Friday, April 15, 2011

Photoless Friday (11): A promise is a promise: Owen Jones, The Grammar of Ornament

I may not have the memory of an elephant, but my sense of guilt does. I had promised, when I first opened this blog, to finish reading Owen Jones' Grammar of Ornament, and share his wise and still fresh design principles, despite the fact that more than 150 years have passed since it was first published in 1856. Yes, 1856. What could he have said way back then that could still be so inspiring? You'll be pleasantly surprised....More......

Just think for a minute what someone born in London in 1809 saw and felt and experienced. A positive and negative whirlwind of cultural, political and economic developments, including the Grand Tour and the Industrial Revolution, which bring us right back to our architect Owen, who--and he wasn't alone--looked around him in England, and didn't like the buildings and things he saw, so he wrote up cures for the ills, and published them--a list of general principles, then examples drawn from art of all ages and places the world over--for the benefit of artists, architects, industrialists and the general public.

Putting his words into today's language, his self-declared goals were to explain and illustrate his idea of good architectural decoration, which he believed derived from following the general principles of design found in nature, not copying either it, or past styles, slavishly.

Some of his comments ring literally through the centuries, if not millennia, in occidental art: harmony and appropriateness of design, proportion and color; in good art, nothing can be added, or taken away, and leave the design equally good, or even improve it; study nature, then idealize it, and so on and so forth.

Good start, but not so very helpful until the components are defined, so, on this Photoless Friday, let's jump over these generics, and get straight to my first summary of his thoughts I personally find helpful for designing, and I hope that they'll be helpful for you, too.

This one comes from his Proposition n. 6: Beauty of form is produced by lines growing out one from the other in gradual undulations.

Jones' comment on ancient Greek art takes it one helpful step further: the three great laws which we find everywhere in nature—radiation from the parent stem, proportionate distribution of the areas, and the tangential curvature of the lines—are always obeyed.

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