Color vs Graphics in This Khamseh

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Posted by R. John Howe on November 18, 1998 at 23:19:10:

>>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 attention to three aspects of this rug's graphics the inadequacies of which, I think, are 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 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 Southern Persia (something not quite fair, I agree) 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

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