Variety in Decoration
Without variety in unity, one in the manifold, there can be no beauty in decoration. Unity alone means - monotony and ennui; variety alone means confusion and fatigue. But though variety and unity must appear together in the same decorative treatment, they need not appear in the same degree and they can in fact appear only in inverse proportions. To increase the effect of either is to diminish correspondingly that of the other. This is of course true of all the arts. Increasing complexity and richness must always be paid for in diminishing simplicity and force. The clearness of the aria is lost in the intricacies of the fugue. King Lear is richer than the Antigone, and Faust is richer than Lear; but the irresistible march pf the Greek tragedy is impeded in the English, and all but lost in the German.
In periods of bad decorative art diversity is emphasized to the total neglect of the requirements of unity, and in periods of reaction from bad art unity is likely to be emphasized to the total neglect of the requirements of diversity. In a general way, esthetic pleasure seems to increase with the increasing complexity of the stimuli until the point is reached where unity is lost, and complexity degenerates into confusion. Thus there is an inevitable tendency toward increasing complexity, as from Doric to Alexandrian architecture, or from the Dutch splat chair back to the ribbon back of Chippendale. After the point of confusion has been passed-often long after-a reaction sets in, simpler ideas are restored, and the long process begins all over again. Sometimes this reaction is gentle, as when Louis XV decoration was supplanted by that of Louis XVI, and sometimes it is violent. Decadent classicism gives way to primitive Christianity, and the excesses of the Cavaliers are succeeded by the austerities of Puritanism.
The rooms of thirty years ago were for the most part unbeautiful because they were filled with diversities in form and color to the total neglect of any principle of likeness and subordination. On the other hand, our Craftsman rooms, with their exclusively plain surfaces, meagre colors, and unornamented straight-line furniture, are for the most part unbeautiful because they neglect the variety equally essential to beauty.
Between these two extremes there is, however, opportunity for a wide range of variation in relative emphasis, and here, as everywhere, we must be guided in practice by considerations of fitness to purpose. Relative emphasis upon the unity or the diversity of a decorative treatment affects us emotionally, the former inducing a feeling of repose, the latter of animation and cheerfulness. These states, which have bases at once physical, intellectual and emotional, are directly and strongly affected by the home environment, and are accordingly in a very considerable measure under the control of the decorator. They are manifestly antithetical, the one implying the restfulness and tranquillity, the other animation and buoyancy. Each is essential to the well-being of all normal persons, and both can of course exist coincidentally, but only in inverse proportions. When the intensity of either is increased that of the other is diminished, as one scale of a balanced must go up when the other is weighted down. The decorator must accordingly see to it that where in the decoration of a given room repose is the first consideration his emphasis is placed upon unity, and that where cheerfulness or gayety is the first consideration the emphasis is placed upon variety. It will be obvious, of course, that in general the complexity and strain of modern life make emphasis of the quality of repose desirable in all rooms to be occupied continuously for any length of time. Tired nerves are rested, depleted vitality restored, and efficiency increased by it. In the average family of socially inclined, sport-loving, theatre-going people there is more danger in over-emphasis of variety than of unity. Moreover, the decorator must always remember that he has many resources at his command, and that it would be bad practice artistically to over-use any of them. Effects of repose, as we have seen, may be produced by the emphasis of horizontal extension; by the use of cool colors, of low tones of any hues, and of closely related colors; by reducing the number of objects, shapes and colors in a room; by increasing the degree of likeness characterizing these objects, shapes and colors; and by emphasizing the importance of the dominant element. The same wealth of resources is available for the expression of any other motive. Thus there is opportunity for the widest play of individual fancy. A room need not be bare in order to be restful or restrained, or crowded with ornament to be cheerful.