Art Term

Significant form

Term coined by art critic Clive Bell in 1914 to describe the idea that the form of an artwork or forms within an artwork can be expressive, even if largely or completely divorced from a recognizable reality

Vanessa Bell, ‘Studland Beach. Verso: Group of Male Nudes by Duncan Grant’ c.1912
Vanessa Bell
Studland Beach. Verso: Group of Male Nudes by Duncan Grant c.1912
Tate
© Estate of Vanessa Bell, courtesy Henrietta Garnett
Duncan Grant, ‘Interior at Gordon Square’ c.1915
Duncan Grant
Interior at Gordon Square c.1915
Tate
© The estate of Duncan Grant
Roger Fry, ‘River with Poplars’ c.1912
Roger Fry
River with Poplars c.1912
Tate

Clive Bell’s theory of significant form was explained in his book Art published in 1914. He begins the book with the lines: ’ What quality is shared by all objects that provoke our aesthetic emotions?’. The answer, according to Bell, is ‘significant form’ which he goes on to loosely describe as: ‘lines and colors combined in a particular way, certain forms and relations of forms, [that] stir our aesthetic emotions’.

Bell was a member of the Bloomsbury Group in London, and his ideas can be seen reflected in artworks created by the artists associated with the Group.

  • See definition for form