Denman Ross and American Design Theory

Denman Ross and American Design Theory

Language: English

Pages: 344

ISBN: 1611680255

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


In this masterful intellectual and cultural biography of Denman Ross (1853–1935), the American design theorist, educator, art collector, and painter who taught at Harvard for over 25 years, Marie Frank has produced a significant artistic resurrection. An important regional figure in Boston’s fine arts scene (he remains one of the largest single donors to the collections of the MFA to this day), Ross was a friend and colleague of Arthur Wesley Dow, Bernard Berenson, Jay Hambidge, and others. He gained national and international renown with his design theory, which ushered in a shift from John Ruskin’s romantic naturalism to the formalist aesthetic that characterizes modern art and architecture. Ross’s theory attracted artists, Arts and Crafts artisans, and architects, and helped shape architectural education, scholarship, and museum practices. This biography of an important intellectual figure is also a fascinating and illuminating guide to a pivotal point in American cultural history and a reminder of the days when Boston was America’s salon.

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wrote: ‘‘Art demands a nice discipline of eye and ear even to learn its alphabet. If we are to get out of it anything besides vague sensation, the physical organs must be trained to observe with exactitude, and the mental to discover its organic constitution, and to comprehend its philosophy.’’≥Ω To get beyond the ‘‘vague sensation’’ of likes and dislikes, Jarves closely delineated how ‘‘to observe with exactitude.’’ Critical observation had its basis in an assessment of the idea and execution in

reform in art education. Art education was not unknown territory to Fenollosa. He had attended the Massachusetts Normal Art School briefly in 1878; more important, as part of a delegation connected with the founding of a Japanese national art school, from 1886 to 1890, he traveled through the United States and Europe to study art education methods. This experience gave him an unparalleled opportunity to compare academic and industrial design methods. However, the pedagogy he slowly began to

pretty, furniture pretty, clothes pretty,—prettyfying things; it is not that.’’∏∏ One can still hear the staccato delivery of the last four words. For Ross, design served as the process through which an artist could improve both the idea and the execution. 82 : Denman Ross & American Design Theory Through design exercises, a student learned both how to think and how to execute. Or, to use Ross’s favorite word, design brought ‘‘order’’ to thinking and execution: ‘‘By Design I mean Order in human

Another Science, Psychology, and Formalist Aesthetics : 111 figure 3.3 An ophthalmotrope, from Hermann von Helmholtz, Helmholtz’s Treatise on Physiological Optics, vol. 3, fig. 15. instrument, a chronoscope, could measure the speed, to a thousandth of a second, with which the mind reacted to visual stimuli. After conducting numerous experiments, Wundt and his students mathematically demonstrated that the more complex the stimulus, the longer the reaction time. Psychologists continued to debate

soon joined on the Harvard faculty by George Santayana and Hugo Münsterberg, both of whom had studied physiological psychology in Germany. At Princeton University, George Lansing Raymond explored the relation of art and science and drew upon physiopsychological responses to produce a seven-volume study, An Introduction to the Study of Comparative Aesthetics. John Ward Stimson’s The Gate Beautiful provided an overpowering collection of sources from the ancients through nineteenth-century figures

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