Losing My Wings

Wilhelm Worringer's analysis of the Gothic

One of the reasons that Worringer’s analysis of the gothic has been so influential is that he doesn’t provide a systematic categorization of the Gothic; rather he attempts to define a “Gothic will to form” that characterizes Gothic art. This will to form appears earlier than the Gothic period, in Northern Europe ornamental art, and extends “to the present day” (38). Consequently, Worringer's analysis isn't what characters comprised art of a specific time period, but how certain forms Gothic art operated at a psychological or affective level to creative a specific style of expression throughout history. This strategy allowed him to counter predominant scholarship that primarily focused on renaissance art as the most influential form of art in European art history by identifying how Gothic art worked and why it still remains important to understand. Worringer worried that an emphasis on Renaissance as pinnacle of Western art might provide a constrictive normative judgment about aesthetics effectively precluding art from other periods and other cultures.

Worringer’s identification of a Gothic will to form begins with an analysis of lines found in Northern European ornamentation which offer the visual equivalent of a “ceaseless melody” (55). He begins this analysis by contrasting patterns found in Northern European and Classical ornamental art. Classical ornament,  Worringer claimed, structures lines through the use of symmetry in order to create a sense of organic unity. Northern ornament, however, used repetition to create a sense of unbridled change, what Worringer called an “uninterrupted, accelerating, mechanical movement” (56). This asymmetric line, then, found vitality by breaking the organic unity of the forms found in classical ornament. 

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