The Aesthetics of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Organic Architecture: Hegel, Japanese Art, and Modernism

To control SPAM, you must now be a registered user to post to this Message Board.

EFFECTIVE 14 Nov. 2012 PRIVATE MESSAGING HAS BEEN RE-ENABLED. IF YOU RECEIVE A SUSPICIOUS DO NOT CLICK ON ANY LINKS AND PLEASE REPORT TO THE ADMINISTRATOR FOR FURTHER INVESTIGATION.

This is the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy's Message Board. Wright enthusiasts can post questions and comments, and other people visiting the site can respond.

You agree not to post any abusive, obscene, vulgar, slanderous, hateful, threatening, *-oriented or any other material that may violate any applicable laws. Doing so may lead to you being immediately and permanently banned (and your service provider being informed). The IP address of all posts is recorded to aid in enforcing these conditions. You agree that the webmaster, administrator and moderators of this forum have the right to remove, edit, move or close any topic at any time they see fit.
Post Reply

SDR
Posts: 20196
Joined: Sat Jun 17, 2006 11:33 pm
Location: San Francisco

Re: The Aesthetics of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Organic Architecture: Hegel, Japanese Art, and Modernism

Post by SDR »

"While the term aesthetics implies a preoccupation with the ”look” of something and its
subjective perceptual effects, I am using the term here in the same sense that Hegel used it in his
Aesthetics. While the word aesthetics will be used due to common use, the more accurate
description here will be the more fuller sense conveyed by a philosophy of art."

Ouch. Pressing on: Architect Dahlin writes:

"Wright’s own theory of organic architecture was not systematically structured nor defined, and
even today the idea of “organic architecture” is conflicted and ambiguous. Wright’s own manifestos of
organic architecture, from his 1908 “In the Cause of Architecture” essay, to his 1957 outline of the
organic from his book A Testament, reveal a lack of systematic structure. While Wright’s body of work
over his entire career has much continuity of principle, this is not properly reflected in his own writings
on the subject. There are categorical errors, lack of parallelism, lack of hierarchical structuring of his
terms, and seeming ad hoc groupings of ideas so that it is difficult to know when his language is merely
rhetorical rather than theoretically significant. And yet he made it clear that he felt a proper theory of
organic architecture needed to be grounded in philosophy."

If the author is able to shed light on this seldom-addressed issue, which pervades Wright's efforts at explaining or describing his own work, I will be most grateful---and a little garbled writing, such as is found in the opening pages of this paper, will be a small price to pay.

S
"As a former copy editor, I always feel I am defending the person whose name is being misspelled, not attacking the person who misspells it." Ronald Alan McCrea (1943-2019)

Roderick Grant
Posts: 10571
Joined: Wed Mar 29, 2006 7:48 am

Re: The Aesthetics of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Organic Architecture: Hegel, Japanese Art, and Modernism

Post by Roderick Grant »

The whole thing is much ado about nothing. FLW regretted using the term "organic," and had he been able to go back, he would have chosen "bionic." Dahlin may have proved that FLW did not adhere to Hegel's philosophy, but I suspect Himself would have waved it off. FLW used language like Mae West: "Sometimes I push the language around a bit to get my meaning across." I still aver that philosophy is largely a pastime, and venturing into "Absolute Idealism" is a waste of time.

SDR
Posts: 20196
Joined: Sat Jun 17, 2006 11:33 pm
Location: San Francisco

Re: The Aesthetics of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Organic Architecture: Hegel, Japanese Art, and Modernism

Post by SDR »

I suppose the author's principle conclusion, that Wright's work represents a "middle way," between the antique or classical on the one hand, and the reductivist or "stripped" modern of his contemporaries on the other, while not entirely novel is worth restating as a way of understanding the aesthetic.

Dahlin opens with, "The goal of this dissertation is to write the theory of organic architecture which Wright himself did
not write." Yawn if you will. But he goes on to promise a look for sources of the architect's aesthetic, which is and always will be of interest to those, like me, who are primarily interested in the form of the work itself, philosophies or their lack notwithstanding. In so doing he announces that the art of Japan (some of it, presumably) will be a subject, along with words---if not images---from Hegel. I have not yet worked my way through this thicket, so have yet to see what he finds.

S
"As a former copy editor, I always feel I am defending the person whose name is being misspelled, not attacking the person who misspells it." Ronald Alan McCrea (1943-2019)

SDR
Posts: 20196
Joined: Sat Jun 17, 2006 11:33 pm
Location: San Francisco

Re: The Aesthetics of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Organic Architecture: Hegel, Japanese Art, and Modernism

Post by SDR »

The first chapter begins, "The research problem being addressed in this dissertation is to determine how a comparison with a key historical source of aesthetics might help to position Wright’s theory of organic architecture and to clarify his architectural aesthetic. Further, it addresses how this might help structure the theory of organic architecture which Wright himself did not write."

Trying as ever to clear the ivy from the walls of Wright's work---figuratively speaking, and recalling his tongue-in-cheek advice to plant vines when confronted with architectural error---I have to ask, is it not possible to "clarify his architectural aesthetic" without resorting to philosophy ? One is put in mind of Postmodernism in our field, and the heights and depths reached in looking for architectural form and meaning outside of the discipline. If the excursion had produced better work I wouldn't hesitate to sit up and take notice. But . . . it did not---it seems to me.

Reading on . . .

S
"As a former copy editor, I always feel I am defending the person whose name is being misspelled, not attacking the person who misspells it." Ronald Alan McCrea (1943-2019)

loo tee
Posts: 50
Joined: Sat Dec 01, 2012 12:35 pm

Re: The Aesthetics of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Organic Architecture: Hegel, Japanese Art, and Modernism

Post by loo tee »

Wright and Hegel ? Give me a break. Hegel belongs strictly to the Academics, or those with tedious minds and vacuous abstract thoughts that accord with such bunk as "the World Spirit." Schopenhauer saw clean through Hegel. Wright knew that perception and feeling were what counted.

SDR
Posts: 20196
Joined: Sat Jun 17, 2006 11:33 pm
Location: San Francisco

Re: The Aesthetics of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Organic Architecture: Hegel, Japanese Art, and Modernism

Post by SDR »

Dahlin admits that there's no evidence that Wright read or quoted Hegel; he instead relies on a trail of individuals connecting the two:

"The Romanticist movement can be traced from Jean-Jacques Rousseau to Immanuel Kant and then
the German idealists Fichte, Schelling, Schopenhauer and Hegel, with Hegel arguably being the most
influential of this group. Hegel in turn influenced those that Wright personally identified as important to
his thinking, including Goethe, Emerson, Blake, and Wordsworth, among others."

"It is known that John Kedney’s translation of Hegel’s Aesthetics (1885) was available in the
Midwest in Wright’s time. It is also known that Hegel was more popular in the Midwest than on the
East coast at the time. Walt Whitman, a favorite of Wright, was certainly familiar with Hegel, saying
that, “Only Hegel is fit for America, is large enough and free enough.” Fenollosa, trained in philosophy at Harvard, was known to Wright and also an important connection to Japan for him.
Fenollosa’s attachments were to Emerson and Hegel and he taught Emerson and Hegel to his
students at the Tokyo Higher Normal School. Fenollosa used Hegel’s dialectic to weave together a
new union between East and West which he was passionate about. Closer yet to Wright, his mentor
and “Lieber Meister,” Louis Sullivan, was versed in Spencer, Emerson, and Hegel. Fenollosa is a
very important bridge, not only between Hegel and Wright, but also with Japanese art."

"Kevin Nute makes the claim that Wright probably was familiar with Kedney’s book on
Hegel because of how Wright referred to the “life-principle” throughout his commentary on the
print. This idea of the life-principle was similar to Hegel’s idea. Kedney directly equated these terms,
the Idea and the life-principle. Additionally, Nute says that unlike Fenollosa, Wright seems to have
conflated the print artist’s expression of this Hegelian spiritual “Idea” with a revelation of the Platonic
geometric ideas underlying natural forms."


While I am not personally familiar with the majority of those individuals through their writing, Dahlin seems to have corralled his thoughts and transmitted them clearly---to me.

S
"As a former copy editor, I always feel I am defending the person whose name is being misspelled, not attacking the person who misspells it." Ronald Alan McCrea (1943-2019)

SDR
Posts: 20196
Joined: Sat Jun 17, 2006 11:33 pm
Location: San Francisco

Re: The Aesthetics of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Organic Architecture: Hegel, Japanese Art, and Modernism

Post by SDR »

In Dahlin's Chapter 3, "Formalism," the matter of what Wright saw in his Japanese prints is addressed. An interesting aspect of some Taliesin perspective views is the inclusion of a horizon near the top of an aerial view, where one wouldn't expect the view to include one; I have wondered where this apparent distortion of the laws of perspective could have "entered the picture" (as it were) in the ordinarily rigorous production of orthodox perspective layout practiced in Wright's studios. The answer could lie with precedents found in pre-twentieth-century ukiyo-e, where Hokusai and Hiroshige manipulated space and view to emphasize certain content, in contrast to Western conceptions of pictorial space. It is some of those manipulations and choices which ultimately drew Western artists to their work, finding truth in an alternative to Renaissance realism, images which retain their (quite natural) adherence to the two-dimensional picture plane.

S
"As a former copy editor, I always feel I am defending the person whose name is being misspelled, not attacking the person who misspells it." Ronald Alan McCrea (1943-2019)

SDR
Posts: 20196
Joined: Sat Jun 17, 2006 11:33 pm
Location: San Francisco

Re: The Aesthetics of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Organic Architecture: Hegel, Japanese Art, and Modernism

Post by SDR »

Chapter 3. It is perhaps not helpful that the term "contour lines" is used---by an architect---to mean something other than the lines found on land survey and other architectural instruments, the lines depicting changes in grade on the building site, the lines numbered to indicate elevation above a stated datum or above sea level.

Instead, the author uses the term as a substitute for the borders made on a wood-block print by the "key block," the figure which provides the template for the completed image, the original representation of a scene, comparable to the line drawing in a comic-book panel or the initial depiction of a building on a Taliesin perspective view. This key block also serves to separate the color fields in a block print, handily disguising any slight mis-registration of the various separate blocks, each printing a different color onto the paper.

https://www.roningallery.com/blog/how-t ... ck-print-2

Dahlin seems also to be referring to the separate color fields on a print which partly or wholly lacks the key block outlines. He illustrates his dissertation with good if small full-color images of a number of prints by Hokusai, Hiroshige and others, prints not published elsewhere or not often seen.

S
"As a former copy editor, I always feel I am defending the person whose name is being misspelled, not attacking the person who misspells it." Ronald Alan McCrea (1943-2019)

SDR
Posts: 20196
Joined: Sat Jun 17, 2006 11:33 pm
Location: San Francisco

Re: The Aesthetics of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Organic Architecture: Hegel, Japanese Art, and Modernism

Post by SDR »

James, Cary. The Imperial Hotel: Frank Lloyd Wright and the Architecture of Unity, Rutland: Charles E.
Tuttle Company, 1968, quoted by Ken Dahlin in the section on the Imperial Hotel:

"The concept of vigorous spatial reality results in the Imperial in a great orchestrated flow,
alive in itself and taking life from the ornament and the materials around. It begins outside in
the entrance court, where the long bedroom wings reach out past the pool to reshape this
part of the city. Here is our introduction to this new idea of architecture; here in fact begins
the space of the hotel. At the entrance, the infinite ceiling of the sky is exchanged for the low
roof of the porte-cochere, the space is firmly defined, and with this definition passes through
the entry into the first business lobby. There it opens out again into a low wide place. The
space becomes interior without abruptness or effort; there is a sense of arrival, of a positive
place, of a created area contained but not bounded. There are many such places in the
Imperial, yet the nature of the space is never static; always there are half-seen vistas, always
eye and body are drawn through and up and beyond.

"The great flow, which began in the entrance court, continues up through this lobby and these
corridors, past the dining room, up to the great cross-axis of the promenade beyond,
and up and over a multitude of small dining rooms to the vast banquet hall over all. Even there
no culmination exists, nor is there cessation in the movement, and through great glazed
crossers the space returns upon itself. This grand complex flow is the centerline of the hotel,
yet at every turn it is possible to leave the major spaces for minor ones. There seems always
to be another turning into a farther space; volumes interlock, and short runs of steps lead up
to new outlooks. There are constantly changing perspectives of the interior, and through
openings at unexpected places come views of the gardens and of the long bedroom wings."

Dahlin follows:

"Cary’s presentation of the spatial experience seems to run contrary to what the more critical
reviews above would indicate. The floor plans themselves do not seem to reveal this interplay of
space, and the sections, while hinting at it, do not fully express it either. And yet Wright was able to
create this within a classical planning system. This in itself is enough to raise the important point that
organic architecture, according to Wright’s system, is inherently neither traditional nor modern, but
something which can supervene on either."

". . . Eventually, however, this phase of Wright’s work which was epitomized by the Imperial, Midway
Gardens, the Barnsdall home and the Bogk house would give way to a simpler expression more in
keeping with the trending of Modernism, and as seen in his next works such as Fallingwater and his
Usonian homes. Wright gave way to this movement, and yet one wonders what works might have
been produced from this apogee of integration of ornament and space as seen in the Imperial.
To understand Wright’s ornament is to understand his philosophy, and to understand the Imperial
Hotel is to understand the pivot point building of his career which conveys his whole philosophy. It is
the culmination of the concept of depth which may not have been again achieved to this degree."

S
"As a former copy editor, I always feel I am defending the person whose name is being misspelled, not attacking the person who misspells it." Ronald Alan McCrea (1943-2019)

Tim
Posts: 400
Joined: Sun Feb 07, 2010 4:52 pm

Re: The Aesthetics of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Organic Architecture: Hegel, Japanese Art, and Modernism

Post by Tim »

I finally read through it.

I found it interesting.

I am not qualified to comment on the correctness of it.

SDR
Posts: 20196
Joined: Sat Jun 17, 2006 11:33 pm
Location: San Francisco

Re: The Aesthetics of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Organic Architecture: Hegel, Japanese Art, and Modernism

Post by SDR »

Bravo. We have to remember that academia is, among other things, a place of intense navel-gazing. If you suspect that the author could have made his points in maybe half of the pages he consumed, I wouldn't argue the point. But there's insight there, of course. Make of it what you will; I learned some things about Mr Wright's collection of ukiyo-e and about what he may have taken away from them.

Coincidentally, I had just re-opened it, to see if I could plow through the remainder. The insight that Wright was looking for, and found, a "middle way" between traditional and European modern architecture, is useful---and encouraging.

S

Post Reply