Thursday, May 31, 2012

Muted Language

Communication covers a broader terrain than most of us realize.  Since language is one of man’s most distinctive characteristics, we sometimes slip into the error of thinking that all communication must be verbal.  Executives and administrators – whether in education, industry or government – are especially prone to this fallacy.  This, of course, is not surprising, for the world is largely a verbal one.

     To persist in this narrow view of communication is folly.  Yet few training programs escape such folly; most of them ignore the entire range of non-verbal communication, the muted language in which human beings speak to one another more eloquently than with words.  Spoken and written language can be compared with blowing the trumpet with its throat open; non-verbal language can be compared to music played with a mute in the horn.  In the first place, the notes come out sharp and clear; in the second, they may be muffled but certainly no less evocative.  (Anyone who has ever listened to the muted trumpet of Louis Armstrong or Jonah Jones can testify to this effect.)  

To avoid the narrow view we must start by recognizing that man communicates to his fellow man with his entire body and with all his behavior.  We shall not discuss verbal communication; enough has been said about it.  Instead, we shall confine our remarks to muted language:  the language of the eyes and hands, of gesture, of time and of status symbols, of unconscious slips which betray the very words we use.

Excerpt from "Muted Language," by Prof. Andrew W. Galpin, University of Utah, The School Review, vol. 68, no. 1, Spring 1960, pp. 85-104, University of Chicago Press.


Top and Bottom:  Masaccio, The Expulsion From Eden, Brancacci Chapel, Sta. Maria del Carmine, Florence, 1426-27.

Center:  Judean desert limestone mask, pre-pottery neolithic B, circa 7th millenium B.C. 9 in. (22.8 cm.) long.

Jonah Jones Quartet -- Jumpin' With Jonah (link).

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Ceaseless Melody Of Northern Line

  The antithesis between classical ornament and Northern Gothic ornament requires a more exhaustive consideration.  The fundamental difference in the character of these two manifestations of art must also be demonstrated in detail.  


    When comparing the two styles of ornament, the first point that strikes one is that the Northern ornament lacks the concept of symmetry which from the beginning was so characteristic of all classical ornament. Symmetry is replaced by repetition.  

    A continually increasing activity without pauses or accents is set up and repetition has only the one aim of giving the particular motive a potential infinity. The infinite harmony of the line hovers before Northern man in his ornament: that infinite line which gives no pleasure, but which stuns and compels us to helpless surrender.

    If after contemplating Northern ornament, we close our eyes, all that remains to us is a lingering impression of a formless, ceaseless activity.

Excerpt:  Wilhelm Worringer, Form In Gothic (authorized translation  of Formprobleme der Gotik, edited with an introduction by Herbert Read), New York, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1927.


1. Daniel Hopfer,  (ca 1470-1536): Ornament with Thistle (Gothic Thistle). Etching.

2.  Shoulder clasp (closed) from the Sutton Hoo ship-burial.

3.  "Edinburgh Lecture diagram: Decorated cusped gothic window" by John Ruskin and Sir John Everett Millais, assisted by Euphemia Chalmers Ruskin, pencil, charcoal, ink, wash, oil and gold paint; paper mounted on linen, 1853.

4.  Ärentunar runestone with interlaced animal, Uppland, Sweden.

5.  Engraving of the Cross of Cong, an Irish processional cross decorated with elements of Insular art and Urnes-style decoration, early 12th century.


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Re-Reading (Autogeography)

    I.  Having learned how to recognize the general character of the Northern Gothic will to form in its purest manifestations – early ornament and mature Gothic architecture – we will now investigate the vicissitudes of this will to form.  We shall here be touching upon the great chapter in the development of mediaeval art, a chapter which, owing to the one-sidedness of the Renaissance point of view inherited by the modern historian, has never obtained its due.

     II.  I comply with the necessity of recapitulating once more in conclusion the course of development outlined in this chapter by quoting a passage from an academy lecture delivered by Alexander Conze, the Berlin archeologist:

"In the meaningless play of form of their geometrical style, untold generations of the old European nations found satisfaction for their aesthetic needs in the domain of plastic art, until gradually, under Southern influences, they were drawn into the circle of a richer world of form derived from one of countries in the Eastern corner of the Mediterranean.  But their own peculiar artistic sensibility did not thereby finally become extinct with the same rapidity as that of savages who nowadays come into much more violent contact with more highly developed civilization.  

In Greece, the Doric style, in which as Taine says 'trois ou quatre formes élémentaires de la géometrie font tous les frais,' may have grown up under the after effects of the mood of the old geometric style.  But in the north of Europe the vitality of primeval habit shows itself unmistakably when confronted with the intrusion of Graeco-Roman art.  After its first submission, the old native fashion pushes its way through, remodeling the alien forms, to issue in the Gothic style as the radiant outcome of the struggle between the two worlds of art; and even in the Rococo, after the repeated triumphs of the Renaissance, a last dying echo of it may be imagined.   

In Moslem art, an analogous breaking out of early undercurrents through the Graeco-Roman surface went on side by side with the emergence of the Gothic style.  Such far-reaching considerations, however, could only be developed in full with reference to the world-historical elements in the general history of art.”  (Sitzungbericht der Berliner Akademie der Wissenschaften, 11, II, 1897).

From:  Wilhelm Worringer, Form In Gothic (authorized translation  of Formprobleme der Gotik, edited with an introduction by Herbert Read), New York, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1927, Chapter 14, "The Vicissitudes of the Gothic Will to Form."

NOTE:  Before sliding this book from my shelf the other day, I hadn’t re-read any parts of Wilhelm Worringer’s important Form In Gothic since college, but when I did I was instantly transported to an exciting, moral world where disciplined analysis of the relationships between historical facts and images and the honest interchange of ideas are all that matters.  

     As Herbert Read writes in his excellent introduction, by the time he translated Worringer’s work some twenty years after its initial German publication, Worringer had significantly revised some of his earlier views.  What was most important to Read, however, was preserving the unique “inner life and movement” of the original work for readers:  

“Books of this kind are living things:  if you destroy their bodily unity by adding limbs to the evolved nexus of thought, you thereby destroy their breath and so their best effectiveness.”    

     As is often the case when re-opening  books you haven’t viewed for many years, other history happens.  

     Reading the inscription written by the person who purchased Worringer for me as a present was disturbing and a little painful and caused me to revisit other parts of my autogeography.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Arlington Memorial Bridge (from Great American Bridges and Dams)

   Located between two of the capital’s major tourist attractions, Arlington Memorial Bridge was started 40 years after a bridge at this site was first officially studied and even longer after Andrew Jackson first suggested such a span to symbolize the union between the North and South.  Various proposals to cross the Potomac River here were developed and abandoned over the years, including a twin-towered design chosen through an architectural competition in 1900.  Eventually, with the creation of the McMillan Park Commission and U.S. Commission of Fine Arts to expand the ceremonial core of Washington, plans turned to creating a bridge that would be integrated into the monumental new plan for the capital.   Providing a dramatic entrance to Arlington National Cemetery, the Memorial Bridge is particularly notable for its role in extending the axial plan of the Mall across the river.

     The bridge, begun in 1926, owes its neoclassical style to the noted architects McKim, Mead and White (Stanford White served on the 1900 design competition jury).  The ornamented masonry facing lends dignity to the bridge and relates it to the Lincoln Memorial (1922. Henry Bacon).  Many people consider this the most beautiful bridge in Washington, while others have decried the facing as an ill-conceived attempt to obscure the purity of the structural design.  Elizabeth Mock, for example, described it in The Architecture of Bridges (Museum of Modern Art, 1949) as “designed in Washington’s usual pompous neo-classic manner.”   

     With nine arches, the reinforced-concrete span is 2,138 feet long and 60-feet wide with 15-foot walkways.  The center arch is a double-leaf bascule bridge to provide clearance for ships traveling to the old port of Georgetown, about a mile upstream.  Although built of steel, it was designed to blend in with its neighboring masonry-clad arches.  At 216-feet long, the draw span is among the longest in the world but has not been opened for several years.  Completing the bridge’s ceremonial character are sculpted eagles and bison by Paul C. Jennewein as well as equestrian figures by Leo Friedlander.  The bridge remains in heavy use carrying U.S. Route 50 across the Potomac.  (National Register.)

NOTE:  This description of Washington’s Arlington Memorial Bridge from Donald C. Jackson’s Great American Bridges and Dams (New York, John Wiley & Sons, 1988), seemed an appropriate 2012 Memorial Day entry here.   

    It really is a beautiful bridge, part of a breathtaking city design, and its linking relation to the Lincoln Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery is extremely moving. 

    I’ve always thought that Professor Jackson’s book, a National Trust Guide and 50-state bridges and dams Baedeker, should be in every American’s  automobile glove compartment. (The book is oblong and seems made that purpose.)   

     Gracefully written and beautifully illustrated, the study’s introductory history and architectural conservation sections, as well as its A-W/state-by-state bridge and dam descriptions, along with its epilogue, all teach valuable, memorable lessons.

I hope everyone reading this enjoys a very happy Memorial Day.