Thursday, February 19, 2009

remembering beauty

after all is said and done, and after i have considered dozens of different ways to conclude this series, i finally realized that it all comes down to focus. it had come to pass, perhaps as a form of hand-holding to the industrial revolution, that beauty was best seen and reproduced as the result of considered focus.

dow unfocused. and then quantified.

leading up to the close of the 19th century, a confluence of forces brought about widespread changes. the beginning of trade with japan was virtually simul- taneous with what is called the 'second industrial revolution,' which introduced mass- production, electricity, and motors. japan quickly availed itself of these developments, while the west availed itself of what japan represented as an antidote to them.

against the face of precise reproduction, dow, and, as we've seen, others around the world, began to unfocus. to stop seeing the trees. to find a harmony in what one saw. dow taught ways to consciously transfer that harmony to paper.

rather than a study of sunlight and shadows, dow taught seeing light and dark, and holding them in balance. rather than teaching rigidity and repetition, he taught flow.

by using japanese prints as regular references, dow man- aged to communicate the principles he was teaching by sight as much as by word; the learning was imbibed rather than concentrated upon. the asymmetry, the elimination of detail, the looking beyond the surface to reveal the essence: it was all there, as instruction but more, as inspiration.

but what of this explains dow's extraordinary success as a teacher, as a teacher of both students and of teachers as well? it was something more than can be gained by quoting his books or reading his letters. in order to begin to understand, we must unfocus ourselves.

we must let ourselves feel the deep spirituality of the man behind the teachings, the spirituality that can see a derelict boat in a river and understand the nature of all he witnesses. what, after all, is 'seeing' but 'not limiting,' or 'not defining'? is not the only way to see to allow what's in front of you to be?

for john ruskin, william morris, arthur wesley dow, and so many others, design reform was never on a physical level alone. like the japanese, and like so many cultures before them, spirit was seen as integral to nature and to humanity. to impose confinement on either, for whatever reason, is to lose them. to remove spirit from art is like removing air from the breath.

it's to suffocate beauty.... until one remembers.

No comments:

Post a Comment