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Deep Formalism and the Emergence of Modernist Aesthetics


Michelle Gal

This book offers, for the first time in aesthetics, a comprehensive account of aestheticism of the 19th century as a philosophical theory of its own right. Taking philosophical and art-historical viewpoints, this cross-disciplinary book presents aestheticism as the foundational movement of modernist aesthetics of the 20th century. Emerging in the writings of the foremost aestheticists – Oscar Wilde, Walter Pater, James Whistler, and their formalist successors such as Clive Bell, Roger Fry, and Clement Greenberg – aestheticism offers a uniquely synthetic definition of art. It captures the artwork’s relations between form and content, art’s independent ontology and autonomy, art’s internal completeness, criticism, immunity to recruitment, the uniqueness of each medium, and musicality, as well as the logical-theoretical affiliation of art for art’s sake to epistemology, ethics and philosophy of language.
Those are used by Michalle Gal to formulate a definition of art in terms of a theory of Deep Formalism, setting aestheticism, which aspires to preserve the artistic medium, as a critique of the current linguistic-conceptual aesthetics that developed after the linguistic turn of aesthetics.
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I would like to thank Prof. Ofer Gal, without him this project would not have reached its final stages. I thank my best friends and colleagues: Dr. Dana Riesenfeld, which no text of mine leaves my desk before her eyes scrutinize it, and to Dr. Lyat Friedman, who has helped me to organize my thoughts while I was writing.

I thank the late Prof. Arthur Danto, who believed in this project, and encouraged me to write this book in a heartwarming way. I will miss him always. I thank Prof. Garry Hagberg, who read the first versions of the text, and offered his brilliant comments. I thank Prof. Moshe Zuckerman for the invaluable conversations on aestheticism and modernism, and for being a role-model for academic generosity. I would like to thank my much loved partner Prof. Guy Even, whose encouragement to focus on my research is very significant to me. I would like to thank Prof. Lydia Goehr, who “adopted” me during my Columbia days, witnessed the emergence of the ideas in the book, and has been a source of inspiration ever since. Last but not least, I can’t thank enough Prof. Anat Biletzki, who has always been my mentor, and taught me the foundation of philosophical thought.

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