Perception of Beauty
FIGURE 16.- The type of line announced in the dominant element is repeated in a subordinate group.
It must be remembered that in the perception of beauty the mind is at play. It cannot be forced, and is in fact curiously childlike. If a child is given picture puzzle and finds the solution too easy he lose interest at once; if he finds it too difficult he tosses the puzzle away and turns to something else. The likenesses of line, form, color and significance designed by the decorator to produce an effect of unity, and thus to make beauty possible, must not be too obvious nor must they be obscure. For example, if upon a relatively high and narrow wall space a relatively long and narrow rectangular mirror be hung-assuming, for the purposes of this illustration, that it is hung alone, and not above another piece of furniture-the likenesses in the two forms in both outline and pro-portion will be instantly perceptible, being the more obvious in the degree that the mirror approaches identity with the wall space in size and in the ratio of width to length. If a long and narrow elliptical mirror be substituted, the mind, in spite of the difference in outline, will at once recognize the likeness in proportion, and may easily find pleasure in the increasing subtlety of the resemblance. In the case of a circular mirror the mind will instantly perceive the total dissimilarity in both outline and proportion, and will accept the contrast for what it may be worth in the decorative total of the room. But if a short, wide mirror be used-that is, if the axis of the one first used be reversed-there will be perplexity and displeasure; first, because the eye must suddenly reverse its direction in order to see both forms, and this takes time and breaks the rhythm unpleasantly, and, secondly, because the mind must suddenly change from the idea of vertical to that of horizontal extension, and is thus conscious of unlikeness in significance at the same time that it slowly becomes aware that both forms are oblongs. This fact, that likenesses to be esthetically pleasurable must be neither too easy nor too hard to see, largely conditions beauty of proportion, and will be discussed in the chapter dealing with that topic.
On the other hand, it must be remembered that likenesses by no means imply identity, and that in the degree that one's taste is cultivated and his mind enriched by knowledge of the field of ornament and design he will reject the obvious and find pleasure in the subtle. The old-fashioned parlor set has been banished, not because it was inherently unfitting and ugly, but rather because its constant repetition of the same elements was esthetically unstimulating and tire-some, just as the ceaseless iteration of a single musical phrase, which is enough to satisfy primitive man, gives place with advancing culture to complex harmonies, varying rhythms, and delicate nuances of expression.
FIGURE 17.- (a) Likeness in both outline and proportion; (b) likeness in proportion but not in outline; (c) unlikeness in both proportion and outline; (d) likeness in outline, obscured and made esthetically unpleasant by unlikeness in proportion.
It is therefore clear that the power to perceive and enjoy decorative resemblances will vary with. Each individual, and that for this reason the decorator must be concerned even in this most elusive quality of beauty with considerations of fitness. A cultivated taste will perceive subtle correspondences imperceptible by the uncultivated, and to each must be offered such things as he can see. To the scientist palm and pine are alike, and a single fossil bone is enough to reveal complete a creature that perished unnumbered ages ago. The world of ornament, like the world of nature, is an enormous complex in which many widely varying forms are in some way, however distant and obscure, related; and of these relations one man will see more than another. To the one the interlacing vines and leaves of an old Gothic tapestry, copied and used to cover the chair in which he sits, may have nothing in common with the stiff, crudely branching form that appears in the Beloochistan rug before his hearth; but to another the symbolism of the tree forms in each makes them alike, and together they carry his fancy backward, past Druid rites, past Norse mythology, past Chaldea and Babylon, past the Garden of Eden itself, to the dim beginnings of religion, where a potent goddess lived in the roots of a tree and gave forth life to all the world.