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Hawaii_Jake's avatar

What did writers mean by "plastic" in the late 19th century?

Asked by Hawaii_Jake (32583points) 1 month ago

I’m reading a book that quotes a critique Henry James wrote of the painting of John Singer Sargent. He writes, ”...an idea sufficiently amusing in the light of some manifestations of the plastic effort…”

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11 Answers

ZEPHYRA's avatar

I guess from the word “plasticity”?

stanleybmanly's avatar

The “y” word probably came second. Think rubbery or mighty, or flexibility.

SergeantQueen's avatar

Could it also mean fake?

stanleybmanly's avatar

Plastic has become a stand in for cheap. But plastic itself as a modifier usually implies bendable or malleable. Think about the word plastic in front of ethics or character.

Demosthenes's avatar

Can also mean “formative/creative”. That’s a bit archaic, though.

janbb's avatar

The plastic arts are those having to do with sculpture and modelling..

SEKA's avatar

My boss used to use that word a lot. He meant it to mean stiff and unbending. He wasn’t an artist, so it might mean something completely different in the art world

kritiper's avatar

“plastic… I. a. Having the power of molding or shaping formless or yielding material (as, “that divine plastic force which is for ever molding human society”: Mrs. H. Ward’s “Robert Elsmere,” xxxii.) concerned with or pertaining to molding or modeling (as, plastic arts, such as sculpture and ceramics); produced by molding (as, plastic figures); also, capable of being molded or of receiving form (as, plastic substances, such as clay, wax, or plaster); fif., capable of being brought to a definite condition or character (as, “The world is plastic for men to do what they will with it,” H. G. Wells’s “Mr. Britling,” ii. 1~6; the plastic mind of youth); pliable; impressionable; in surg., concerned with or pertaining to the remedying or restoring of malformed, injured, or lost parts (as, plastic surgery; a plastic operation); in biol. and pathol., concerned with or pertaining to the formation of new tissue in the living body. II. n. A plastic substance. ... The quality or property of being plastic; esp., capability of being molded, receiving shape, or being brought to a definite form or character.”
-from The New Century Dictionary, 1944 ed.

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