Sunday, December 28, 2008

Ornament and Crime

Adolf Loos (1870 - 1933) was a Viennese modernist architect, and a virulent opponent of ornament in all elements of design. He considered ornament and decoration enemies of modernism, and evidence of a cultural regression into primitivism:
The evolution of culture is synonymous with the removal of ornament from objects of daily use.
Loos was also a bit of an extremist, and like his Futurist contemporaries, he took his intellectual proclamations perhaps further than necessary to prove a point. Here's a passage from his often confrontational and sometimes ridiculous text "Ornament and Crime" (1908), where he makes sweeping comparisons between tattoos, fine art and criminality:
Children are amoral, and so, by our standards, are Papuans. If a Papuan slaughters an enemy and eats him, that doesn't make him a criminal. But if a modern man kills someone and eats him, he must be either a criminal or degenerate. The Papuans tattoo themselves, decorate their boats, their oars, everything they can get their hands on. 
 But a modern man who tattoos himself must be either a criminal or a degenerate. Why, there are prisons where eighty percent of the convicts are  tattooed, and tattooed men who are not in prison are either latent criminals or degenerate aristocrats. When a tattooed man dies at liberty, it simply means that he hasn't had time to commit his crime.
The urge to ornament one's face, and everything within one's reach, is the origin of fine art. 

1 comment:

  1. That reminds me of the guy on Housewives of Orange County who tattooed the word "Nugget" on the inside of his lower lip. That is cool, obviously, but even cooler if you know that "Nugget" refers to the fetus that his ex-girlfriend miscarried the year before. They called it "Nugget" because it looked to them like a chicken nugget in the sonogram. So maybe your dude was right after all.