THE SENSE OF ORDER: A Study in the Psychology of Decorative Art by E. H. Gombrich

THE SENSE OF ORDER: A Study in the Psychology of Decorative Art

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E. H. Gombrich's numerous essays and his powerful, full-length study in the psychology of pictorial representation, Art and Illusion, have nurtured a generation of art historians and stimulated research and theory well beyond art history. The Sense of Order, consummating a labor of many years and intended as a companion to Art and Illusion, carries forward the theme of the earlier book into the study of non-pictorial art--i.e., decoration. As before, Gombrich seeks to explain why different styles of artwork exist, and his explanation looks to both the inherent psychology of visual perception and to the changing tastes of culture. Deocrative art, he finds, arises from the innate sense of spatial order imposed by the mind upon phenomena. Yet this order is not simple, for it combines the attributes of economy--quick comprehensibility, simplicity, predictability, etc.--with those of intellectual enjoyment: variety, complexity, surprise. Thus the order at the heart of decoration lies between monotony and confusion; and the history of that order, several episodes of which Gombrich narrates, takes in both the ""force of habit,"" which gives persistence to motifs, and the varieties of taste--usually allied with morality--which prompt change. Of particular interest here are Gombrich's remarks on the recurrence of classical ideals opposing rich ornament as evil--taking the rise of modernist austerity out of Victorian art criticism as an instance, and the return of ornament nowadays as the completion of a cultural cycle. Neatly divided into three sections--on the relation of theory and practice in decorative art, the psychology of perception, and the psychological history of decorative motifs--and rhetorically clear, Gombrich's book is nonetheless exceedingly difficult to comprehend fully. Gombrich is here, as he admits, working his way through a forest of ideas, facts, and images in search of a theory, rather than presenting definitive conclusions. Still, the adventure affords a superior education in the history and psychology of non-pictorial art.

Pub Date: March 15th, 1979
ISBN: 0714822590
Publisher: Cornell Univ. Press