Sunday, June 27, 2010

Those Hideous Forms

Let's take a look at my hotel in Minneapolis last week:

Where was I staying, the Overlook? Not quite. But I would like to draw your attention to a certain shape on the hall carpets:

Here are similar shapes elsewhere in the pattern:

Can you bear another?

To you, these might appear to be innocent loops. To me, there is something utterly hideous about them. Something unnatural, gleaming with threat. A loop should be circular, or close to circular. These elongated loops - these are terrible shapes. I recognized them as soon as I looked at the carpet. I haven't thought much about the evil loop before, but it does appear elsewhere. Look at the blank heads of De Chirico's metaphysical mannequins in The Disquieting Muses:

It is the same elongated loop. And what is similar to a loop? A dome. Here is a natural dome, a good dome designed by Dr. William Thornton in accord with the good lord's own plan for domes:

Here is an elongated dome, a hideous dome:

Nice one, Michigan.

Since I saw that carpet in Minneapolis, I have been thinking about what I detest about this murderous shape. I phrased it like this - you take an ordinary human head. This head has a generally round shape. It is the throne of nature, of intelligence, of beauty. Stretch it out as De Chirico does, and empty it of features. It becomes an uncanny shadow of the natural, stripped of intelligence, outside the question of beauty. Is it empty? Perhaps it is empty of matter, or filled with a homogeneous stuff. But it retains a kind of muted awareness. A blinking, vague, malignant awareness. If you stumbled upon it in the day, it would seem inert, lifeless, pitiable. If you should meet it in the night, it might awaken and mutilate you. It is a horrible thing, this head, this long loop.

That's a description, but it's a description of how I feel about it. Outside of me, it makes little sense. Or rather, it makes sense, but it is not necessary; it does not inhere in the object. It inheres in my response to the object.

So what's the point of my describing my mania about this hideous form to you? Because it is a useful example of a fascinating topic. For each of us, the world is not evenly distributed. Some things provoke less response than pure reason implies they ought. Some things provoke as much response as they should - they provoke linear responses, in proportion with their nature. And some provoke utterly disproportionate responses, unique to the distortions of subjectivity and personality we bring to our perceptions.

This final category of thing, the thing that can provoke a disproportionate response, is terribly important to the artist. We cannot force our response to inhere in the object, not exactly. But we can seize hold of our response to the object, and consider it, and become acquainted with the intensity and texture of our response. And then we can seek to convey what we feel - either in a depiction of the object, or by willfully attaching the response to the depiction of another object convenient to the art piece in question.

This is a large part of the source of intensity in art. It is not linear alone; it depends on unreasonable intensity in ourselves. Art which draws on this intensity has that quality of the creative, the original, the strange, which we are searching for all the time. We must recognize our intensity where we find it, and make it a tool in our toolbox.


  1. I actually prefer the Michigan dome, though I will grant you that it's definitely a bit terrifying; but it's also graceful and light and airy, whereas the semicircular one is somewhat ... pudgy. Is this all a phallic thing? How frightening that would be. For both of us.

  2. Eeks! Here's my list of how I think about things:

    1. everything else
    2. Freudian sexual-semiotic analysis

    Your take never even occurred to me! Maybe it's a phallic vs. breast thing. In which case, I guess I'm straight and so are you. Huh.

  3. I like the Washington breast more than the Michigan breast. Both are vastly preferable over the old lady Minneapolis hotel carpet breasts.

    What were we talking about?

    I love this blog, and this to me is a typical post in the following way. The first third contains something I can relate to and I'm pleased that I may even have something to share or contribute in the form of a comment.

    The second third makes me realize my original relation to the topic was juvenile and simplistic and I no longer want to comment. Yet I am still pleased that I can follow and understand the topic so there is hope I may be able to discuss it after all.

    And the final third I have to read several times because I have trouble wrapping my brain around it. Your brain leaves mine in the dust and I know again that I have little to offer.

    Yet here I go.

    The elongated loop I relate to as a graphic designer in the form of typography and also in poor graphic design. Fonts that are simply condensed to take up less space with no thought whatsoever given to the shapes of the new letters evoke an irrationally intense response in me. Sometimes this is done by whoever designed the font, but more often it's done by a clumsy desktop publisher whose boss told them to make the words bigger on the cover but not take up more lines. So often everything pleasing about a typeface is easily stripped away by simply condensing it by even as little as 5%. To my eye, anyway.

    And then there's the even worse design sin to do the same compression to an object to make it fit somewhere. My company's logo is, in part, contained in a circle. The time sheet I fill out twice a week has a squished, elongated version of the logo at the top of it. Not a single other person here gives a rat's ass about it, but I can not look at it.

    Sorry for the long comment. I do love your blog!