ORNAMENT, ARCHITECTURAL. In decorative art ornament is that element which supplies beauty in detail by the addition of anything which gives an aesthetic pleasure.
In all beginnings of primitive culture man shows a marked tendency to decorate his utensils, fabrics and ceramics with some sort of ornament. These early designs, consisting largely of over lapping stitches, lines, triangles, dots, zigzags, spirals and crosses, are purely linear even when colour is used to heighten the effective ness of the designs. All have very similar motifs, and crude as this early ornament is, it still persists as a basis for much of the so-called abstract ornament in use to-day. These forms may be due to a lack of handicraft ability. For whether or not these early designs in the cultural growth of a people are representa tive of natural objects—the scales of fishes, the feather pat terns of birds, plants and things of common everyday experience— the technical difficulties in the way of making free designs in the art of basketry, weaving or pottery tend to make the designs geometric in character. It is also possible that such designs may have lost their pure form through the tendency to standardize that comes of the endless copying by craftsmen of different de grees of skill. It is evident to the casual observer that more culture is necessary to produce free designs than is the case with the use and development of geometric art, because of the greater technical difficulties, and that naturalistic ornament while deriving its sources from nature tends to become abstract owing to the conventionalization of the motifs employed. At the same time, the abstract ornament tends to revert back to the natural as it takes on complexity.
The theory of the evolution of the natural to the geometric, while not accepted by all the authorities on primitive art, has, if the psychology of the designer or artist is taken into considera tion, much to commend it. A conventionalization of design takes place without fail in any art due to the very great difficulty in inventing new motifs and to the natural inclination of the average craftsman to be content with imitation, and finally the design motifs conventionalize in primitive art because of a special sym bolic meaning associated with the religion and customs of the tribe and so become difficult to change. In fact, it is this very conventionalization of ornament for all uses, for whatever rea son, that formalizes into the standards which we call styles. His torically, these styles mark the evolution of ornamental design and are definitely related to the customs and civilization of the people who produced them. Furthermore, a style is known not by its beginnings but by its decadence, and is named not by its creator hut by historians.
Historically, all ornament has passed through this primitive stage to a period of larger viewpoint, when the artist becomes more interested in a sense of a lack of completeness and the design motifs gather or lose a quality of freshness and time appreciation in ratio to the existence or lack of that sense. For example, archi tectural ornament of the nature of the chevron, the dentil, the egg and dart, and the bead and reel, are primitive forms, each complete in itself, in which as a repetition the timebeat, the inter val and the rhythm are uniform and are therefore rigid and mechanical, easily comprehended, and lacking in time apprecia tion ; whereas such motifs as the arabesque, the vine and flam boyant tracery are without that limited sense of completeness, and in so far as the rhythm interacts with the interval and against the timebeat, they lose the quality of the mechanical and be come more enduring in interest. (See GREEK ARCHITECTURE and ROMAN ARCHITECTURE.) Appreciation of any art presupposes sufficient leisure for its enjoyment, so that in designing ornament it would seem necessary to consider a time element as well as whether or not it is proper both as to position and technical fitness. This time element engenders space elements by means of which appreciation must be led from one detail to another, and as all ornament is static in nature it should include, therefore, within the design a stimulus toward, and an opportunity for, fresh viewpoints, and so encourage a more continuous period of appreciation. It is the thought or emo tion behind the ornament that lives, while its surface aspects, because of the always evident desire to change, must become outmoded in time.