On Ornamentation

Aglaia, the Grace of ornamentation, is the member of the classical pantheon most in sympathy with our aims. It is she who most kindly and encouragingly smiles upon our efforts to regain what has been lost, in the ephemeral arts of personal appearance and decoration. Let us ask her blessing for our endeavors!

Ornament is not something extraneous that should be purged to find the truth underneath, it is an organic part of being. It is a mistake to consider ornament and decoration as something akin to a lie – quite a common misconception in design in these gloomy days! Ornament is to human-made objects and particularly to dress as life is to the Universe: not strictly speaking necessary, but without it there would not be any meaning to the whole thing! We can imagine a Universe devoid of life, but it is a frightening vision, just as we can imagine and produce objects without decorative aims, but these are despite any physical functionality dysfunctional as parts of human experience and culture. Decorative dress is a meaningful part of our existence, as impulses older than civilization impel people to varying degrees of preoccupation with adornment. There is no society, not a single culture on earth, where the call of Beauty is not heard and responded to in some form.

It is the adorning of the self which separates human and animal more accurately than any other action. Animals form sophisticated societies, communicate for practical and pleasurable reasons, build and arrange their nests with as much care as humans do, use tools. But none adorn themselves. Without personal ornament a human being is just a naked animal. Clothed in purely utilitarian clothes human being ignores the great universe of culture, which is not outside or opposite of physical world but transcends it – culture of beauty, which is the human contribution to the Universe and our reason for existing. Undecorated human form should be viewed as a gardener views bare earth: it is fertile with potential, but not the end in itself, and if it should remain bare for an extended period of time, there is some problem which should be attended to without delay.

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