Re: Khamseh drawing room

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Posted by R. John Howe on November 17, 1998 at 21:17:19:

In Reply to: Khamseh drawing room posted by Wendel Swan on November 15, 1998 at 20:38:40:

Dear folks -

I think what Wendel has done here presenting side by side color and B&W images of this rug is very useful for demonstrating the extent to which its attractiveness is dependent on color rather than its graphic design. More, I think this method is likely to be of continuing use to us as we go along in these conversations.

I do not want to be redundant with what Wendel has said about this piece but I want to draw attenton to three aspects of this rug's graphics the inadequacy of which, I think, is made clearer in the B&W image.

First, it might improve our assessment of this rug's design if the weaver had omitted many of the small devices that fill the field. But good design is not just a matter of clearing away clutter (although it may permit the better evaluation of what remains). It is also a matter of the shape of the ornaments: both their postive shape and the shape of the negative space that surrounds them. The shape of the central medallion in this rug is for me uninspired. Compare it with medallion of the dust jacket rug on Opie's "Tribal Rugs of Sothern Persia and you will see what I mean. Look at just one feature. The lobing of the edge of most central part of the Opie dusk cover medallion is for me much superior to the simple steps in our little Khamseh piece.

The point about the function of negative space seems to me also to be relevant to a critique of the drawing of the rows of botehs just inside the top and bottom borders of this rug. Now a boteh is a widely used device. It is legitimately what Chris Alexander calls a "center": a design element that is a "whole," that looks complete in and of itself. And these botehs are "wholes" too but their effectiveness is limited by the fact that the negative space that surrounds them is small and has no distictive shape of it own.

A third graphic weakness of this rug, revealed clearly by the B&W image, is that the main border, already indistinct in color (although it is one instance in which the weaver used a slightly different scale), nearly disappears in B&W. Rather than framing the field, it drifts away into obscurity.

One last point related to our shared wish that this rug had more space and fewer devices especially in the field. When we get to examining Alexander's work, as we are going to do before too long, we will find he holds that the best graphic design is (objectively!) the one with the greatest number of "centers" (devices that function as "wholes.") This claim too suggests that good graphic design is not merely a matter of providing spaciousness. The idea that greatest number of 'centers' equals the best design does not sound quite as simple as "good design equals spacious placement of the design elements." Spaciousness may often be a necessary condition of good design but it is not, at least for Mr. Alexander, a sufficient one.

Anyway, I congratulate Wendel on his introduction of this useful kind of comparison into our conversation.

John Howe

: My immediate reaction to the Khamseh that Daniel posted was that it is a relatively unusual and attractive rug with wonderful color, above average in its group, but not outstanding. Perhaps my reaction is similar to his, for one could not say that his posting came with unbridled enthusiasm.

: Our individual preferences depend on a variety of factors, ranging from the purely subjective ("I don't like buttermilk") to those more or less based upon objective standards learned or acquired through experience ("I've tasted every vintage of Chateau Latour since 1950 and I believe the 1961 to be the most impressive.")

: Surely the most frequent complaint about this rug, and the one most likely to separate it from the very best examples, is that the field is crowded. In the rug world, we all quickly learn the convention that rug designs should not be "crowded." Why? If too close together, each element loses its separate identity, its impact, its importance as the senses are overloaded.

: In this case, the crowding almost masks another flaw: the rug has little design structure as can been seen by comparing the black and white image with the color image. Aside from having a relatively simple stepped medallion and a border, there is no real pattern to the rug. It is mostly random filler.

: Compounding this problem is the fact that there is virtually no alternation in the scale of the design elements. The border, the field and the medallion are all drawn to approximately the same scale.

: One can argue that such spontaneity is desirable in rugs, but I tend to view the design of a rug (whether the "designer" is a real person or a tradition) as a factor that is as important as any other.

: Without the opportunity to examine the rug, I couldn't comment on its possible tactile qualities, but the color saturation and the juxtaposition of colors is excellent. I can imagine that it has a marvelous handle. (My monitor is full of finger prints trying to test this notion; it hasn't worked yet.)

: Having just picked the rug to pieces with these critical statements, I find the color saturation, transition and range to be quite appealing. This charm nearly overcomes its lack of "pedigree." A fragment of it would probably satisfy me as much as the whole.

: Wendel

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