The Life Forms in Art

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In this classic meditation on the problem of style in art history, Henri Focillon describes how art forms change over time. Although he argues that the development of art is irreducible to external political, social, or economic determinants, one of his great achievements was to lodge a concept of autonomous formal mutation within the shifting domain of materials and techniques. Focillon emphasizes the presence of nonsynchronous tendencies within styles that give to artworks a manifold and stratified character. The Life of Forms in Art remains one of the most brilliant and important reflections on the morphology of art. It has been superbly translated by George Kubler, whose book The Shape of Time was influenced by Focillon. The book also contains a critical introduction by Jean Molino. Henri Focillon (1881-1943) taught at the CollAge de France and at Yale University. His books include Art of the West. Romanesque and Gothic (2 vols.), The Year 1000, L'art des sculpteurs romans, and Piero della Francesca.