Definition of formalist in US English:



  • 1A person who adheres excessively to prescribed forms.

    ‘to the strict formalist, the law is the law’
    • ‘Formalists claim that legal realism is not true to the rule of law; realists respond that formalism isn't how the law really works.’
    • ‘Outside the English-speaking world, the most important such critical tradition has been that of the Russian formalists—a label applied to two groups of linguistic and literary scholars.’
    • ‘The language was invented by logical formalists to bring their formalisms to bear on actual programming.’
    • ‘It includes a great number of poets who started as formalists and moved into free verse.’
    • ‘That sets the language up for a tug-of-war between practical programmers and formalists.’
    • ‘The debate between realists and formalists takes a remarkably similar form in the humanities and the sciences.’
    • ‘They were so outraged by the defendant that they became the most rigorous legal formalists imaginable.’
    • ‘They build on the work of formalist Propp, whose "grammar" of folktales describes basic motifs and their possibilities of combination.’
    • ‘Pylades is a legal formalist who cannot see behind or beyond Apollo's words.’
    • ‘For others, and particularly the formalists, there was virtually nothing but terminology.’
    1. 1.1 A follower or advocate of the basing of ethics on the form of the moral law without regard to intention or consequences.
      • ‘What's strange about my being identified as a "formalist" is that a lot of my work is about the need for philosophical frameworks to be sensitive to moral and political issues.’
      • ‘The difference between the tax collectors and harlots who entered the kingdom, and the religious formalists who were shut out, is very simple.’
      • ‘Formalists might find it too ideological to allow proper respect for the facts.’
      • ‘The persons warned are neither mere hypocrites, nor mere formalists.’
      • ‘In castigating the Pharisee's superficial piety, Bunyan is again denouncing the formalists.’
      • ‘The heist sequence circles the formalist Melville back to the place where realism and formalism intersect.’
      • ‘He is undoubtedly a humanist, the way he ties his characters together, but he is also a burgeoning formalist, judging by this film.’
      • ‘We see this as no less isolated than the pure, autonomous kind admired by formalists, but concerned for humanity and possibly good for us over the long haul.’
      • ‘The ethics of literature, formalists have insisted, resides in the moral quality of a character, a story, perhaps the relation between author and reader.’
      • ‘Soldiers are no formalists—they did not need a Congress of Soviets in order to overthrow Kerensky.’
    2. 1.2 An artist who is excessively concerned with form, technique, or symbolism rather than content.
      ‘a conventional formalist who would reduce painting to its essential qualities’
      • ‘He believed that painting was still capable of doing the work of narrative content and figuration that formalists such as Greenberg had assigned to photography.’
      • ‘Commentators from Plato to the formalists of today have said that a work of art is not to be identified absolutely with an object that shares ordinary space with us.’
      • ‘In the painting, eight taxicab-yellow bars vibrate against an industrial-silver ground in an update of the formalist's "push-pull" effect.’
      • ‘These paintings, all vertical and dated 2000, come in a broader array of colors than Sims usually exhibits together, perhaps a formalist's nod to diversity.’
      • ‘All constitute a style invoking that of the Russian formalist Sergei Eisenstein, who believed in using tactical camera maneuvers to make the familiar strange.’
      • ‘He is not a conventional formalist who would reduce painting to its essential qualities.’
      • ‘He proves himself beyond a doubt an extremely gifted formalist who explores his medium in the moment, exploiting all the pleasures it has to offer.’
      • ‘He is a historically totalizing formalist who sums up the possibilities for painting to "represent" in an irrevocably mediated cultural environment.’
      • ‘One shouldn't write him off as a lightweight formalist—with his choice of subject matter, the sculptor clearly aims at some elemental themes.’
      • ‘Never exclusively a formalist, this artist is enmeshed in and driven by a complex web of personal and social relationships.’
    3. 1.3 An advocate of the treatment of mathematics as a manipulation of meaningless symbols.
      • ‘To formalists, it makes no sense to talk about whether the continuum hypothesis is true or false.’
      • ‘The mathematics of the formalists deals only with symbols and formulae that have no independent meaning.’
      • ‘Logicists set out to reduce mathematics to logic, while formalists appealed to the practice of manipulating characters in rule-governed ways.’
      • ‘The formalists would be unable to demonstrate the consistency of mathematics.’
      • ‘The connection between the world of nature and the structure of mathematics is totally irrelevant to the formalists.’
      • ‘Intuitionists and formalists differ on the source of the exact validity of the mathematical sciences.’
      • ‘Formalists take the position that mathematical statements don't have an intrinsic truth or falsity.’
      • ‘There are certainly mathematical logicians who are formalists, even in the light of the incompleteness theorems.’
      • ‘Formalists seek to express mathematics as strictly formal logical systems, and to study them as such, without concern for their meaning.’
      • ‘The formalists hoped to express the mathematics of infinite sets in such a system, and to establish the consistency of that system by finite methods.’


  • Relating to or supporting principles of formalism.

    ‘formalist arguments’
    ‘his is a formalist approach, describing the art in terms of composition and content’
    • ‘In these paintings, a formalist sensibility seems to have been invaded by cosmic forces.’
    • ‘Once an abstractionist, he exchanged the formalist grid for a metaphorical "grid" of human interdependencies.’
    • ‘In some way, his pertinence had to be crucial to the question of extreme functionalism in relation to a supposedly formalist modernism.’
    • ‘The formalist pieces, they of the universal spiritual titles, are simple flat discs of granite, roughly hewn.’
    • ‘Her project enables her to meld an appreciation for handmade domestic crafts with the austere traditions of formalist abstraction.’
    • ‘Perhaps his great technical skill, once associated with formalist practice, is now in the service of deep sentiment.’
    • ‘Regardless of such formalist elisions, this essay remains enlightening precisely for its heuristic clarity.’
    • ‘To this formalist critic, Gainsborough stood "in a class apart."’
    • ‘He has been producing compositions with a formalist vigor recalling that of the abstract expressionists.’
    • ‘Through use of the formalist framework, she implies that the study of Maya art has come of age.’