Style – Ernst Gombrich

Gombrich attempts to define style, a very broad notion that applies to various fields. First, he states that a main characteristic of style is that it has to be distinctive. The etymology of the word “style”, from the latin “stilus” (a writing instrument) informs us on the fact that it has to do with something personal, individual. Then, trying to find an explanation for the changes in style, he evokes the fact that areas in which the style meets a satisfying functional aspect, are unlikely to evolve as fast as others, which seems quite logical. Nevertheless, because of the fashion and competition factors (that rarley depend on rational explanations), style may evolve so as to greatly surpass mere utility. Fashion and style have become such strong social factors that even a desire to ignore or refuse them operates as a fashionable or stylistic decision. However, Gombrich sets style in art aside from these social pressures. He then asserts that in art, a style can almost aways be seen as the utmost presentation of a movement as well a transitional phase – which I find his most interesting idea. Similarly, he claims that the XIXth Century can be seen as an attempt to use Hegel’s system’s structure with a reversal of its content.

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Style – Ernst Gombrich

Gombrich attempts to define style, a very broad notion that applies to various fields. First, he states that a main characteristic of style is that it has to be distinctive. The etymology of the word “style”, from the latin “stilus” (a writing instrument) informs us on the fact that it has to do with something personal, individual. Then, trying to find an explanation for the changes in style, he evokes the fact that areas in which the style meets a satisfying functional aspect, are unlikely to evolve as fast as others, which seems quite logical. Nevertheless, because of the fashion and competition factors (that rarley depend on rational explanations), style may evolve so as to greatly surpass mere utility. Fashion and style have become such strong social factors that even a desire to ignore or refuse them operates as a fashionable or stylistic decision. However, Gombrich sets style in art aside from these social pressures. He then asserts that in art, a style can almost aways be seen as the utmost presentation of a movement as well a transitional phase – which I find his most interesting idea. Similarly, he claims that the XIXth Century can be seen as an attempt to use Hegel’s system’s structure with a reversal of its content.

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Winckelmann: the ideal as opposed to the beautiful

In “The History of Ancient Art”, Winckelmann states that “The shape of beauty is either individual – that is, confined to an imitation of one individual – or it is a selection of beautiful parts from many individuals, and their union into one, which we call ideal, yet with theremark taht a thing may be ideal without being beautiful. The form of the Egyptian figures, in which neither muscles, tendons, nor veins are indicated, is ideal, but still it shapes forth no beauty in them; neither can the drapery of Egyptian female figures – which can only be imagined, and consequently is ideal – be termed beautiful”.

I find that idea very compelling. I understand the meaning of it to be that only what exists is beautiful. Therefore the art which consists of taking the most beautiful parts of various existing elements (draughtsmanship ?) is not about the beautiful but about the ideal ? I think it is an interesting contradiction, almost an irony. Does it also mean that ideas cannot be beautiful ?

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