Ways through which space is defined by cultural ornamentation
In architecture and decorative art, ornamentation is a decoration used to embellish parts of a building or object. Monumental sculpture and their equivalent in decorative art are excluded from the term; most ornaments do not include human figures, and if present, they are small compared to the overall scale. The most common types of architectural ornaments even with the advancement of technology since civilization remain the imitative ornament, applied ornament, and the organic ornament.
The imitative ornament as the name suggest, is a decoration embedded on the structure imitating a form of definite meaning and with a symbolic significant. The applied ornament generally adds decorative beauty in the structure and forms bearing with them. The organic ornaments on the other hand are the inherent decorations of the art representing the piece of art in its organic form.
Of these three major categories of architectural ornaments, the applied architectural ornament remains the most common and widely used form of architectural ornamentation. Different cultural societies have continued to use the applied ornament symbolically to express their cultures and poster their communities globally through their fine arts and decorations.
Architectural ornament can be carved from stone, wood or precious metals, formed with plaster or clay, or painted or impressed onto a surface as applied ornament creating the impression of beauty as aforementioned. Wide varieties of decorative styles and motifs have developed for architecture and the applied arts including pottery, furniture, metal works.
In textiles, wallpaper and other objects where the decoration maybe the main justification for its existence, the term pattern or design are more likely to be used. Textile, especially decoration and design, play an important role because different cultures and communities prefer specific fabric decoration and designs with specific colors and patterns.
These specifications for communities over time have led to easy identification of these communities from the mode of their dressing particularly the traditional attire. For wallpapers, solemnly made for decoration, their designing determines their attractiveness to the target group and therefore expanded demand in the market. Textile and wallpaper decoration designs and patterns have changed with time since civilization as it has been with the architectural decorations due to the changes in technology.
In a 1941 essay, the architectural historian, Sir John Summerson, called it “surface modulation”. This particularly meant that, the application of the common form of architectural ornamentation on the surfaces of structures led to the modulation or modification of the same surfaces creating attractiveness.
Decoration and ornament has been evident in civilization since the beginning of recorded history, ranging from Ancient Egyptian architecture to the apparent lack of ornament of the 20th century modernist architecture.
Style of ornamentation clearly comes out in studying the cultures of different communities that developed the decorations and ornaments from their preceding cultures or modified unique decoration forms from other cultures. Architectural decoration started in ancient Egypt, where civilization started. The first decorations on the walls of buildings with pure natural theme dominated with figures of animals and plants.
Not all welcomed this advancement of decoration and ornamentation. Some critics of the then architectural technological advancement did not imagine that decoration was necessary.
Adolf Loos wrote his famous essay, “ornament and crime” in 1908, dismissing embellished ornaments as merely unnecessary decoration. According to Adolf, there was nothing important in decorating buildings and to him; anyone doing decoration was a criminal and a degenerate in the society.
Furthermore, Adolf compared decorating a building to a person doing tattoo in their faces, which was crime; at least to him. Decorating objects created by people were like tossing them from sides until they ruined and wracked. The ban proclaimed against this extremely harmonious formal language this intersection between high art and folklore, prevailed for almost a century.
Only since the return of the millennium, ornament has reestablished itself as decorative and yet subversive and allusive elements, abstract, and floral patterns adorn and dominate works in the contemporary visual arts. Bespeak beauty and seduction and they also always refer to society and gender – the way reality is constructed.
Culture is looked upon as living ways of various groups of individuals, which may consist of aspects like interaction, social activity, spirituality, thought, Sciences, and arts (Smyth, 2001, p.56). These may be explained as follows: Interaction refers to human contact and social aspects, which include give-and-take, regarding conversations, protocol, negotiations, and socialization.
These are useful aspects regarding living ways because individuals are usually dynamic and social in nature; therefore, they have to involve themselves in various interaction types with each other within their environments (Low, 2005, p.15). During these interactions of cultures, people copied decorative and ornamental forms which they modified coming up with better-decorated ornaments.
Social activity is shared pursuits and experiences in cultural communities, which are usually demonstrated, by various life-celebrating and festivity events. These social activities including the celebrations and festivities provide an opportunity for different cultures to interact, exchange ideas, and learn from each other in terms of ornamentation and decoration among other things.
Spirituality refers to belief systems, which help to build moral codes that are usually passed on through generations, which promotes human beings’ well-being. In addition, spirituality is usually highlighted through actions and languages. Thoughts are expressed ways through which people understand, interpret, and perceive the world around. Sciences and arts are looked upon as the most refined and advanced human expression forms (Smyth, 2001, p.48).
Science and art promoted the expression of the skills that different cultures had in their possession and those learned from others during their regular interactions and festivities. Language refers to the earliest human institution or expression medium which is usually sophisticated. These aspects indicate that culture is usually very important within society because it makes it possible for people to understand the various living ways, which exist among individuals.
Cultural studies may be perceived as an area of great importance because of its ability to offer appropriate principles for understanding and explaining human behavior. It is usually among the unique elements regarding contemporary social thought and it is very essential in contemporary social science research and specifically for the study of anthropology in particular.
Ornaments can be conceived in many ways; they appear in different places, colors, scales, and patterns depending on the culture from where the ornaments originate for cultures have distinct and unique colors and patterns symbolizing different themes. In most cases, these ornaments are worn on specific times for a meaning and by a particular class of people. Various are also the reasons to use ornaments, sometimes they are planned, sometimes they occur unintentionally – certainly, however, they are part of the local culture.
Ornamentation on the other hand is usually looked upon as the process or act of embellishing, adorning, or decorating (Low, 2005). Especially where a combination of both color and pattern decoration are applied, the patterns on the form or structure or figure adds interest in form of beauty more so where the image intended is solely imagination.
These decorations and ornaments differ from culture to another and from one community to the other. This brings to our attention that cultural ornamentation is the aspect, which makes it possible for various cultural aspects to be embellished, adorned, or decorated.
This implies that cultural ornamentation involves processes, which make it possible for cultural aspects to be attractive or appear as midpoints of interest (Winch, 1997). It therefore becomes apparent that, different cultures bear different decorative forms, which consequently express different cultural aspects.
From the aspects brought to light above, it is apparent that space according to cultural ornamentation is usually perceived as the various cultural differences, which are experienced amid various cultures (Low, 2005). It is apparent that culture or living ways vary from place to place and these variations are the ones, which are typically perceived as cultural spaces.
The variations in this case are experienced in interaction, social activity, spirituality, thought, Sciences and arts as well as language. These may be put to light as follows. For instance, interaction modes have been perceived as main cultural aspects because individuals have been found to be dynamic and social in nature and they end up involving themselves in various interaction types.
These interactions among different people of different cultures involve also interaction and copying of cultures themselves between the people interacting. These interactions have been found to vary from area to another and therefore cultural spaces exist between various areas.
Secondly, social activities also vary from place to another and therefore justify cultural space existence amid communities (Smyth, 2001). These social activities give a platform or a better forum for the different cultural societies gathering to express fully their arts. It is apparent that various societies have varying social activities and the felt differences in this case are cultural spaces.
Living ways of various communities are highly influenced by factors like surrounding environment and interaction with other communities.
Research has highlighted that, communities that highly interact with other communities end up incorporating their living ways and therefore the cultural spaces between them may end up being trimmed down. However, minimum interaction among cultures brings about limited learning regarding other individuals’ cultures and therefore they end up bringing about increased cultural spaces among them (Low, 2005).
Increased cultural space makes it difficult for individuals to understand cultures exhibited by other individuals due to the limited interactions between them whereas reduced cultural space brings about situations whereby easier understanding regarding various cultures is experienced across cultures.
This insight becomes clear in that the more the societies and cultures interact, the less the space between them reduce. The differences in sophistication of the arts from the two or more interacting societies show the space between the societies.
The regularly the cultures interact; the great the understanding between the two cultures exist. This is usually very essential due to its ability to sustain successfully the respect from other cultures because of the understanding, which is experienced among various cultures or individuals with varying living ways.
Spirituality varies from one culture to another; therefore, it may be used to express cultural space meaning. In spirituality, different people from different cultural backgrounds have different ways of carrying out their spiritual activities and the different forms of arts in their places of worship.
Spirituality in this case is value systems, which are usually passed on through generations (Winch, 1997). These value systems highly determine aspects, which are considered bad or good. Individuals from varying cultures may end up perceiving cultural spaces among them because they hold varying value systems.
African art, for example constitutes one of the most diverse legacies on earth. Though many casual observers tend to generalize “traditional” African art, the continent is full of people, societies, and civilizations, each with a unique visual special culture. The definition also includes the art of the African, such as the art of African Americans. Despite this diversity, there are some unifying artistic themes when considering the totality of the visual culture from the continent of Africa.
The human figure has always been the primary subject matter for most African art, and this emphasis even influenced certain European traditions. Most Europeans admired the cultures portrayed by the beautiful pieces of arts of African human figures and opted to adopt them, because the theme portrayed by these figures shows a rich African culture.
In most cases, these figures in their making signify a particular important cultural aspect for the community from which the piece of art comes from. The human figure may symbolize the living or the dead, may reference chiefs, dancers, or various trades such as drummers or hunters, or even may be an anthropomorphic representation of a god or have other votive function. Another common theme is the inter-morphosis of human and animal.
African artworks tend to favor visual abstraction over naturalistic representation. This is because many African artworks generalize stylistic norms. Ancient Egyptian art, also usually thought of as naturalistically depictive, makes use of highly abstracted and regimented visual canons, especially in painting, as well as the use of different colors to represent the qualities and characteristics of an individual being depicted.
African artists tend to favor three-dimensional artworks over two-dimensional works. Even many African paintings or cloth works were meant to be experienced three-dimensionally.
House paintings are often seen as a continuous design wrapped around a house, forcing the viewer to walk around the work to experience it fully; while decorated cloths are worn as decorative or ceremonial garments, transforming the wearer into a living sculpture. Distinct from the static form of traditional Western sculpture African art displays animation, a readiness to move.
An extension of the utilitarianism and three-dimensionality of traditional African art is the fact that much of it is crafted for use in performance contexts, rather than in static one.
For example, masks and costumes very often are used in communal, ceremonial contexts, where they are “danced.” Most societies in Africa have names for their masks, but this single name incorporates not only the sculpture, but also the meanings of the mask, the dance associated with it, and the spirits that reside within. In African thought, the three cannot be differentiated.
Often a small part of an African design will look similar to a larger part, such as the diamonds at different scales in the Kasai pattern at right. Louis Senghor, Senegal’s first president, referred to this as “dynamic symmetry.” William Fagg, the British art historian, compared it to the logarithmic mapping of natural growth by biologist D’Arcy Thompson. More recently, it has been described in terms of fractal geometry.
The origins of African art lie long before recorded history. African rock art in the Sahara in Niger preserves 6000-year-old carvings. The earliest known sculptures are from the Nok culture of Nigeria, made around 500 BC. Along with sub-Saharan Africa, the cultural arts of the western tribes, ancient Egyptian paintings and artifacts, and indigenous southern crafts also contributed greatly to African art.
Often depicting the abundance of surrounding nature, the art was often abstract interpretations of animals, plant life, or natural designs and shapes. In Islamic art, unless space is infinite, whatever goes on in that space will have to end at some point. Many have commented on what is taken to be a horror vacuity in Islamic ornamentation. A dislike of the empty, and this accounts for the ways in which space is filled up so comprehensively in Islamic art.
Yet space cannot be filled up entirely, for if it were, there would be no ornamentation.
Geometric patterns are often said to be empty of content, and so to stimulate the mind to think of a deity existing without companions. However, it could also get the mind to think all sorts of thing. How geometric shapes are infinite? There is nothing infinite about a square or a triangle; on the contrary, such a specific shape is precisely finite, with recognizable and visible limits that define it.
That is not to suggest that in Islamic art these forms of ornamentation are not used effectively to produce beautiful designs and consequently objects, but whether they are really supposed to produce particular ideas in us, their viewer, is questionable.
There is no reason to think that we have to see geometrical design as having any religious meaning whatsoever.
There is a saying in Arabic, ‘al-fann ihsas’ (‘art is feeling’). In addition, thought expresses cultural space because individuals from varying communities express varying views regarding various aspects (Winch, 1997).
Thought refers to expressed ways through which people understand, interpret and perceive would which surrounds them. It is apparent that individuals within varying localities and cultures have varying understanding, interpretation, and perception regarding various aspects.
Sciences and arts are looked upon as the most refined and advanced human expression forms. Human expressions differ from community to community, location to location, and among individual groups (Smyth, 2001). These variations are called cultural spaces among the various communities or groups.
Human expression forms are usually influenced by various factors including environment and interactions with other individuals holding varying cultures. It is apparent that substantial interactions among individuals brings about trimmed down cultural spaces whereas minimum interactions yield increased cultural spaces.
Language refers to the earliest human institution or expression medium which is usually sophisticated (Low, 2005). This expresses cultural space because various communities have various opinions regarding varying cultural aspects and they hold varying importance to them. The experienced variations are therefore expressed as cultural spaces among the various communities.
From the various aspects exposed above, it is apparent that space according to cultural ornamentation is the variations experienced regarding cultural aspects from one culture to another. The cultural ornamentation aspects, which determine cultural variations, include interaction, social activity, spirituality, thought, Sciences and arts as well as language.
Various individual groups experience varying cultural aspects and therefore the variations demonstrate cultural variations. Cultural space may be either narrow or wide depending on experienced interactions among individuals. Extended interactions regarding individuals from various cultures have the capacity to trim down cultural space whereas minimum interactions yield wider economic spaces.
This phenomenon happens for the obvious reasons that the more people stay together, the more they tend to understand each other; therefore, in the wake of different cultures associating, the cultural space melts down and vanishes without anyone noticing. Culture can define art by determining the type of art produced, by genre or the medium.
In the light of this acknowledgement, it suffices to concur that different cultures will have different types of art, genre and medium and because culture defines all these elements, then it (culture) becomes a determinant and a defining element of art. Art and culture are intertwined.
Blackmun. M. (2001) A history of Art in Africa, visiona et al. Prentice Hall, New York
Low, S. (2005). Rethinking Urban Parks: Public Space and Cultural Diversity. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.
Piotrovsky, M. & J. Vrieze (1999) Art of Islam: Heavenly Art, Earthly Art, ed. London, Lund Humpries
Smyth, G. (2001). Space and the Irish Cultural Imagination. New York: Palgrave.
Winch, S. (1997). Mapping the Cultural Space of Journalism: How Journalists Distinguish News From Entertainment. Westport, CT: Praeger.