Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Style Proceeding from Substance

I want to say that style should proceed from substance, but I do not know precisely what I mean by this.

Imagine a blog written on the topic of French Cuisine that featured a background of a .jpg of homeless man repeated across the Y Axis along the top. This style is utterly irrelevant to the content of the blog - it would be a bit of surrealism or an attempt at being 'random,' and nothing more.

But when we see American twenty-somethings wearing a hooded sweatshirt with a fleur-de-lis on it, well, no one thinks that is surreal.

If I stamped my hands on the keyboard to produce nonsense text, well, we would think it odd that text was produced that communicated and symbolized nothing. But a screen door with metal twisted into curls symbolizes what exactly?

Perhaps you will object that it is just a bit of decoration and it was not intended to show or tell anything and that expecting it to show or tell something means I do not understand the goal in which it was created. This brings me back to what I said initially, I want to say that style should proceed from substance. Perhaps what I mean by this is that there should be no decoration that lacks relevance.

That is, it makes sense for a man with the last name Murray to have metal bars welded onto his screen door in the shape of a letter 'M.' It makes less sense for someone named, say, Dunahue. It makes sense for a church to prominently display a cross on top of their building, but a steeple is empty decoration*, style that does not proceed from substance. Look at this blog itself - I chose the Awesome Inc. template because it was pleasing to my eye and because I prefer white text on a dark background, but why are there diagonal lines streaking down the background? What do those indicate? Celebrate? Dedicate? Why are they there? Only to be pleasing to the eye?

Is being pleasing to the eye enough?

This may be a matter of personal preference. I prefer a thing to be functional and without decoration if I can not find some significance to the decoration. But then in the case of a question-mark, letters, flowers used as symbols, flag colors, and ninety-percent of band logos, the symbols themselves are arbitrary and only later receive significance from the nature of what they decorate. This means a bit of style may not proceed the substance, but later takes part in the substance.

So, for the moment, I conclude only that decoration without meaning is, to me at least, ugly and unwelcome.

*the historical use of the steeple has given the steeple significance; no doubt there is also some other deeper meaning that someone more familiar with church architecture could highlight. My example should still be illuminating if it is taken in the understanding in which I wrote it.

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