Ornament, Primitivism, and the Idea of Decoration


Fall 2013


5th Floor Classroom


This seminar explores the interrelated roles of ornamentation and primitivism in the construction of Western notions of decoration. Concentrating on the period from the late 18th to the 20th century, students examine how theories of ornamentation were formed in relation to the concept of the “primitive.” Although the discourse of embellishment was established well before the modern era, it takes on new significance in the context of imperialism and industrialization in the 19th century. In addition to examining closely the key texts in their intellectual and cultural contexts, including works by Semper, Riegl, Jones, and Loos, students look at the ways in which non-Western and unindustrialized cultures provided a visual and ideological basis for the idea of decoration. 3 credits.