ornament and function / the wallpaper exercise

For Wednesday, 22 February, read —

Adolf Loos, his essays “Ornament and Crime” (1908/1929) and “The Poor Little Rich Man” (1900), and
Hal Foster his elaboration of Loos in his “Design and Crime” (2002), which originally appeared as “Hey, That’s Me” — a review of Bruce Mau’s Life Style (Phaidon, 2000), in the London Review of Books 23:7 (5 April 2001): 13-14).

And continue with Ulrich, Chapter 7 “Aesthetics and Design” in his Design : Creation of Artifacts in Society (2005-11).

Grotesk-Tapete aus dem 1. Obergeschoß des Hinterhauses, um 1870.

Grotesk-Tapete aus dem 1. Obergeschoß des Hinterhauses, um 1870.
ex Jürgen Beyer, Historische Papiertapeten in Weimar. Bad Homburg : Verlag Ausbildung + Wissen / Arbeitshefte des Thüringischen Landesamtes für Denkmalpflege 3 (1993).

the wallpaper exercise

As discussed last week, our first extended project involves the design of wallpaper / room treatment. The exercise includes the development of a prospectus outlining the situation to be addressed by the wallpaper; that document will naturally evolve over the course of the exercise.

Why wallpaper?

Wallpaper is an intersection point for several themes of concern to us —

Ornament — its relationship to beauty, appropriateness, and topical discussions of ornament in the nineteenth century, following the Great Exhibition of 1851, and leading to the major rejections of ornament by Adolf Loos, Le Corbusier, and others, early in the 20th century;

Wallpaper is an industrial product (becoming available to a new and rapidly growing middle class in the mid 19th century, thanks to large rotary steam presses, roll-fed paper, and other factors. As a designed industrial product, it lends itself to the kinds of method we have been exposed to in Ulrich’s Design : Creation of Artifacts (2005-11).

Wallpaper design lends itself to new and traditional tools of design and production; some students have worked with dyes (indigo, for example); others have experimented with code (e.g., processing).

Specifications for this exercise have evolved over the years; we can proceed on the basis of instructions for 2015. We are as interested in purpose and problem definition, as we are in the aesthetic outcome.

Perusal of the archive of previous years’ course blogs will be instructive. Much student work from previous years can be viewed via these links —

2015 (pdf; 1.2 MB)

readings, extracts

David Brett, On Decoration (1992) –
The desire for decoration, however, appears to be a cultural constant and is, historically, one of the defining characteristics of specific cultures.

Baldesar Castiglione, The Book of the Courtier (written between 1508 and 1528, when it was first published; Charles H. Singleton translation, 1959) –
…to practice in all things a certain sprezzatura [nonchalance], so as to conceal all art and make whatever is done or said appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it. And I believe much grace comes of this…

Hal Foster, “Design and Crime” (2002)
originally appeared under title “Hey, that’s me,” a review of Bruce Mau’s Life Style (Phaidon, 2000), in the London Review of Books 23:7 (5 April 2001): 13-14

Isabelle Frank, introduction to her The Theory of Decorative Art : An Anthology of European & American Writings, 1750-1940 (Yale UP, 2000) : 5-10 –
The Crystal Palace exhibition helped transform decorative art from a domain of relatively limited interest into one of public consequence, exposing for all to see the relative merits and weaknesses of national products.

David Gelernter, Machine Beauty : Elegance and the heart of technology (1998) : 22 –
Beauty is the ultimate defense against complexity. Beauty is our most reliable guide…

Lesley Hoskins, The Papered Wall : History, Pattern, Technique (1994, 2005) –
Ever since wallpaper first became widely available its status has been questioned: is it background or foreground, art or decoration, vulgar or respectable, a substitute or the real thing?

Adolf Loos, “Ornament and Crime” (1908/1929), in Adolf Loos, Ornament and Crime : Selected Essays (1998). –
The urge to decorate one’s face and anything else within reach is the origin of the fine arts. It is the childish babble of painting…. A person of our times who gives way to the urge to daub the walls with erotic symbols is a criminal or a degenerate…. the evolution of culture is synonymous with the removal of ornamentation from objects of everyday use.

Alice Twemlow. “The Decriminalization of ornament. Spurned and marginalised for a century, decoration is enjoying a guilt-free renaissance.” Eye 58 (Winter 2005) : 18-29

“Ornament,” from Ralph Nicholson Wornum’s “The Exhibition as a Lesson in Taste,” published with other essays at the end of The Great Exhibition : The Art Journal Illustrated Catalogue : The Industry of All Nations (1851) : pp xxi-xxii, from Section ix.