Style And Aesthetics Essay, Research Paper
Meyer Schapiro, “Style” in Aesthetics Today, ed. Morris Philipson (Chicago, 1953).
Schapiro’s essay, “Style,” deals with the much broader relationship between style and its cultural history. His overall claim seems to be that the content of art functions as part of a “dominant set of beliefs, ideas, and interests [that are] supported by institutions and the forms of everyday life,” and that these in turn shape what we know as the common style. However, he also mentions many specialized theories dissecting the development and organization of style through time, and yet these do not distract the reader from the controlling theme in that they serve to support the idea that there are many parts to a whole. As a reader, I came to the conclusion that it is in fact very difficult to systemize style in one or a few formulas, and that despite a complicated understanding of all the avenues of dissection, Schapiro did achieve his greater claim through the individual representation and combined confusion of its many parts.
To the art historian, “style,” is important in determining the date, period, and/or origin of an artwork, and in doing so involves some mode of measurement and recognition of universally understood system of forms. This also brings to mind the stressed importance on the style-dependent value of a work of art. Here, the style surrounding the artist and his/her work involves the culture(s) existing within it. Thus, the style of an art is directly related to its value and importance in the art world.
Although classical styles are thought to be more boundary-specific than more modern ones, and thus easier to recognize and classify, we can’t ignore their fluidity into other surrounding styles not just of their time period, but also well into the modern forms of art. Traditionally, “style” may have been period/time-specific and culture-specific, but that is within a limited range of study. Contemporary styles and art attest to a less rigid and transverse definition of style. The lines between periods and different styles are characteristically less distinct, blending and continuing throughout the spectrum of time and place. However, many times history plays a significant role in its conception and understanding. Only with time and some distance from past styles can one observe the similarities and differences of the old and the new forms of style, and that is why it isn’t easy to predict a future style in exaction.
In light of the diverse theories to define style, Schapiro offers a broad, more stable criteria, and that is in looking at three aspects of art: form elements/motives, form relationships, and qualities or “expressions.” If works of art share these aspects, they also share a common language and “internal order” that connects them to a certain style. I would also tend toward these more general definitive criteria in placing a particular style to an artwork.
I think that it is much easier to direct the relationship from the style to the art rather than have the artwork be placed within a particular style. Thus, in defining a style, it may be more effective to have it explain the art (having many parts and styles) instead of looking at the art to explain the style. This goes along with the idea that the feel of the whole is found in the small parts, and so looking at the details (works) helps the viewer or art historian understand the bigger picture (style). In looking at modern art for example, there exists an increasing stylistic variability and heterogeneous art style. This in turn leads to a more refined conception of style in that a shift occurs from the large to smaller forms as the whole or style becomes more complex as with modern art.
The purpose of Schapiro’s essay for the art historian concerns its future. I think he is calling for a break from traditional methods of investigating and determining style for value purposes. Since individual “freedom of choice” and modern culture permits a greater mix of styles, the older systems of defining specific styles become obsolete. It may however, be very difficult to change something that has been so ingrained into the institutional norm of academic minds especially when it concerns the more historical styles of the past, and the almost-universally understood values placed on each. “Value” is so important in this society that to “modernize” mindsets about its relationship to style would be a long road in taking to the future.
In terms of style and the way it functions, one must look at it as a means of communication and common language. Once again looking at the smaller parts of the whole, style works to relate and communicate between works of art under a bigger language of styles. The system of devices working within a particular style conveys a message to the larger group. The work attributes itself to a “qualitative whole,” and brings a qualitative value to a style. In the past, the most successful in communicating the certain language of style has been repeated and thus developed into a norm. Not only can an artwork communicate a style, but the influence of a style on a work or an artist within the current or past style is possible as well. Therefore, I think that the relationship is bi-directional in nature and in construction.
Schapiro had also mentioned in his essay specific theories of styles such as the organic, cyclical, polar, material, and dominant-personality, as well as other parts dealing with the patterns of art within each of the time/place, social, and cultural structures. The development of style through these patterns or systems are not so much weighted one more than the other, but taken as a collective whole by the readers as Schapiro presents each in its own section. Therefore, one sees the explanation of styles from a broader worldview or mode of thought so that the greater purpose of revealing further levels of meaning in art is realized.