Friday, February 10, 2006

Significant form

click photo to enlarge
"Significant form" is the term the English art critic, Clive Bell (1881-1964), coined in his famous book on aesthetics, "Art" (1914). What he meant by it is "a combination of lines and colours (counting white and black as colours) that moves me significantly." Significant form, he further elaborated, "is the only quality common and peculiar to all the works of visual art that move me." Why he rejected the word "beauty" as unsatisfactory for describing this quality, he explains very clearly. Readers wanting to know more of his theories and views should click here. Those who think this sort of thing is airy-fairy nonsense should probably stop reading now!

I came across Bell's theories a number of years ago, and they came to mind again when I was looking at some photographs I had taken of a balustrade on a bridge in Stanley Park, Blackpool. I make no great claims for the artistic merit of this picture. However, it does have some qualities that please me. I think these derive from the repetition of a pleasing shape, the contrast and texture produced by the algal growth, the colour range of the photograph, the colours and shapes made by the ripples in the water, and the difference between the defined foreground and the less substantial background.

Sometimes it's extremely hard to describe the factors that make a particular photograph or work of art appealing. But it is worth trying because it enlarges our understanding of what artists do, and can help us to make better photographs and art ourselves. And sometimes the abstruse writings of cerebral critics, surprisingly, can help us in this as well!
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen