Less Is Less

  Scottish poet Robert Browning in his 1855 poem “The Faultless Painter”  writes the following line  “Well less is more, Lucrezia: I am judged” The words were adopted by German architect Mies van der Rohe in 1947 to reflect his slant on Modern architecture. “Less is more” has been a potent meme in contemporary architecture from 1950 to the present. The phrase is a corollary to the Adolf Loos 1910 lecture and essay titled  “Ornament and crime” and soon became “Ornament is a crime” adding a moralizing element to Modern architecture that expanded like an ecclesiastical tumor upon the movement. A generation of young turks in the Western world made a big, fat moral issue of their slimmed-down Modernist esthetic - swallow our astringent, soulless Kool Aid or you are a Victorian degenerate throwback and deserve to be run out of town.

“Nothing in excess” - Ancient carving at the Greek temple at Delphi

“A man must know how to choose the mean and avoid extremes” -       -Socrates

For over one hundred years the shedding of 19th Century gingerbread esthetic has reigned on all man- made things from lamps, chairs and tables to buildings (though violated by Frank Lloyd Wright who assigned “organic” truth to his carbuncular detail. Most Modern architects and industrial designers have endorsed a machine esthetic - form follows function or Form and function are one. The steamship, the airplane, the locomotive as early 20th Century examples of a more honestly conceived design.

In the realm of painting, the notion that every visible component of a scene must be faithfully rendered as seen by the eyeball-occipital axis of “reality” evaporated with the impressionists in 1870 and has remained in a gaseous state ever since;  exceptions for throwback obsessives  Richard Estes and John Currin noted. Total abstraction launched by Kandinsky, Mondrian and Malevich in the early 20th century  became comfortable to the contemporary mind. Non-objective Painting by Jackson Pollock, Helen Frankenthaler, Ellsworth Kelly, Frank Stella and Larry Poons is old hat. Less courses through this work but is there adequate “more” ?   There is more in Stella but a more deficit  in Kelly. Kelly has taken a ride on the easy train with his large monotone shaped canvases. The license to do away with ornament spawned artists who do not search for the essence of less while delivering less itself.



JB Questions and comments:

  1. Has epigenetics been an accelerator of geographic realpolitik over the past 3,000 years?  In his Pulitzer Prize winning book about the origins of cultural dominance, “Guns, Germs, and Steel,  UCLA Professor Jared Diamond asserts the foundational role of geography alone in creating the technological headstart for some peoples of the Earth. Diamond’s idea of primacy of geography contains the subsets:edible wild plants that are easily domesticated and large wild animals that can be domesticated to become beasts of burden as well as transportation in peace and war. Perhaps there is more to the story. Once a tribe or a kingdom gets a headstart from its food and animal resources it’s conceptual tools such as writing and language development get hardwired epigenetically forming a synergy of brain and geography resulting in cultural acceleration and domination. The causation is not geography alone as Diamond so forcefully asserts prior to 25 years of intense genetic research since publication of “GGS”.
  2. Did ancient Andean or New Guinea ancient mountain populations invent the wheel and discard it due to steep trails and lack of brakes? Perhaps wheels made of thin sections of logs or rings of bamboo slathered with rubber that would  have decayed leaving no evidence. Archaic wheels do not need to follow the Fred Flintstone model.
  3. Is American ghetto violence simply the chaos that always exists between opposing paradigms as these neighborhoods waffle between the tribe political organizational paradigm and the kingdom paradigm?  I.E. indefinite borders, ambiguous membership, scope of political unit?  There is no clear political definition in these communities thus no political stability. Drugs, poverty, lack of education are the result of paradigm ambiguity. Is it one group per block as some assume or one per four or eight blocks as others define it or the border between housing and train tracks, freeway, river? Who knows? Ambiguity results in perpetual  battle.
  4. The Chinese have had a compulsion for innovation stifling top down social control for thousands of years due to a lack of trust among themselves. Is the widespread lack of trust among the Chinese an epigenetic trait peculiar to the Chinese? Are black Africans any different? Whites? Melanesians? Polynesians? What brain area and neurological mechanisms harbor trust, ability to trust, trust response, the trust connection with one’s family, friends, neighbors, fellow countrymen so vital to cultural development.
  5. Rank the nations of the word not by gross national product but by per capita debt.
  6. Apropos of little - Differences in highrise office towers the world over are like different dog breeds. Nothing genetic happening. No mutations of import. All highrise towers share 99.999% of their DNA. These buildings are not analogous to lions, tigers, bears or crocodiles but to  spaniels, labradors, shepherds and weiner dogs. High rise architects are like a league of dog breeders - no evolution just superficial change. Some elevators are more efficient than others, some enclosure systems are more versatile - so what? Highrise architecture is a crashing bore - no genetic change since the curtain wall was invented in 1909 ( Boley building, Kansas City, MO, architect:  Louis Curtiss.
  7. Are schizophrenia, manic depression and hypomania degrees of the same parasitic disease of the brain? Perhaps amoebae Toxoplasma gondii or N. fowleri?
  8. Are the tension-sensing proteins at work in microtubules during mitosis the same proteins as those in trees and all branching plants that sense tension and or compression forces caused by asymmetrical limb growth and sending grow signal to opposite side of tree to maintain equilibrium?
  9. Is cilia rotation at embryonic notochord cells counterclockwise at southern hemisphere in marsupials? It is clockwise in northern hemisphere in animals.
  10. What signals the proteins that signal the start of the embryonic ectoderm’s  production of neural tissue?
  11. JB neolog: “Stochastic Differentiation”: Adjacent cells correct one another thus avoiding catastrophic errors that would result if a single overall masterplan blueprint were used to direct cell activity. Stochastic Differentiation implies bottom up causality as opposed to top down causation.


11/7/15  11:51 AM