SQ3R – Formalism, Modernism and Modernity

Trying out the SQ3R method with chapter 2 (Formalism, Modernism and Modernity) of Art History: The Basics, pp.33-47

To see how I do with this exercise, I will explore each of the six steps carefully and reflect on how I feel about each one, how I can improve and how each might help me in future reading.

It is very hard to avoid careful reading and need to continuously remind myself to simply skim over the pages for the first step. I think this is because I’m so used to concentrating all my attention while reading that I find it boring to just skim a text. I need to find the balance between reading too deeply (that I might not get the general idea of a whole chapter) or reading too shallowly (that I might not understand anything at all). I can see the potential of skimming a selection of various texts and deciding which would suit me better without having to read all of them completely.

I can understand that the general idea of this chapter deals with explaining what formalism means in art. Basically, it is a way to analyse art through composition, form and medium rather than subject matter or context. The authors use examples of paintings, sculptures, and abstract art to support this idea. We then read about how formalism evolved once avant-garde art and modernism came to existence.

  • What is formalism?
  • When did the avant-garde movement arise?
  • What is the difference between semi-figurative and semi-abstract?
  • Does abstract art convey more of a visual response than figurative art?
  • Why did artists begin to focus less on a narrative and more on an exploration of form?
  • How can we compare art made with different mediums or within different genres?
  • What was the ‘crisis of taste’?
  • Who were the some of the artists involved in the avant-garde movement?
  • Who was Greenberg and what were some of his opinions?
  • Are aesthetic qualities more important than subject matter?
  • What is the ‘white cube hang’?
  • Why did Modernism begin to reject these ideas and focus more on social context and concept?

I answered most of my questions while re-reading the text, now more deeply and carefully. I think the main advantage of this method is that I took a moment to ask myself what I want to learn from the text, and from there I determined what sections I should read several times or what topics I should continue researching. However, I found it incredibly time-consuming and I wonder if its advantages outweigh the disadvantages. It took me two days to go through one single chapter, something I normally do in a few hours when it comes to a text I really need to understand. I think the most important step I can take into my current reading style is the Question step, but the others didn’t really work for me yet. Rather than helping me absorb the information more carefully, I got distracted more easily. I will give this method a second chance, however, at another time with another text and record my results.


Pooke, G. and Newall D. (2008) Art History: The Basics [e-book] (Accessed on 13 December 2016)




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