Susan Sontag’s essay ‘On Style’ starts by analyzing how style is disregarded in the practice of art interpretation. The question of can form have content, and how crucially intertwined they are in their nature is securitized. By overlooking this concept it seems easy to disregard certain key elements of the work, and to misinterpret works as singular statements without a time and place in the history of art.
Sontag argues that the concept of style is overlooked in the aesthetic arts as a simple tool used by the artist, not as important or central to the work as it’s content. However, this form of thinking is rarely applied to other fields, specifically in that of literature, where it is commonly regarded that style and content are completely interlinked. To acknowledge style in art is also to acknowledge a historical and cultural significance, which is disregarded when looking at a work in terms of a ‘statement’. Historical changes can be traced through the styles changing in art, thus proving that by disregarding of such a key element is looking at work in a limited spectrum.
Our experience of artistic works is highly guided by the style of the artist. The experience of looking at scenes of violence or rape is not the same as being subjected to a firsthand experience, the concept of morality is obscured, and every element of the work becomes, in a sense, a fantasy. The content is wrapped in the aesthetic of the artist revealing through his use, either intentional or not, a specific personal judgment or opinion.
Sontag links the concept of the ‘will’ of the artist to their stylistic choices. Thus the hyperdevelopment of styles, such as Art Nouveau or impressionism, can partially be seen as a decisive move of the artist to apply his will to the work of art. Though style can be empathized, and though the skills of the talented artist developed, it cannot be taken away, and will inevitable effect our experience of the body of work and the individual piece.
Lastly, the concept of style does not limit itself to the arts, it is a crucial form in all our actions, from mannerisms to the decisive move to create a work of art. It is interconnected to our will, our output, and our history. The concept of style and content are thus intertwined, and should be treated as such.