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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
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005


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.
Illustrated Dictionary of Architecture Copyright © 2012, 2002, 1998 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All rights reserved
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



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.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
She also refutes formalist critic Tzvetan Tordorov who argues that readers lose their discriminating abilities in suspense, becoming just another character in the novel.
If the formalists were not formalist and the realists were not realists, then judicial-politics scholars--perhaps the largest group of social scientists who study judicial decision making--are off on the wrong track in taking the realist critique as their inspiration and the formalist approach as their target.
By and large, modern art does not lend itself to formalist critique; for many works, there is little of significant value to be found in them--like Readymades, Dada, and Pop Art--when viewed from such a perspective.
Tamanaha offers an abundance of fin-de-siecle articles and statements in which lawyers, scholars, and even judges openly acknowledge the existence of "judicial legislation," examples of which include passages from arch-"formalist" historical jurists Cooley and Dillon (pp.
Greenberg's criticism, which was published mainly in Partisan Review, The Nation, and Commentary, carried on a European formalist tradition that was led in the early 20th century by Roger Fry and Clive Bell.
Given these differences, Perciaccante argues that revivalism could not become a general movement until revivalists became less enthusiastic and more orderly in promoting conversions and, at the same time, formalist churches became more open to heightened religious emotion.
(1) The article translated here was written and published in French, and was clearly aimed at providing an overview of Formalist thought that would be available to a wider audience.
At the other end of the aesthetic scale is Ki-Yong Park's Camel(s), a black-and-white digital video production that suggests Abbas Kiarostami's more demanding and formalist work.
Singer believes formalist theorists that approach film from Marxist or psychoanalytic perspectives underplay the visual in film.
At this point, we began discussing the formalist aesthetic theory.
His rising repute as a "new formalist" poet carries forward this agenda.