners and fashions we shall go, in future, to photographs, supported by a little bright journalism, rather than to descriptive painting.”


  • “pictures in the Frith tradition are grown superfluous; they merely waste the hours of able men who might be more profitably employed in works of a wider beneficence.”

Samuel Luke Fildes: The Doctor (1891 or 1887)

The Doctor is sentimental.

  • “Of course, The Doctor is not a work of art. In it form is not used as an object of emotion, but as a means of suggesting emotions. This alone suffices to make it nugatory [of no value]; it is worse than nugatory because the emotion it suggests is false. What it suggests is not pity and admiration but a sense of complacency in our own pitifulness and generosity. It is sentimental. Art is above morals, or, rather, all art is moral because, as I hope to show presently, works of art are immediate means to good.”

Art beyond morality!

  • “Once we have judged a thing a work of art, we have judged it ethically of the first importance and put it beyond the reach of the moralist. But descriptive pictures which are not works of art, and, therefore, are not necessarily means to good states of mind, are proper objects of the ethical philosopher’s attention. Not being a work of art, The Doctor has none of the immense ethical value possessed by all objects that provoke aesthetic ecstasy; and the state of mind to which it is a means, as illustration, appears to me undesirable.”

Vanessa Bell, (married Clive Bell, 1907) “Lytton Strachey Reading” 1913, next slide “Abstract Painting” 1914

Piet Mondrian, Trees, c. 1912, oil on canvas, 37 X 27 7/8 inches


S. Vitale, Ravenna, Next image closeup

  • Christ Pantocrator Deesis mosaic Hagia Sophia 12th century

Representation is irrelevant

  • “Let no one imagine that representation is bad in itself; a realistic form may be as significant, in its place as part of the design, as an abstract. But if a representative form has value, it [is] as form, not as representation. The representative element in a work of art may or may not be harmful; always it is irrelevant.” Art, 27.

Nothing from life

  • “For, to appreciate a work of art we need bring with us nothing from life, no knowledge of its ideas and affairs, no familiarity with its emotions. Art transports us from the world of man’s activity to a world of aesthetic exhaltation.”

  • “The pure mathematician rapt in his studies knows a state of mind which I take to be similar, if not identical….do we not perceive intellectually the rightness and necessity of the combination [of forms]” 27

The one kind of representation that is relevant to art.

  • To appreciate art we need bring only a sense of form and color, and sometimes knowledge of 3D space.

  • The latter is needed for appreciating most architectural forms.

  • Pictures insignificant as flat patterns are moving when seen as related planes.

  • This is one kind of representation that is relevant. [See Feldman’s article.]


  • My own opinion about music is not worth having: [Hume would say he is not a good judge here] the subtleties of harmony and rhythm escape me.

  • Sometimes my appreciation is pure however, and I can get that pure aesthetic emotion from music too, although less intense and long-lasting.

  • Yet, I understand music too little to be transported far into the world of pure aesthetic ecstasy.

Sublime State of Mind

  • At moments (in which I have a clean palate) I appreciate pure musical form: sounds combined according to mysterious laws with tremendous significance of its own.

  • [And I achieve] an infinitely sublime state of mind [Kant].

The Metaphysical Hypothesis

  • “when we consider anything as an end in itself we become aware of that in it which is of greater moment than any qualities it may have acquired from keeping company with human beings. Instead of recognising its accidental and conditioned importance, we become aware of its essential reality, of the God in everything, of the universal in the particular, of the all-pervading rhythm. Call it by what name you will, the thing that I am talking about is that which lies behind the appearance of all things—that which gives to all things their individual significance, the thing in itself, the ultimate reality.” Art

Art and Religion

  • “art is the one religion that is always shaping its form to fit the spirit, the one religion that will never for long be fettered in dogmas.” Art


  • “Bell believed that ultimately the value of anything whatever lies only in its being a means to "good states of mind" (Bell, 83). Since he also believed that "there is no state of mind more excellent or more intense than the state of aesthetic contemplation" (Bell, 83) he believed that works of visual art were among the most valuable things there could be.” Wikipedia article on Bell.

Edmund Burke Feldman “A Formal Analysis” 1967 from Varieties of Visual Experience


  • 1967 Varieties of Visual Experience

  • 1970 Becoming Human Through Art

  • 1982 The Artist

  • 1985 Thinking About Art

  • 1994 Practical Art Criticism

  • 1994 The Artist: A Social History

  • 1995 The Philosophy of Art Education

Formal analysis

  • In formal analysis we go “behind” description to discover relations.

  • [he then describes Les Demoiselles by Picasso, giving a formal analysis]

  • One figure seems to be falling: certain physical and biological assumptions are shared by artist and viewer: little idea of depth.

  • Some of the drawing is crude, some believable.

  • At one point the painting seems to depart from simple imitation of appearances as the goal of painting. [cf. Plato and Hegel]

Pablo Picasso. (Spanish, 1881-1973). Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. Paris, June-July 1907. Oil on canvas, 8' x 7' 8"

  • Peplos Kore, 530 BC, Greek


Pablo Picasso. (Spanish, 1881-1973). Study for Les Demoiselles D'Avignon. Paris, early 1907. Oil on canvas, 7 1/2 x 8" (18.5 x 20.3 cm)

Study 1907

Fang mask used for the ngil ceremony, an inquisitorial search for sorcerers. Wood, Gabon, 19th century.

Viewer’s expectation

  • The idea of viewer's expectation is important in formal analysis.

  • The artist is aware of viewer conditioning.

  • Picasso knows we expect linear perspective, but he breaks up deep space. [cf. Goodman]

  • The foot vs. the still life, for example.

  • The expected logic of spatial representation is destroyed in this painting.

Formal analysis.

  • Formal analysis accumulates evidence for an interpretation of the work and a judgment.

  • The breakdown of spatial logic might imply that the work is unsuccessful.

  • But perhaps the logic of spatial representation irrelevant here.

  • Shallow space: clues keep us close to surface.

  • We must move imaginatively to make sense of the face, and from left to right as we view the central figures (following the falling figure).

  • The figure on the right emphasizes the shape of openings.

Principle of Organization

  • Formal analysis moves from objective description of forms to statements of how we perceive them: we seek a principle of organization, an idea.

  • It becomes difficult to defer interpretation.

  • [A basis for objectivity: tried to be objective.]


  • Interpretation: the process of expressing the meanings of a work the critic has analyzed [themes, and problems solved].

  • Interpretation comes before evaluation.

  • It is the most important part of criticism. [unlike Hume and Bell]

  • If we have thoroughly interpreted the work the evaluation may be omitted.


  • Interpretation involves discovering meanings and stating the relevance of the meanings of the work to our lives and the human situation. [this goes contrary to Bell].

Vehicle of ideas

  • Critics assume the art object is influenced by the value system of the artist: it is a vehicle of his ideas. [again contrary to Bell]

  • But, critics do not care whether the ideas are faithful to what the artist thinks. [like Bell]

  • Nonetheless, an artwork becomes charged with ideas which may be unconscious for the artist, but which we must discover.


  • A principle of criticism: the artist is not necessarily the best authority on the meaning of the work. [true?]

  • The artist's views are material which require confirmation.

Art Criticism

  • Art criticism is not intended to be a substitute for aesthetic experience.

  • The unity of the qualities organizing themselves in our perception becomes the meaning of the work which we verbalize.

  • We direct our analysis to actual colors and shapes in the art object, not to our language about them.

Western vs. Non-Western

  • “We noticed earlier that Picasso used white lines to delineate forms in the central figure. It is a use of line we may have seen in ancient Greek vase painting. The faces of the two central figures also have the expressionless stare which is characteristic of archaic Greek female images. … [The central figures] embody the classical ideal of female beauty developed in the cultures of the ancient Mediterranean world; they belong to Picasso’s own tradition (indeed, they look like Picasso!). By contrast, the other standing figures are derived from non-Western sources—African or Pre-Columbian.

  • Peplos Kore, 530 BC, Greek

Fall of Western Ethnocentrism.

  • Picasso has intentionally juxtaposed Western and non-Western racial types to express the fall of Western ethnocentrism. First, the classical beauty symbolized by the central figures is contrasted with the angular forms of the other standing figures; then they are synthesized in the hybrid figure at the lower right. … In the "fall" of the classical figures we see the decline of a culture in which beauty is the object of serene contemplation. The ideal of female passivity is displaced by ideals of female activity and magical aliveness.” (Feldman, 1992, pp. 496­-497)

Directory: people -> thomas.leddy -> courses
courses -> Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche 1844 – August 25, 1900 Nietzsche’s Works
courses -> Heide Goettner-Abendroth: The Dancing Goddess. Principles of a Matriarchal Aesthetic
courses -> Richard Shusterman Form and Funk“ taken from “The Aesthetic Challenge of Popular Art,” 1991
courses -> Arthur Danto “Works of Art and Mere Real Things” 1981 Consider various all-red paintings that look exactly alike
courses -> David Alfaro Siqueiros (1896-1974)
courses -> Pythagoras 570 bce -495 bce pythagoras on ancient coins
courses -> Balitore Meeting House, County Kildare, Ireland Edmund Burke, book 1757
courses -> Feminist Art in U. S. began at csu, Fresno!
courses -> Leo Tolstoy "What is Art?" from the book by that name 1896
courses -> Carolyn Korsmeyer, 1950

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