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Roger Fry’s ‘Difficult and Uncertain Science’

The Interpretation of Aesthetic Perception


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The book offers a chronological study of select essays and lectures, both published and unpublished, written by Roger Fry between the 1890s and his death in 1934.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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‘Abstract and Representational’ (Greenberg) 226 ‘Abstract Art’ (Greenberg) 223, 226 abstraction biomorphic 110, 224 n119 design and 116 geometric 115, 135, 224 Greenberg on 222–4, 231–2 Kandinsky and 110–16 Reed on 137, 232–3 unity and 115 views of 81, 107–10 Abstraction and Empathy (Worrin- ger) 59–60, 66 n82, 215 n77 Acton, Mary 237 actual life 51, 68, 153, 154, 190 adaptation James on 142, 190, 191, 195 theory of 189–91 aesthetic emotion example of 66, 66 n84 intellect and 109 n97 James on 62–3 proper object of 76 significant form, relationship with 96 views on 91, 183 aesthetic experience 76, 230 aesthetic judgments 20 n45, 76–8 Aesthetic Movement 150 aesthetic perception analysis of 2, 6–8, 11 of artists 46–7 aesthetic psychology 9 aesthetics altered spelling of 148 n38 applied 35 psychological compared to philosophical 3 as purely practical 35 n110 Aesthetics and Psychology (Mauron, C.) 182–3 aesthetic satisfaction 154, 167 alert passivity 19 Allied Artists exhibitions 110, 112 n102, 140, 202 American Abstract Expressionists 222, 222 n108 ‘American Art’ (Fry, R.) 176 Analysis of Sensations (Mach) 149 anarchy 87–8 Anrep, Helen 141, 150, 186, 208 Anscombe, Isabelle 132 n132 Apollonian poets 180–1 applied aesthetics 35 archaeology 174–6 ‘Architectural Heresies of a Painter’ (Fry, R.) 78, 104, 151 Aristotle 75 Arnold, Matthew 109, 211 n58 art art for art’s sake 150 biology and 178, 185 criticism 165, 165 n100 Gestalt theory and 149–50 as imitation...

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