Conclusion Of Principles Of Interior Decoration
( Originally Published 1922 )
THE field mapped out for exploration in this volume has been covered, and the work is at an end. It is a work confessedly imperfect, and—though it aims at a certain completeness in scope and method—confessedly fragmentary. But at any rate one who has followed it to the end will have gained a clear perception of the fact that the creation of a beautiful and comfortable home environment is not a matter of magic or happy accident, but rather of rational and essentially simple processes; and it is hoped that he will have gained some knowledge of how to develop the ability to take due account of individual needs and tastes, and to proceed logically and assuredly and with the minimum of costly experiment and .disappointment to express these needs and tastes artistically in the decoration of houses. In the degree that he acquires this power he becomes a decorator ; without it he remains, at most, a copyist. A man's house can be a real home only in so far as it fits his needs and expresses his ideals and aspirations. "That best becomes any one," as Cicero observed, "which is most his own."
Beauty and comfort in the homes we live in—this is the ideal of interior decoration, the goal of all planning and contrivance and house-furnishing effort, the highest aim of all study of the art. To point out and emphasize the mutual interrelation and inter-dependence of these two qualities, and to set forth the principles underlying the creative processes through which they may be achieved, has been the primary aim of the study just completed. Necessarily this study has been highly analytical. We have been obliged to pick out and to consider separately elements which are actually seen only as they are combined with other elements to form wholes, and esthetic factors and forces of which we normally perceive only the resultants. This process is difficult, and at the best unsatisfactory. The art is like a two-ply web, wherein general esthetic principles are the warp threads that run from one end of the fabric to the other, giving it strength and continuity, and individual needs are the weft threads that shoot across and back, in and out, binding the warp together and giving pattern and meaning to the whole. In the process of raveling out a thread or two at a time for separate study, much of the significance of the whole mesh is lost.
Nevertheless, an analytical study is the only one that can equip the decorator to solve his own problems. The method of description and illustration is easy, and valuable suggestively. But of necessity description deals, as we have repeatedly noted, with solutions of other people's problems, not with one's own. This is not enough. The decorator must be able to use form and color, as the writer uses words, in the expression of any ideas. He must be able to adapt a decorative treatment to any given conditions ; and the ability to do this can never be acquired through the study of examples alone, but only through a mastery of the fundamental principles of his art.
If it be objected to the general method of this study that it is too positive, too much given to formulas, and too much inclined to ignore the personal quality of decorative art and the mysterious and intangible elements of beauty, the answer is that the method was chosen deliberately. The mysterious, the personal, the intangible and vague have been too much exploited in the literature of interior decoration. What the beginner in the art needs is a starting place on the ground, not up in the air.
We must live in houses, and we must furnish them, in person or by proxy, before we can live in them. We may do this perfectly, or fairly well, or ill. With most of us it is not a question of perfection, but of relatively well or ill; not a question of the highest beauty, but of some beauty or none at all. And the difference between relatively well and ill, and between some beauty and ugliness, is a matter of communicable and easily acquired knowledge. To master the grammar of decoration and the fundamental principles of composition ; to ground the mind in the elementary facts of proportion, balance, light and shade and color practice as they are here set forth, to learn enough of ornament and of design to recognize excellence and detect the lack of it--these things are easy. Yet they are enough to insure the power to create some measure of beauty in the home, and in the aggregate to go far toward setting up standards of artistic judgment and toward cultivating the faculty of taste upon which excellence in decoration so largely depends.
In many of the arts experiment is easy and inexpensive. The painter can correct his drawing or his coloring with no loss save that of his time. The writer can blot and rewrite his line. But the decorator must pay dearly for his mistakes. The selective processes of his art demand the use of costly materials, which cannot be changed at will. Thus ugly and unfitting decoration is too often permitted to remain, long after its ugliness and unfitness is clearly perceived and deeply deplored, simply because the cost of alterations is prohibitive.
The time to acquire wisdom is before one has need to use it; and in decoration, as in most of the arts of life, the beginning of wisdom is compact and workable knowledge, logically organized, and consisting in clearly established principles and definable general ideas. At the outset of this study taste was defined, somewhat ponderously, in the language of the dictionary. Essentially, taste is simply an unerring sense of fitness. A faculty developed by long processes of observation, analysis and comparison, it is after all chiefly a matter of knowledge. Hence success in the complex but fascinating and most useful art of furnishing houses is also chiefly a matter of knowledge. To repeat an earlier observation, vague ideals and hazy enthusiasms for beauty and comfort will get us nowhere in the art. We must not only feel, but know.