The Human Mind
Even yet there remains one step, necessitated by the mind's insistence upon the principle of subordination, and hence upon a dominant element in every composition. Wherever there is a division of parts one part must be greater than the others. Among all the colors one color must be in the ascendant. Among all the lines one type of line must make its presence in the room most strongly felt. Among several emotional ideas one idea must be most forcefully expressed. The esthetic importance of the dominant element is apparent in the earliest beginnings of art. It underlies all sound artistic practice, since it is based upon the constitution of the mind itself.
FIGURE 9.- In a and c several horizontal divisions are practically equal. In b and d this dfect is corrected in such a way as to reveal clearly the presence of a dominant element. See also figures 10, 11, 12, 13 (Figures adapted from Mayeux.)
In the light of these considerations we would expect to find, as in fact we do find, that there are in practice two methods of insuring unity in the decoration of houses. One of these methods consists essentially in putting like with like. The other consists essentially in making one element of a composition first in importance, and all other elements subordinate. We may call the first the method of repetition, and the second the method of principality. In practice they must of course be applied conjointly, so that each supplements and confirms the other.
The Craftsman chair shown in Figure 10 lacks a dominant element, since the distance from seat to top of back is the same as that from seat to floor. It possesses the unity due to constant repetition of straight lines and rectilinear shapes, but lacks diversity in line, ornamental detail, hue and tone. It appears to be substantial, enduring and well-contrived, but austere, ungraceful and uninviting. The Queen Anne chair, on the contrary, reveals the presence of a dominant element, not only in the chair as a whole, but also in the design of the individual members. This chair reveals a wide variety in line, contour, and ornamental detail, yet its important lines are all related to a dominant type- the cyma recta, or "line of beauty" curve- and hence are unifying. The chair is an excellent example of beauty due to the convergent employment of the two methods, repetition and principality.
In practice the question of principality must be settled at the outset. The decorator will first of all insure a measure of unity by choosing a motive, or dominant emotional idea, around which to build his decorative treatment. He will further insure the unity of his room by making one hue dominant by methods to be studied later, and by making one tone, or rather a register of closely related tones, dominant by methods to be studied in the chapter on light and shade. It is no less essential so to arrange the furniture and other architectural and decorative elements of the room that a single object or group of closely related objects is made dominant. Thus the eye, confronted by a variety of shapes, sizes and ornamental motives in the room as a whole, is left in no perplexity as to the degree of attention due to the various elements, but rests naturally and without effort on the most important.
FIGURE 10.- This Craftsman chair reveals a degree of unity due to repetition of the same type of line; it lacks the unity ensured by the presence of a dominant element, as well as the diversity ensured by changes in line and ornamental detail. The English chair is free from these defects.
In a hall, or in any room where it can be kept fairly free from furniture and from competition with pictures and other counter-attractions, a rug can be made the dominant element of a decorative treatment. In other rooms, owing to the disposition of the mind to look for the meaning of things to the top rather than to the bottom-to the flower and not the stem; the face and not the feet-a rug cannot be made the dominant element without subjecting the whole treatment to a serious strain. Ordinarily rooms are given unity through principality by the fireplace with its over-mantel, by a group of windows with their hangings, by a console table and mirror, a tapestry, a picture, or a reading table with its lamp and shade. In important rooms the choice of the dominant feature is usually determined by the tastes of the decorator. In all rooms, whether important or otherwise, it must always be conditioned by the architecture, and particularly by the size and shape of the room and the distribution of its voids and masses. It is of course obvious that no decorative feature should be given principality unless it is intrinsically worthy of the attention thus forced upon it. If it is not worthy the effect of unity will have been gained at the cost of a perpetual sense of distaste.
FIGURE 11.- In this room the fireplace, the large window with its curved top, supporting pilasters and heavy hangings, and the big elliptical picture make demands upon the attention so nearly equal as to rob the room of a dominant element, and hence of unity and the possibility of beauty.
FIGURE 12.- Here the fireplace has been made clearly dominant by (a) increasing its importance through the substitution of a relatively large and striking picture; (b) decreasing the importance of the window through the substitution of thin silk curtains; (c) eliminating the elliptical picture and the substitution of a mirror. Note that the straight-line base and sides of this mirror repeat the outlines of the wall space, while its top echoes the dominant line of the window. Variations of this same curve also appear in the corners of the large picture frame and in the candlesticks placed on the mantel.