We started the seminar by defining the meanings of both words. The conclusion that we came to was that formalism is all about shape, form, mass and colour, removing the artifact from all or as much of the contextual information as possible, provoking a visceral and non-intellectual reaction. Relativism is the opposite end of the spectrum, relying on the viewer’s knowledge and previous experience to place it in the world it sits in, creating a network of implications such as epoch, culture politics and representation that define the artifact.
We were asked to split into halves, choosing the side we thought best described our own work. although I wasn’t completely sure which side I belong on, I chose to argue for the side of formalism, because colour, form and shape are important in my work. The task was to choose 3 famous artists who fit into our category, and argue that they truly belonged there, while debunked the opposition’s arguments.
The relativism team chose to defend Alice Kettle, a textile artist who stitches politically informed illustration onto one side, but displays the side she has not seen. We argued that the practice she chose was based in formalism, but eventually they won that round.
Our team chose to defend Thomas Heatherwick, since the inception of his design work is rooted in experimentation and happenstance, which is the built upon to become something else.
Overall, the conclusion that we collectively came to is that one cannot exist without the other. Form exists in artistic choices such as practice, process, colour and material, but these choices do not exist in a vacuum and each choice we have is impacted by our previous experience. Each material will have a personal or cultural significance, as will a process or even a colour.
The moment someone sees an object or work, their mind immediately forms snap judgements and assess a wide variety of things in relation to their own body and memories. Some of these are intentional, such as colours evoking a positive/negative reaction, and others are purely coincidental.
A formalist response to a work, as far as I understand it, is when you look at something and it makes you feel something, but you don’t necessarily understand why, or have the words or memories to explain it, at least not right away. It’s something that removes itself from human limitations and becomes something else. It can often be confusing. On the contrary, a relativist response might occur when you have some knowledge about a subject, and you can appreciate it’s representative value, and its connotations in the real world and to you.
Somewhere in between these two is the perfect response; when an experience is ‘sublime’, the perfect combination of both types of concepts.
For the second part of the discussion, we were split into sections, choosing our priorities as makers, from; beauty; self-fulfillment; commercial gain and self expression. We argued why each point was the most important to us, and why they lean on each other to become one. My point was that culture is measured and remembered by the art that we leave behind, so I’d like to leave something of myself, and my generation, for people in the future to look back on. Commercial group was simply concerned about having enough money to live off, and self expression was concerned that their work conveyed the message that they wanted to be received. Self expression wanted to feel happy and proud of their own work, even if no one else were to see it.
From now on, I will try to be more aware of how my work will be perceived by the average viewer, and what implications all of my choices could have. I need to put more consideration into how each part of my work could be understood, or not understood, or how it might make the viewer feel.