Published Humanitas, Volume XII, No. 2, 1999

Formalists such as Dziemidok, Greenberg, Fry, Bell, Prall, Fried, Fiedler, Kant and others separate the aesthetic and the ethical. In this article I argue that moral considerations may play a decisive role in our appreciation of particular works of art. My argument involves a close examination of a particular painting, La mort de Marat (The Death of Marat) by the French painter Jacques-Louis David.

 A Brief Overview of Formalism

Bohdan Dziemidok, in a scholarly paper, has proposed an “aesthetic formalism” based on the primacy or exclusivity of the perceptual or sensual structure of art.1 Invoking David Prall’s notion of “aesthetic surface,” Dziemidok favourably reviews the claim that “the aesthetic strictly (properly understood) is what is apprehended directly and immediately by sensation.”2 This formalist view of painting is hardly unprecedented…

This is a preview. Read the full article here.