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Modernist – Formalism

Modernist – Formalism












1.       Introduction

In this essay, I address the theme of formalism. I focus on the work of Piet Mondrian (Dutch, 1872-1944). Piet Mondrian’s works, they will be finding his concept to setup new philosophy in the Modernist time. The authors I use are Madan Sarup, Clement Greenberg and Philip Johnson.










A 1921 painting by Piet Mondrian: "Composition with red, yellow blue and black."

2.  Description and analysis formalism

It is well to remember that Mondrian’s artwork, which before being horizontal lines, and vertical lines and pure flat colors, on an essentially plan surface, colors assembled in a certain order. Modernism & Postmodernism Madan Sarup (India, 1930-1993) argues that “formalism, whose claims are based on immanent interpretation, is really a culturally, postmodernism is a repudiation of modernism” (Sarup, 1982: 73).

Firstly, stand a view in art theory, Piet Mondrian produced new stile of art philosophy-formalism during the end of 19century to the early of the 20century. His art of presentation style that it was seeking Utopian concept of holy explanation through equilibrate and pure color. The representation context came from Middle Ages European window of churches’ form and color - Christian art. He advocated unadulterated painting broad range to decrease the fundamentals of elements from structure and tint. The effected of approach from Picasso’s art philosophy. He said: “I love Picasso’s work.” When he talked about Picasso in Modernist art, his concepts contexts form the Platonic definition for Form to pursue and developed Paul Cézanne and Pablo Picasso as well. Mondrian is the concept that a work's artistic value is entirely determined by its form, such as Picasso’s work “The Aficionado”














Picasso,  The Aficionado  1912, Oil on canvas  Kunstmuseum Basle

The way it is made, they entirely visual features, and they medium. Greenberg's criticism, “which was published mainly in Partisan Review, The Nation, and Commentary, carried on a European formalist tradition that was led in the early 20th century” (Greenberg, 1988: 84). Mondrian’s work emphasizes compositional elements such as color, line, shape and texture rather than realism, context, and content.










Paul Cézanne, Garden-lauves Oil on canvas, 65.4 x 80.9 cm The Phillips Collection, Washington,

In visual art, Mondrian’s work is a concept that posits that everything necessary to comprehending a work of art is contained within the work of art. The context for the work, including the reason for its creation, the historical background, and the life of the artist, is considered to be of secondary importance. Mondrian is an approach to understanding art. Philip Johnson (USA, 1906-2005) & Architecture and new formalism in Johnson's projects represent “Johnson's significant break with his own past, a veritable rejection of Bauhaus modernism” (Philip, 1976: 67). Mondrian’s art works effect that the subjects of the visual arts should be their individual media. Painting should be about paint, and sculpture about the materials of sculpture. It follows that politics and storyline, as extraneous to the art media, debase the purity of visual art. Mondrian’s works evaluate art according to physical qualities, and treat the ideational content of works as irrelevant. Therefore, they view themselves as being mainly guardians and upholders of high aesthetic valuation.

Secondly, in history of formalism that the concept of Mondrian can be traced as far back as Plato, who argued that shape of a thing, included our perceptions of the thing, as well as those sensory aspects of a thing which the human mind can take in. Plato argued that “eidos included elements of representation and imitation, since the thing itself could not be replicated”. Subsequently, Plato believed that their intellectual abstraction was from the associations of everyday life, and its consequent impotence as an effectual form of community criticism. Its made an logical context In the philosophy that their "symbolic landscape" spoke a widespread language of natural forms that might be generally understood by any viewers competent of sense nature's splendor and power. Mondrian could not be expected to know that some modern artists sought to represent such things as Platonic forms, the achievement of spirit over matter, the reasonable relations of physical and ideal oppositions, or the representative contents of the combined lifeless.


3.  Formalism influence today

In the aesthetic philosophy of formalism influence nowadays , Mondrian’s artworks show that contemporary literary criticism, though it is ensconced in academic fields, tends to be complicit with market forces and the philosophy that maintain them. The concept of Mondrian in art continued to progress through the 20th century. Some art critics argue for a return to the Platonic definition for Form as a gathering of elements which untruly represent the thing itself and which are judged by art and sense processes. Mondrian art criticism is also subject to this charge, by without considerations of idea content and community context, it hidden the substantive concerns that artists normally sought to state in their works. As modernist art became more abstract, its symbolic content became more obscure.

Mondrian manipulated elements within a medium, context as an element of the artistic work. His focus was the aesthetic experience, in many ways, Mondrian without adopting the theory behind them. Today, we also would illustrate progressive, the avant-garde, as politically liberal in its hold of freedom of appearance and stress of equality. It was in the use of these rights that the artist always drew attention to the goals of Mondrian.

4.       Conclusion

As a result, Madan Sarup, Clement Greenberg and Philip Johnson each had a different view on formalism. However they all understood the aesthetic concept of application of formalism with a social meaning. Madan Sarup has shown an immanent interpretation on formalism. Clement Greenberg has pointed that formalist tradition that was led in the early 20th century. Philip Johnson & Architecture and new formalism is significant break with interrelation. I choose formalism of representation practitioner – Piet Mondrian and his artwork for this thesis. Because I think its are significant in culture meaning today, and they are affecting context of contemporary art and aesthetic of concept. The philosophy is applied to variety field. They are also influencing my art practice.










Luping Zeng,  Music 6#,  2006, Oil on canvas 102x150cm  


5.      Reference list:       

a)    Immersive ideals/critical distances,Viewed 18 March 2010,


b) Jason M. Walsh: Modern Manhattan, ACW, NCAD, December 2008 Viewed 20 March 2010,


c) Academy of achievement, Viewed 20 March 2010

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d) Picasso & Matisse, Viewed 20 March 2010


e) Webmuseum, Paris, Viewed 21 March 2010


f) Piet Mondrian biography, Viewed 28 March 2010

Posted by Luping (Bruce) Zeng on 4/12/10 | tags: conceptual modern

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