Amazing articles on just about every subject...

Architecture - Art Philosophy

( Originally Published Early 1900's )


The musician constructs an entire symphony from a single significant series of tones, and the architect constructs an entire building from a significant series of outlines. At the same time, there is, in both arts, an occasional return to nature for the purpose of incorporating, if not imitating, in the product some new expression of significance. But the fact that they are both developed from this sustained and subjective method of giving expression to a first suggestion, makes such a return to nature much less frequent in them than in the other arts. Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture as Representative Arts, XVII.

One more point of similarity between music and architecture ought, perhaps, to be mentioned. It is this, that while, as among very young children, for instance, the in-articulated tones that develop into music antedate the articulated words that develop into poetry, the artistic forms of music, as in melody and harmony, are developed much later than those of poetry. In the same way, too, while the building of huts that develops into architecture antedates the drawing, coloring, and carving that develop into painting and sculpture, the artistic forms of architecture, as in ornamental columns, pediments, and spires, are developed later than painting and sculpture of, at least, sufficient excellence to merit recognition. Of course, the human being is obliged at a very early stage in his history to provide means of shelter. But he is not influenced to construct that which he erects in such a way as to give expression to his thoughts and emotions, which is essential for an artistic motive, as early as he is influenced to draw pictures for the same purpose. A boy, or a boylike savage, using a pencil or knife, will enjoy expressing his thoughts and emotions by way of imitation for its own sake, long before he will enjoy doing the same for the sake of ornamenting what would be just as useful without ornamentation. In the former case, his mind begins by being at play; in the latter, by being at work; and his first desire always is to be rid of work. —Idem, XVII.


Using as a theme a few notes representing a mood of mind as indicated by a song of nature, the musician goes on to compose a whole symphony to correspond with them. So, from a few outlines of windows, doors, or roofs, the architect goes on to construct a whole building to correspond with these. This method he applies not only to the development of new forms, but to the ornamentation of old forms. In doing this, he merely carries out a principle exemplified in the action of the human mind in any like relation. For instance, a man, for practical purposes, produces a piece of woven cloth or something made through the use of it. That the cloth may not ravel at its edge, a section of it is purposely unraveled there, or a hem is made here, or, if two pieces of cloth be used, a seam is produced where the two are joined. After a little, according to a law which the mind always follows, the imagination begins to experiment with these necessary contrivances, and then the unraveled edge, the hem, the seam, each respectively, becomes a fringe, a border, or a stripe; i. e., each is developed into one of the well-known ornamental resources of the art of the tailor or the upholsterer. It is the same in architecture. When the imagination begins to play with the underpinnings of buildings, or with the means of approaching and entering them, it gives us foundations, steps, or porches; when with the parts upholding the roof, it gives us pillars, pilasters, or buttresses; and when with the upper or lower parts of openings, it gives us caps, or sills, of doors or windows; when with the roof and its immediate supports, it gives entablatures, eves, gables, domes, or spires. All these features, moreover, are representative. If the foundations be apparent and large, they indicate support and sufficient support. If the steps or entrances be broad, they indicate accommodations on the inside for a multitude. If the windows be high or wide, they indicate a high or wide room on the inside. In thoroughly successful architecture, the walls are especially transparent, as it were, revealing the internal arrangements. Horizontal mouldings or string-courses show where the floors are, and vertical buttresses or pilasters, where are the partitions. Roofs, when artistic, are visible. In public buildings, at least, they should indicate the shapes of the ceilings under them. A dome is out of place unless it span a vast space; and towers and spires are inexcusable unless they be adaptations of features that are useful.—Essentials Aesthetics, VII.


As applied to architecture, it is evident that, aside from the effects of form, which in certain cases may entirely counterbalance those of color, the colder the color, the more massive, as a rule, will appear not only the building itself but also the grounds about it ; the effect of the cold color being to make the house and its parts seem at a greater distance from the observer, and, therefore, greater in size than it would be at the supposed distance. Hence, another reason for using cold colors in grand buildings. The same principle applies to the painting and the papering of an interior. The warm colors cause an apartment to seem smaller and more cozy, and the cold colors exactly the opposite. The latter on the walls, therefore, not only for the reason suggested on page 204, but because of these uncozy effects, are objectionable. But for ceilings, especially of public halls and churches, blue at least is rightly popular. Thus used it suggests largeness and elevation, as in the sky which it seems to resemble; and it also furnishes, as a rule, an agreeable contrast to the warmer colors appropriate for the walls.-Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture as Representative Arts, XI.


The earliest human dwellings are supposed to have been caves, or very rudely constructed huts. According to the views presented in " Art in Theory," so long as men expended no thought or emotion upon these beyond that needed in order to secure an end of utility there was no art of architecture. But it is impossible to conceive that the human mind would not begin very soon, in this department as in all others, to pay some attention to aesthetic ends. . . . The earliest traces of architecture indicate endeavors to make pictures—of course, as the material used was stone, to make sculptured pictures—out of that which was being constructed. Fig. . . . for instance, represents one of the earliest attempts at architecture, that has been discovered in Asia Minor. Looking at it, one would suppose that it was a cave, in front of which a framework of wood had been erected. Not at all. . These apparently wooden columns and beams have been carved out of the native stone of the cave. Why has this been done? Can any one doubt the reason of it? Can any one fail to perceive in them the influence of a picturesque and statuesque motive? Can even those who prophesied so confidently that the theory of this series of essays was sure to break .down when it came to be applied to architecture, be so dull as not to see that this wellnigh earliest architecture of which we know was distinctively representative? Observe, too, that it was representative of both mental conceptions and material appearances. No one looking at the entrance of the one cave, or the interior of the other, could fail to recognize both that a man had been at work upon it, and also that he had been at work for the purpose of reproducing that which he had seen elsewhere. It would represent the man, because one would know that the person who had planned the carving had been accustomed to wooden constructions, and it would represent his thought or feeling with reference to these, because it would show his appreciation and admiration of certain of their effects. Otherwise he would never have tried to reproduce similar effects through the use of material infinitely harder to shape. Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture as Representative Arts, XVII.


While no one confounds poetry, painting, or sculpture with the early inartistic form of expression from which it is developed, there are many who suppose that everything used for the purpose of shelter, even the rudest hut of the savage, is an exemplification of architecture. But one might as well suppose everything of the nature of language to be an exemplification of poetry. It has a relation to poetry. It contains the germs from which the art grows; but this is all. So with the hut of the savage, and with many constructions more pretentious. An ordinary wood-shed has no more to do with architecture than the cry of our nursery, the talk of our kitchen, the sign of our barber, or the rock of our curbstone has to do with the respective art to which it seems allied, whether music, poetry, painting, or sculpture.—Idem, XX.


Is it too much to say that subtle analysis may occasionally find reason to suspect that it is the lack of the good and the true in American manhood, that causes the lack of the beautiful in the American city street or college campus? Is it this lack in character that destroys the symmetry of adjoining buildings by throwing the cornice of the last comer just enough above that of its fellows to produce the effect—and for a similar reason—of the feather that stands straighter and higher than any surrounding it, in the head-gear of the uncivilized Indian? And then, be-sides the outlines, think for a moment of the inharmony of the colors!—sometimes of the paint, sometimes of the brick and stone, imported too, at great expense from distant places, to afford another opportunity for the snob's exhibition of himself ! The whole method of procedure is as fatal to the requirements of sound aesthetics as of neighborly courtesy.—The Representative Significance of Form, XXIV.


Is it not about time that mansard roofs and wooden cornices, which are no real roofs or cornices at all, with their various mouldings almost as light as if intentionally curled into shavings, should be committed to the flames, once and forever? This is said not merely because they are frauds, but because they are—what in art is worse—palpable frauds, frauds clearly seen to afford no legitimate conclusion whatever to a wall of stone, donkey's ears protruding where they are clearly seen to have no connection with the body under them.—Idem.

A more radical and, for this reason, thorough way of correcting the error would be to avoid all deceit, and, in accordance with the method in art sometimes termed sincerity (see page 407), to arrange the materials in such ways that the apparent support would be the real support. In an age of iron, why should not the iron be shown, and al-lowed to reveal its genuine character? If a roof be really supported by steel girders, why should not the steel be visible? A ceiling of wood, revealing its natural colors and grainings, resting on beams of polished or nickel-plated steel, might be made to have effects, both as regards material and color, in the highest sense chaste and beautiful. The metal might even be ornamented and as legitimately too as if it were bronze. Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture as Representative Arts, XVIII.


Fifteen years ago everybody in Boston was talking about "sincerity" in art. As applied to building a house, this meant that every respective bath-room, or closet, or stair-case should be indicated on the exterior by a significantly constructed window, or blank space, or protuberance,—a thoroughly sound principle so far as it was applicable. But with the narrowness and the lack, in a distinctive sense, of comprehension characterizing the artistic notions of our country, the principle was applied to everything—to every exterior effect, for instance, without any regard to any requirements of proportion or harmony. There followed those developments of the "Queen Anne" style, which even the unbalanced conceptions of American criticism had sense enough to nickname "Bloody Mary" and "Crazy Jane." Probably, however, even these were an advance upon the method pursued in the construction of the old Douglas Park University of Chicago, a huge Gothic building, the exterior of which is said to have been actually completed before any attempt had been made to decide upon the rooms or halls to be placed in the interior. Why should this not have been the case? In those days, when men wanted a meat market or a prison, they put up indiscriminately what was supposed to resemble either a Gothic cathedral or a Greek temple. There is no necessity of stopping to argue how far all buildings manifesting so partial a regard for the requirements of art rank below one in which the claims of both significance and form have been given due weight, whether it be a private house or a public hall, a villa on the Rhine or a cathedral at Cologne.—Rhythm and Harmony in Poetry and Music; Introduction to Music as a Representative Art.

The one thing which can enable an architect to produce that which, so long as it survives, may have a right to claim attention as, in its own style, a model, is this,—to bear in mind the double character of all artistic effects. Depending partly upon outward form, which mainly re-quires a practice of the method pursued in classic art, and partly upon the thought or design embodied in the form, which mainly requires a practice of the method pursued in romantic art, these artistic effects appeal partly to the outward senses and partly to the inward mind; and only when they appeal to both are the highest possibilities of any art realized.—Art in Theory, XI.


In the age in which the Greek temples were constructed, other artists believed—and why not the architect?—that a man should study upon a product, if he intended to have it remain a model for all the future. Is it not natural to suppose that in such an age the structural arrangements intended to counteract optical defects, or to produce optical illusions, or, as some think, to produce, in connection with these, effects of variety or of vagueness in line or outline, were largely the results of the individual experiments of individual builders? If not such results, why were they invariably different in different buildings? But if they were such, the predominating motive in the mind of the artist was not to imitate any particular form that he had seen before, so much as to represent its general effect. Thus, from the beginning of architecture in which we see the builder taking suggestions from primitive huts or from the trunks and branches of trees in nature, to the highest stage of its development, where we see him taking suggestions from the works of previous architects, we find him, in the degree in which he is a great artist, representing rather than imitating. Essentials of 'Esthetics, VI.


One or two other statements of Vitruvius may be of interest. But while reading them it is important to bear in mind that their significance lies not in the figures given but in the general principle which they exemplify. The figures are Roman, the principle is Greek. Greek architecture was original, and apparently, for reasons already indicated, what might be termed independent and individual. Roman architecture was imitative, and, as these quotations from Vitruvius show, traditional and mechanical. The principles that the Greeks sought to carry out in a spirit of freedom, the Romans sought to carry out in servility to the letter; and it is as true in art as in religion that "the letter killeth."—Proportion and Harmony of Line and Color, XV.


The painter and the sculptor observe nature for the purpose of reproducing its forms; the architect, for the purpose of producing a new and different form, for which, as a whole, nature furnishes no copy. In his work the contrast between the product and nature is often so complete that the one no longer, as in the case of painting, necessarily suggests the other. Although the shapes of the foundations, pillars, capitals, arches, roofs, chimneys, or towers of a building may suggest reminiscences of nature, they are constructed almost invariably as if the architect had forgotten what was the particular appearance of anything that had inspired his forms. He is influenced somewhat by nature, but much more by his own mind, which works with the least possible artistic regard for nature's dispositions of the forms that he uses. If these forms be beautiful, it is less because they are the same in detail as those found in nature, than because they are the same in principle, because they are controlled by the same general laws that underlie all appearances and combinations of them that are naturally pleasing.—Art in Theory, XIX.


Home | More Articles | Email: