In his Charles Eliot Norton Lectures, the Russian-born American painter Ben Shahn sets down his personal views of the relationship of the. The Shape of Content has ratings and 25 reviews. the Russian-born American painter Ben Shahn sets down his personal views of the relationship of the. Get this from a library! The shape of content. [Ben Shahn] — “Mr. Shahn sets forth his views on both the practice and the purposes of art with a clarity, cogency.

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Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read. Want to Read saving…. Want to Read Currently Reading Read. Refresh and try again. Open Preview See a Problem? Thanks for telling us about the problem. Return to Book Page. The Shape of Content by Ben Shahn. In his Charles Eliot Norton Lectures, the Russian-born American painter Ben Shahn sets down his personal views of the relationship of the artist–painter, writer, composer–to his material, his craft, and his society.

He talks of the creation of the work of art, the importance of the community, the problem of communication, and the critical theories governing the a In his Charles Eliot Norton Lectures, the Russian-born American painter Ben Shahn sets down his personal views of the relationship of the artist–painter, writer, composer–to his material, his craft, and his society.

He talks of the creation of the work of art, the importance of the community, the problem of communication, and the critical theories governing the artist and his audience. Paperbackpages. Published January 1st by Harvard University Press first published To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about The Shape of Contentplease sign up. Lists with This Book. May 18, Michael rated it really liked it Shelves: This is a short book of essays based on lectures delivered by the artist at Harvard in I am always a sucker for attempts to elucidate the mystery of artistic creation and identify how much art may be bound up with the core of human nature.

While we wait for any convincing account by sociobiologists that art matters for our biological evolution, it is reassuring to get an angle on its importance for our cultural evolution.

I have always believed that the character of a society is largely shaped and unified by its great creative works, that a society is molded upon its epics, and that it imagines in terms of its created things—its cathedrals, its works of art, its musical treasures, its literary and philosophical works. Shahn spends some time on the struggle to assure the embrace of arts included immersion creative practice and not just art history and scholarly analysis.

In my own experience as a biology major at a liberal arts college, I feel I benefitted greatly from taking elective courses on sculpture and playing table. Thus, he is preaching to the choir for me on the essay on art in education. Similarly, his essay of advice on prospective artists pursuing an education might be of more value to someone in that camp.

I see that as comparable to the inseparability of nature and nurture in biology. Regardless, there is much history of playing one against the other and minimalizing one of the other as primal impulse. Despite all the movements in art toward the plane of the abstract, Shahn argues for the ideas embodied in art as retaining a supreme value. The very denial of content in the drippings of Pollock or boxes of Albers stands in context of all that preceded them And that the particular content of a great work of art has its special impact by walking the line between the particular and the universal.

For form is not just the intention of content; it is the embodiment of content. Form is based, first, upon a supposition, a theme. Form is, second, a marshaling of materials, the inert matter in which the theme is to be cast. Form is, third, a setting of boundaries, of limits, the whole extent of idea, but no morean outer shape of an idea. Form is, next, the relating of inner shapes to the outer limits, the initial establishing of harmonies. Form is, further, the abolishing of excessive content, of content that falls outside the true limits of the theme.

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Against this thesis, Shahn has to contend with the pervasive school of criticism which he identifies in this credo of Clive Bell: The representative element in a work of art may or may not be harmful, but it is always irrelevant. For to appreciate a work of art, we must bring with us nothing from life, no knowledge of its affairs and ideas, no familiarity with its emotions.

Shahn is the type of artist who puts a lot of political perspectives into his own art. For example, he describes how he was led to subjects of the Dreyfus Affair, the Sacco-Vanzetti case, and atrocities of World War 2 for some of his work.

Many of those names that, during the thirties, had been affixed to paintings of hypothetical tyrannies and theoretical cures were now affixed to cubes and cones and threads and swirls of paint. Part of that work was—and is—beautiful and meaningful; part of it does indeed constitute private experience.

The Shape of Content by Ben Shahn

A great part of it also represents only the rejection, only the absence of self-commitment. In fact, he wanted to capture in as simple way as possible the monstrous horror of fire to a family. An overall form in the painting he later identified as subconscious is that of the Roman she-wolf that instead of suckling Romulus and Remus holds danger of devouring them instead, linked perhaps to fears of wolves inculcated into him from folktales from his Lithuanian childhood.

The interchange of unique individual experience and communal values among the viewers is captured nicely in the following: One has sympathy with a hurt person, not because he is a generality, but precisely because he is not.

Only the individual can imagine, invent, or create. The whole audience of art is an audience of individuals. I found a lot of common sense to his piece on evaluating art. Picasso is an artist, and Dali is not. No one can deny supreme skills at work are at play even in Pollock and Albers. Conveying an idea or theme, even if it is an anti-idea bound in abstract minimalism, is a value he also appreciates, but ease of communication is not necessarily a virtue.

Unfortunately, an important value for most critics including the inner critic artists must nurture is that of novelty and innovation: Under such necessity art can be pushed to meaningless extremes.

And it is a constant struggle to wrench out of the paint tube something that is still newer than new. Of course, when such work becomes dated, its emptiness emerges, for nothing is so hard to look at as the stylish, out of date. Other values used in assessing artistic worth are more variable: They are fortuitous values; they may be within the work or they may be within the viewer. Such values are the passing vagaries of taste; they are sometimes the principles deduced by art historians, such as the authenticity of the work; or they may be concerned with the curious accumulation of money value, but they are not innate.

Then there are the formal values, inseparable from the work, but sometimes amenable to objective or comparative evaluations. I particularly appreciated the way Shahn spoke of the value of freedom in art: The concept of freedom cotent art takes interesting forms: Art becomes increasingly free; it has freed itself of craft, freed itself from academic discipline, freed itself from meaning in many cases, and freed itself of responsibility. I too cherish the word freedom.

But I want to be free to be painstaking if I want to, to be responsible, to be involved; to be free to exercise whatever intellect I may have, and I consider both discipline and craft indispensable to freedom.

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View all 6 comments. Nov 17, Laurie Holding rated it really liked it. One of my favorite human beings recommended ths book to me back in shap late 70’s and I only grazed upon it then, too busy with the reading and writing of academic obligations.

And a true artist, to boot. I thank them both, for letting me house this little volume in my house for One of my favorite human beings recommended this book to me back suape the late 70’s and I only grazed upon it then, too busy with the reading and writing of academic obligations. I thank them both, for letting me house this little volume in my house for the past, what, FOUR decades. It made me think again. I will mail it to him right away, but in the meanwhile, here’s yhe favorite quote from The Shape of Content: View all 3 comments.

The Shape of Content

Apr 26, Andrew Martin rated it it was ok Shelves: Shape of Content does not xhahn 1. The last essay, “Education of an Artist,” has some choice excerpts destined to be reborn as rebloggable tumblr directives Go to an art school, or two, or three, or take art courses at night if necessary. And paint and paint and draw and draw. Know all that you can, both curricular and noncurricular — mathematics and physics and economics, logic, and particula As much love as I have for Ben Shahn Farewell to New York Handball.

Know all that you can, both curricular and noncurricular — mathematics and physics and economics, logic, and particularly history. Oct 07, Joe rated it really liked it.

THE SHAPE OF CONTENT by Ben Shahn | Kirkus Reviews

I just finished this book last week on the recommendation of a friend. It’s a book that I really enjoyed reading. I have shann soft-spot for essays, which I consider one of the purest literary forms. Having a book full of conteht by someone so likable and immediate as Ben Shahn makes this an easy read. Hearing someone accomplished talk about their craft with love and conviction is always enjoyable, especially when they can do so with a compelling narrative style as Shahn does.

His thoughts are wide I just finished this book last week on the recommendation of a friend. I haven’t read too much on art, but this book makes me want to read more.

There are some excellent thoughts in here, but even in the plainer moments the essays evoke that milky-nostalgia of the creative process. Anyone who has tried to create will appreciate The Shape of Content shale should give it a read. Sep 21, Tessa rated it really liked it. I adored this book.

If you ARE an artist— especially one who has ever felt limited by labels that feel arbitrary or never quite right, one who has felt invalidated by art critics, one who has ever wondered WHAT to do or HOW to do, contsnt how contfnt do in the I adored this book. If you ARE an artist— especially one who has ever felt limited by labels that feel arbitrary or never quite right, one who has felt invalidated by art critics, one who has ever wondered WHAT to do or HOW to do, especially xontent to do in the face of society, read this.

To me, this felt like a book of affirmations. It was educational, of course, and I was exposed to a few ideas that I had never considered before. I felt like Fhe had gone to the office hours of a friendly professor after a rough semester and been told all the things I desperately needed to hear.

If you need inspiration, education, and a little kick in the butt, this book is perfect.