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LA Review of Books: Actually, Images Have Meanings of Their Own

By Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe
Los Angeles Review of Books

Against Affective Formalism by Todd CronanHENRI MATISSE received considerably less critical attention during the last half of the 20th century than either Pablo Picasso, primary point of reference for the New York School painters of the ’50s, or, for the rest of the century, Marcel Duchamp. Picasso was thought of as muscular and Duchamp as cerebral. Matisse was felt to be neither, more concerned with the ornamental than either the tough or the very clever. However, in 1998, Hilary Spurling’s two-volume Matisse the Master was published to much acclaim and public interest, confirming that it was now possible to sell a big book about him.[1] That this might even mean a change in his relative status was confirmed, in a limited way, in 2003, when the Matisse Picassoexhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York provided an occasion for intellectually influential people who would have said no such thing 30 years earlier to publicly agree that Matisse looked the stronger of the two.

Alongside this revival in the public sphere, even anticipating it to some extent, less mainstream critics and theorists also took an — in some cases for them unprecedented — interest in Matisse. This was stimulated or informed by Gilles Deleuze’s work, in particular his use of Henri Bergson, and it is their theories of affect that constitute the “affective formalism” which Todd Cronan is “against.” Those who don’t follow philosophical fashion may not know that “The Affective Turn” is an expression used by followers of Deleuze to describe their interest in pursuing affect, and its use extends far beyond art.[2] Matisse’s revival coincided with Deleuze’s influence being at its height, and Bergson had a close relationship with and influence on Matisse.

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Against Affective Formalism