arts and crafts, transcendentalist style

February 12, 2015 § 3 Comments

I’m pulling together notes for an upcoming Big and Tall lecture on the Arts and Crafts–a key moment in the development of a morality of building, just as Viollet-le-duc (today’s lecture) represented a quantum leap in the ethics of building.  And I run across this:

Nothing is arbitrary, nothing is insulated in beauty. It depends forever on the necessary and the useful. The plumage of the bird, the mimic plumage of the insect, has a reason for its rich colors in the constitution of the animal. Fitness is so inseparable an accompaniment of beauty, that it has been taken for it. The most perfect form to answer an end, is so far beautiful. In the mind of the artist, could we enter there, we should see the sufficient reason for the last flourish and tendril of his work, just as every tint and spine in the seashell preexists in the secreting organs of the fish. We feel, in seeing a noble building, which rhymes well, as we do in hearing a perfect song, that it is spiritually organic, that is, had a necessity in nature, for being, was one of the possible forms in the Divine mind, and is now only discovered and executed by the artist, not arbitrarily composed by him.

This architectural theorist?  One Ralph Waldo Emerson.  From “Thoughts on Art,” The Dial, 1841.  There are moments in there that presage D’Arcy Thompson, Sullivan, and even Mies.  Astonishing, and I’ll totally steal that line about a “noble building, which rhymes well…”


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