The significance of Texture
The statement that form and color are the two media of decorative expression requires qualification; for texture, although in an accurate sense simply form and color interwoven, is in effect a distinct medium of expression, and one of great importance.
The word texture comes from a root meaning to weave, but its primary meaning has been so widened that the term is used in the arts to express structure, or the manner in which the parts of a material are united or interwoven. In this sense all decorative materials have texture, and their texture is the most characteristic and in some respects the most significant quality they possess. Through it form and color, essentially impersonal attributes, become individualized. Without it decoration would be meaningless and beauty impossible. Thus cinnamon brown, simply as a flat color, is uninteresting and unpleasant, being in fact little more than a dirty yellow-orange. But when it appears in an interesting texture, as in oak or walnut, in silk, wool or paper, in close or open weaves and flat or pile fabrics, it becomes significant and beautiful. Similarly the dead gloom of black and the dead glare of white are relived and endowed with life and animation, as the heat of red, the cold of blue, and the brilliancy of yellow are tempered, by texture.
The esthetic value of texture lies first of all in the fact that it makes gradation of color possible. Flat colors are never beautiful. Broadly speaking, they appear neither n nature nor in good art. A flat tone is often useful in decoration, as when painted woodwork or furniture is employed to set off by contrast the graduated tones of rug, walls and hangings; but of itself it is monotonous and unbeautiful. Texture gives a surface unevenness, either actually, as in woven fabrics, flock papers, or wrought iron, or in effect, as in the grain of hardwoods, and this unevenness causes the surface color to be broken into an infinitude of minute gradations of light and shade, banishing its hard, lifeless, obviously quality, and investing it with the charm of vitality and subtlety. The importance of gradation in color is thus finely emphasized by Ruskin in the third letter of The Elements of Drawing: ďAnd it does not matter how small the touch of color may be, though not larger than the smallest pinís head, if one part of it is not darker than the rest it is a bad touch; for it is not merely that the natural fact is so, that your color should be gradated; the preciousness and pleasantness o the color itself depends more on this than on any other of its qualities, for gradation is to color just what curvature is to lines, both being felt to be beautiful by the pure instinct of every human mind, and both, considered as types, expressing the law of gradual change and progress in the human soul itself. What the difference is in mere beauty between a gradated and ungradated color may be seen easily by laying an even tint of rose color on paper, and putting a rose-leaf beside it. The victorious beauty of the rose as compared with other flowers depends wholly upon the delicacy and quantity of its color gradations, all other flowers being either less rich in gradation, not having so many folds of leaf; or less tender, being patched and veined instead of flushed.Ē
Because large areas of flat color are not only tiresome and unbeautiful in themselves, but also totally unsympathetic backgrounds for the people and things that appear against them, all background surfaces should reveal a marked effect of texture. Walls and ceilings ought not to be tinted with calcimine unless they have a relatively rough surface, and when smooth walls are painted they should be covered with canvas or muslin first and stippled afterward, or otherwise roughened in order to ensure the first and stippled afterward, or otherwise roughened in order to ensure the effect of texture and the beauty of gradated tones. The great decorative value of wall paper lies largely in the fact that it makes possible almost any desired effect of texture, and this at almost any desired price. Costly papers like the grass-cloths and flocks possess great individuality and distinction in texture, while such inexpensive papers as the jaspes and imitation grass-cloths simulate it by the skilful use of dots, dashes and hair-lines of color printed upon a plain or embossed surface.
Quite apart from their hue and tone, textures possess emotional values due to the association of ideas. The decorator will accordingly seek to group textures with other textures, as he groups forms and colors, in such a way as to produce convergences of effect and to ensure decorative unity through likenesses either in appearance or in significance. Instinctively we associate the texture of oak with what is strong and vigorous and a little crude. Hence we group it in general not only with relative low tones of color and relatively large and simple shapes, but also with textures which are relatively firm and heavy, as tapestry, velvet or leather. Similarly the texture of satinwood is associated by the mind with what is smooth and delicate and refined, and is therefore grouped in practice with textures like damask, brocade or taffeta, which are light, smooth and lustrous, as well as with light colors and relatively slight and graceful shapes. Instinctively the texture of silk is associated with what is rare and costly and that of cotton with what is commonplace and inexpensive, as the texture of lustrous deep-pile weaves is associated with richness and luxury and of lustreless flat weaves with a straight simplicity. Doubtless the emotional significance of texture has roots that lie below mere association, in states too purely certain that the consistent use of texture is for some reason felt to be even more essential in good decoration than consistency in ornament or style. Some textures, used together, are felt at once to be unsympathetic and even antipathetic; while others seem to be related by subtle affinities.