CONTENT AND FORM IN LATVIAN ART THEORY IN THE FIRST THIRD OF THE 20TH CENTURY (Satura un formas attiecibu traktejums latviesu makslas teorija 20. gs. pirmaja tresdala)
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The idea of content and form being two separate components of the artistic image is a rather ancient legacy of European art theory. The origins of the notion of form can be found in classical sources; in a simplified way, content is what the artwork is 'about' and form relates to 'how' this content is made manifest. As noted by the Polish aesthetician Wladyslaw Tatarkiewicz, form can have at least five meanings. Form as opposed to content is only one possible reading; another no less important sense is the interpretation of form as the relationships of parts and their proportions. In the local art-theoretical material both the above-mentioned senses of form (form as style and form as relationships of parts) are largely blended together, speaking at the same time about perceptible formal qualities and the modes of their arrangement. Early 20th century theoretical thought is largely concerned with lessening the significance of content in art, especially 'significant' content as promoted by the academic tradition. It was replaced by everyday subjects considered equally significant by artists who stressed form as embodying the unique vision of the individual. From a Marxist viewpoint, symbolism was termed formalist although it is rather content-based in the context of other 20th century trends. In the early 1920s, when an open clash broke out between the 'old' academic art and the Riga Artists' Group, young artists tended to stress the importance of form, seemingly diminishing the role of content. The local scene was typified by the search for a midway between 'traditional' and radically innovative form, denouncing both the imitation of nature by 'old means' and 'contemporary' form lacking any deeper content.
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