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Roger Fry’s ‘Difficult and Uncertain Science’

The Interpretation of Aesthetic Perception

Series:

Adrianne Rubin

This new study traces the development and evolution of the writings of Roger Fry (1866-1934), a highly influential art critic who introduced modern French painting to Britain in the early twentieth century. Through close analysis of his writings, the author examines the role that emerging psychological theories played in the formulation and expression of Fry’s aesthetic theories. She also discusses aspects of physiological psychology, Gestalt theory, psychoanalysis and adaptive psychology, arguing that detailed analyses of aesthetic perception comprise the core of Fry’s writings. Though he has rarely been credited with this goal, this volume shows that Fry sought to make art accessible to a wide audience and that highlighting the universal aspects of aesthetic perception was a means to this end.
The book offers a chronological study of select essays and lectures, both published and unpublished, written by Roger Fry between the 1890s and his death in 1934. Where relevant his writings are juxtaposed with those of other art critics and theorists to identify factors that shaped his thinking and his use of terminology and to clarify the critical context in which he was working. Since Fry’s work as a visual artist ran alongside his critical thinking, some attention is given to his paintings as a method of illustrating his practical experimentation with aesthetic principles, particularly formalist concepts.

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Chapter III The Perception of Significant Form: 1910-1915

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Chapter III The Perception of Significant Form: 1910–1915 It is here that I think we may find the main achievement of the Post- Impressionist artists, namely, that they have recognised that the forms which are most impressive to the imagination are not necessarily those which recall the objects of actual life most clearly to the mind. — Roger Fry, 19101 The Scope of Fry’s Activities The perceptual analysis in which Fry engaged in ‘An Essay in Aesthetics’ serves as the backdrop for his activities during the years 1910–1915. His writings continue to demonstrate a heightened focus on the perception of form, and in 1911 Fry introduces the crucial, if ambiguous, concept of ‘significant form’, the meaning of which will be explored herein. His organi- zation of the two Post-Impressionist exhibitions at the Grafton Galleries represents one manifestation of his formalist principles, as he sought to show the public and his fellow art critics exactly what it was he had been writing about. These years also saw the founding of Fry’s decorative arts firm, the Omega Workshops, which designed and manufactured items for the home, a f luid concept during the tenuous years of the First World War. Fry also painted prolifically during this period, in vastly divergent styles, which ref lect his varied pursuits at this, the height of his career. 1 Fry, ‘A Postscript on Post-Impressionism’, 537. 84 Chapter III Fry’s Translation of Maurice Denis’ ‘Cézanne’ One year after ‘An Essay in Aesthetics’ was published, Fry’s two-part...

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