Decorous.

One of the fascinating things to me about art history is the way decorating styles have changed over the millennia. In most cultures decoration—which I’ll just define broadly as little fiddly bits added on to something that don’t really need to be there but make it look nicer—is used to some degree or other. In Europe decoration really reached its height in the Baroque and Rococo periods with decoration getting so elaborate I’m not sure the eye could take it all in, and in a lot of cases there were details that were missed. Once, while I was visiting a late Baroque cathedral in Austria, the tour guide pointed out a carving on the armrest of a pew of a couple in the 69 position, and it probably went unnoticed for a really long time because it was dark wood and there was so much other stuff around it. And eventually there’d be a decline and some movements, particularly in architecture, aimed for more utilitarian designs, such as the Bauhaus which had an aesthetic based on straight lines and little decoration but then moved into singing about Bela Lugosi, but that’s another story.

Even the sparest, least decorated art can also be very emotionally effective. Some people point to Mark Rothko’s large blocks of color and say, “Well, hell, I could do that,” but his paintings can be very haunting and up close reveal a lot of detail in the brushwork. It’s also worth noting that he designed a special building with carefully controlled lighting to give people a very specific experience of seeing his paintings.

Because graffiti is illegal it usually has to be quick and dirty—as opposed to elaborately carved couples in flagrante delicto which would be long and dirty–or at least quick, so there’s not a lot of time for decorating, but I always appreciate it when it adds a little something to an otherwise bland space.

6 Comments

  1. Donna

    Yes, yes! Also, thank you for the vid.
    A good salve on a hard day.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I’m glad I could provide a salve as well as, I hope, take you on a bit of a journey.

      Reply
  2. Ann Koplow

    Thanks, Chris, for all the fiddly bits in this stylishly decorous blog post.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Your comments are always appreciated and while I’d call them decorative I’d also never describe them as unnecessary.

      Reply
  3. mydangblog

    Which kind of graffiti do you prefer–the illegal kind or the sanctioned kind? I think that the illegal kind has a more daring spirit, but I love what people can really do with those ‘canvases’ when they have time and no fear of the law.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      You’ve hit on why I have mixed feelings about graffiti. It’s really impressive to me what some people do illicitly and probably pretty quickly, but I think my interest in graffiti as art goes back to a documentary I saw in the ’80’s about how some of the artists were able to get off the street and do work in studios or get jobs making public murals. There was an interesting conflict there. They basically had to risk going to jail first just to get the recognition needed to start making art legally.

      Reply

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