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Against Affective Formalism: Matisse, Bergson, Modernism Paperback – April 1, 2014
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-Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe, The Los Angeles Review of Books
Cronan demonstrates his mastery [of the..] dense philosophical abstractions layered across recent thinking...about mimesis. But what this book is really 'about' is Matisse....And its analyses of individual pictures make this essential reading for Matisse specialists as well as for art-historians with wider interests...Thanks to Cronan's sensitive and subtle reading of the pictures themselves, Matisse's place in the history of modernism has been intellectually and aesthetically redefined.
Cronan's masterful history of affective modernism demonstrates surprising continuities between modernism and postmodernism. He effectively challenges Bois and company's auto-parodic interpretations of Matisse's painting...[and] Cronan replaces this kind of analysis with a brilliantly original reading of Matisse's career in terms of an oscillation between absorptive and autonomous form, which he interprets in terms of a rigorous exploration of the nature of expression.
- T. J. Clark, "The Urge to Strangle," The London Review of Books
From the Back Cover
Todd Cronan's juggernaut is several books in one. In the first place, it historicizes a crucial question in contemporary esthetics, whether or not a beholder's experience of a work of art can properly be understood as affective rather than as cognitive. Second, it offers a strong rereading of various writings by Henri Bergson - whose philosophy has often between associated with the art of Matisse - with respect to that and related issues, showing in the end that although Bergson was continually tempted by the affective position, he never quite definitely succumbed to it (to his credit, Cronan suggests). Third and most important, Cronan tracks the interplay between the affective and cognitivist viewpoints in the theory and practice of one of the great painters of the twentieth century, Henri Matisse; this involves close looking at a wide range of paintings that have never before been considered in this light, and it also sets Cronan on a collision course - from which he does not flinch - with the almost uniformly affective bias of recent Matisse criticism. The book concludes with a brilliant chapter on Paul Valéry, in whose writings the conflict between cognitivism (or intentionalism) and affect emerges in a manner that remains paradigmatic for developments to come. I have no hesitation in stating that Against Affective Formalism is a major achievement, and I look forward with fascination to its reception by a field that is likely to be transformed by it.
-Michael Fried, Johns Hopkins University
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