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Related to formalism: structuralism, new criticism


1. Arts scrupulous or excessive adherence to outward form at the expense of inner reality or content
a. the mathematical or logical structure of a scientific argument as distinguished from its subject matter
b. the notation, and its structure, in which information is expressed
3. Theatre a stylized mode of production
4. (in Marxist criticism) excessive concern with artistic technique at the expense of social values, etc.
5. the philosophical theory that a mathematical statement has no meaning but that its symbols, regarded as physical objects, exhibit a structure that has useful applications


A style representing a new classicism in American architecture (1950–1965), manifested in buildings designed by Mies van der Rohe, Phillip Johnson, Paul Rudolph and Minuro Yamasaki.



a predominant attention to form over content in various areas of human activity. In human relations, formalism is manifested in a rigorous adherence to etiquette, ceremonies, and rituals, even when in a given situation they are meaningless, absurd, laughable, or overly dramatic. In such cases the observance of formal rules takes precedence over genuine human communication. In the areas of management and government, formalism is manifested in bureaucratism and in outwardly observing the letter of the law while completely disregarding its sense and spirit.

In the history of art, formalism has been manifested in a separation of form from content, in the assertion that form is the only valuable element in art, and accordingly, in a view that the artist’s perception of the world amounts solely to the abstract creation of form. Formalism emerged at a time when social conditions engendered among various social groups an attitude that favored the opposing of art to life, to practical activity, and to people’s true interests.

Formalist trends were apparent in 19th-century academicism, but formalism was manifested most consistently in such trends of 20th-century bourgeois art as cubism, cubo-futurism, dadaism, lettrisme, abstract art, pop art and op art, anti-theater, and the theater of the absurd. Formalism has thus proved to be one of the manifestations of the crisis in the bourgeois consciousness.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, numerous attempts were made to give formalism a theoretical foundation by the theorists of neo-Kantian aesthetics and by K. Fiedler (Germany), E. Hanslick (Austria), and R. Fry and H. Read (Great Britain). These scholars and thinkers viewed art as a superficial diversion involving only form, and as a means of creating allegedly pure aesthetic values that are free of any relation to moral, political, or practical content. Formalism has also been reflected in the methodology of art studies; an example is the formal method of literary theory and scholarship.

Marxist-Leninist aesthetics and literary and art criticism place a high value on the importance of form in art but at the same time have always waged a struggle against all manifestations of formalism, including aestheticism and the theory and practice of art for art’s sake. Marxist-Leninist aesthetics has shown that the formalist neglect of content undermines the social usefulness of art and art’s ability to participate in the social struggle and in education. Marxist-Leninist aesthetics has also emphasized that formalism has a destructive effect on the aesthetic values of art itself.


V. I. Lenin o literature i iskusstve, 3rd ed. Moscow, 1967.
Plekhanov, G. V. Iskusstvo i literatura. Moscow, 1948.
Modernizm: Sb. st. Moscow, 1973.
Kagan, M. S. Lektsii po marksistsko-leninskoi estetike, 2nd ed. Leningrad, 1971.
Medvedev, P. N. “Formalizm v zapadnoevropeiskom iskusstvovedenii.” In V laboratorii pisatelia. Leningrad, 1971.
Ohff, H. Anti-Kunst. Düsseldorf, 1973.


References in periodicals archive ?
Formulas are executed either on demand or because a dependent node or Visual Formalism has changed.
emerging trends of New Formalism and Establishment Clause Creep and
Recent work has looked at late 20th century formalism, contrasting techniques and tropes of representational painting with the pared down experimentation of formalism and considering the relationships between different modes of representation and the visual display of data.
In multi-modeling, several researches have focused on the study of the relationship between PN or other dynamic formalism and DEVS formalisms, since DEVS is considered as one of the basic modeling formalisms based on the unifying framework of general dynamic modeling formalism.
The textual formalism shows a partial function, which implies that if a member of the set X is related with a member of the set Y, then it may not be related more than once with a member of the latter set.
Since my aim in this article is to shed light on why aesthetic formalism has fallen on hard times, I am obliged to keep the discussion fluid enough to account for the breadth of formalism as an historical movement in aesthetics--or more specifically, three movements in the history of aesthetics: (1) formalism of the objective Platonic-Aristotelian variety; (2) formalism focused on securing freedom for artworks from social, religious, and moral criticism, as we find in the work of Roger Fry, Stuart Hampshire, and famously advocated by Oscar Wilde; and (3) formalism focused on delineation of what properly counts as an aesthetic property.
In the neo-Galilean formalism, known also as the Lorentzian interpretation of SR, length contraction and clock effects are real effects experienced by objects and clocks in motion relative to an actual 3-space, whereas in the Minkowski-Einstein spacetime formalism these effects are transferred to the metric of the mathematical spacetime, and then appear to be merely perspective effects for different observers.
It is easier to teach or argue the merits of formalism because the results literally call attention to themselves and, when early film theorists were justifying the artistic aspects of this new medium, they built their case upon the formalist approach of filmmakers such as Russia's Sergei Eisenstein's "Battleship Potemkin" (1925); its uniquely edited Odessa Steps sequence is one of the most famous scenes in cinema history.
With several panels and seminars devoted to it at recent early modern conferences, historical formalism might seem to be the latest candidate to replace New Historicism.
A significant figure of the Berkeley Renaissance in the 1940s and 1950s, Everson was one of those who rebelled agists the strictures of formalism in bringing his word painted images to paper.
Formalism is the belief that the schools should teach certain procedural skills--like reading and critical thinking--that can be transferred to any situation, and that the schools must avoid teaching "mere facts" or "mere knowledge.