Clive Bell’s Essay on Art

In his essay, entitled “Art,” Clive Bell proposes that there is one
element that coheres all works of art considered great in the world.
“There must be some one quality without which a work of art cannot exist;
possessing which, in the least degree, no work is altogether worthless.
What is this quality'”In other words, Bell accepts that there must be
some aesthetic standards by which to judge all works of art.However, Bell
acknowledges that the body of art produced in and by the world’s artists is
multifaceted in its character, depending on the era when it was produced,
the artist who produced it, and the medium in which it was produced.
Early on in his essay, Bell states that to define the core query
behind all of art criticism is to ask, “What quality is shared by all
objects that provoke our aesthetic emotions'”It is not enough to say that
adherence to reality or beauty is the standard, otherwise a functional
Persian bowl might be ranked above a masterpiece of fruit in a bowl painted
by Cézanne. Bell states, “only one answer seems possible – significant
form. In each, lines and colors combined in a particular way, certain forms
and relations of forms, stir our aesthetic emotions.”
Thus, although the use of the termsignificant form’ might on its
surface to suggest that the standards Bell judges works of art by are quite
standardized.But really, what “significant form” means is the visceral
yet aesthetic impression that a work of art is apt to have upon a gazer.
This is why, for Bell, “people who respond immediately and surely to works
of art;;in my judgment, [are] more enviable than men of massive intellect
[who are] are often quite as incapable of talking sense about aesthetics.”
Bell defends the common gazer, in essence, who looks upon a piece of art
and intuitively responds to its construction.For instance, Bell might say
that the p…

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