This article examines Syrian art discourse on either side of the Naksa, the defeat of the Arab forces by Israel in June 1967, particularly transformations in the social value Syrian artists accorded to the irreducibly formal elements of the artistic craft. It analyzes these values by focusing on a reform program in the Faculty of Fine Arts at the University of Damascus, 1964–67, as well arts coverage in al-Bacth newspaper, exhibition texts, and the reception of artworks by Nazir Nabaa, Guido La Regina, Mahmoud Hammad, and Ahmed Nawash. It also explores the connotations of the term “plasticity,” a description of a union between formal malleability and formational human labor, in Syria and its functionality in the post-1967 period in negotiating the antinomies of form/content and abstraction/humanism.

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