Welcome, s. dragos. 'Formalism' doesn't have a fixed, single sense. Consider the following:
I suggest that, in the theory of value and
valuation of art work, we provisionally define
formalism as a theory according to which the
value of a work of art qua artwork - its artistic
value-is constituted exclusively (radical version) or primarily (moderate version) by its formal aspects. Its "meaning" or its (conceptual,
cognitive, material, etc.) "content" has no important consequences for its value. Hence, only
the formal aspects should be considered as criteria of artistic excellence. Aestheticians and art
theoreticians use the concept of "form" (and its
correlatives, such as "meaning," "content,"
"matter," "fabric") in many different senses.
British aesthetician David Pole, for example,
characterizes "form" as a "polar term" which
"has its meaning bound up with its correlates."
He mentions three possibilities: "form as opposed to matter," "form as opposed to content,"
and "form as opposed to formlessness." In addition to these three basic ways of understanding
form, Pole suggests a fourth possibility: "form
as structure" where structure "is constituted by
a system of relations, and it is opposed to content, what they relate. (D. Pole, Aesthetics, Form and Emotion (London:
Duckworth, 1983), p. 81 cited in Bohdan Dziemidok, 'Artistic Formalism: Its Achievements and Weaknesses', The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 51, No. 2, Aesthetics: Past and Present: 185.)
Dziemidok continues (giving the term a general meaning despite these distinctions) :
According to formalists, in our experience and
appreciation of a work of art we should concentrate exclusively (or mostly) on its formal aspects,
i.e., (when formal aspects are broadly under-
stood) not only on the arrangement, construction, or composition of elements (e.g., sensual
qualities or words), but also on those very sen-
sual qualities (sounds, colors, pitches, rhythms,
dynamics, bodily movements, etc.). According
to them, this should be so because it is only
when we act this way that we value the work of
art as a work of art, that is, as an art object
which is autonomous and self-sufficient. It is
only its formal properties which are relevant for
its aesthetic-i.e., unique, truly significant for
art-value (= artistic value). (Dziemkdok: 187.)
The more we stress the content of a work of art - as in socialist realism or Dickens' novels of social critique - the less significant and satisfying formalism will be. In its major forms socialist realism (to take one operative contrast) has no time for 'art for art's sake'. Art has a purpose, namely to portray the life
of the working class, the peasantry and the intelligentsia under socialism and to envisage the future possibilities of socialism. This content caps the material ('matter') from which a work of art is made as it caps also the artist's intention ('meaning') or the work's 'structure' or organised relationships. 'Formless' art has no content and so cannot serve a purpose of social critique.
I am not expressing my own views here, merely trying to point some of formalism's many contrasts with socialist realism, which I have chosen as a stalking horse.