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"Plagued by Fire" review
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Roderick Grant



Joined: 29 Mar 2006
Posts: 9597

PostPosted: Thu Oct 10, 2019 11:04 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

During a conversation with Anne Baxter, Grandpa's childhood days were brought up. She bridled at some of the implications, saying, "Why does any of that matter?" I replied, "If Frank Lloyd Wright had been born Frank Lloyd Vanderbilt, the history of architecture would have been entirely different." With which she could not argue.

I believe it to be true, but it is only a small part of the story. There was something innate in the structure of FLW's brain that gave him an advantage. See the story in "An Autobiography" of his childhood trip up a hill through the snow with his bible-thumping uncle cutting a straight line as little Frank wander back and forth gathering weeds sticking their heads out of the snow. He saw the world differently from the rest of us.

FLW not only was not bothered by his lack of formal education (no matter how he tried to fake it), he turned down an all-expenses-paid opportunity for an education at Ecole des Beaux Arts offered by Daniel Burnham, realizing that it would be of no value, but more likely would hinder his abilities.
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Roderick Grant



Joined: 29 Mar 2006
Posts: 9597

PostPosted: Thu Oct 10, 2019 11:06 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

SDR, Ibsen said as much in "Enemy of the People":
"The majority are not always correct. The majority are always wrong. That man is correct who most closely allies himself with the future."
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Tom



Joined: 30 Jan 2011
Posts: 2775
Location: Black Mountain, NC

PostPosted: Thu Oct 10, 2019 12:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Jack Lenor Larsen, whom Wright asked to pick fabric for Fallingwater, is on record attributing Wright saying this to him: "nonconformity is more important ...."
I'll think I posted a link to the article in a previous thread about Larsen's Long House.

I interpret the priority of nonconformity for Wright having to do with his critique of 'go along to get along', mindless, status quo social inertia. There is a dimension of morale and the human spirit ... in the thought.
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"taste is less important than non-conformity"
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Tom



Joined: 30 Jan 2011
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Location: Black Mountain, NC

PostPosted: Thu Oct 10, 2019 12:33 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Oops - I didn't get the quote exactly right.
Here it is in a little context:

"I've worked for every great architect, Larsen recalls.
Frank Lloyd Wright, encountered while living at the Plaza in New York,
asked Larsen to choose fabrics for Fallingwater in Pennsylvania.
Wright's irreverence impressed the hot young weaver.
"It was to demonstrate alternatives to the norm," he tells me, "Taste is less important than nonconformity."

... it is second hand but I credit this attribution
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Matt2



Joined: 30 Dec 2018
Posts: 170

PostPosted: Thu Oct 10, 2019 5:58 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I do think FLW was troubled by his lack of education. I think he felt he needed to compensate for that when dealing with wealthy, well-educated clients. Thus the puffed up educational history, the overall dismissal of formal education, and a preference for his rural home-offices as opposed to a conventional urban office with paid employees.
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SDR



Joined: 17 Jun 2006
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Location: San Francisco

PostPosted: Thu Oct 10, 2019 7:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

That sounds about right; at least its a valid proposition as a reading of Wright's behavior ?



Anyway, this raises the interesting question (for the second time, in two simultaneous threads) of originality. No one would deny that, say, Frank Gehry's work is novel. Whether that is the whole point, in his case, is
debatable. Bruce Goff is another architect who springs to mind when "novelty" is on the table. Whether we would even know who Goff is, were it not for the Wright connection, is also debatable---in my view. But Goff,
at least, very much like his hero and ours (Wright), pleases the user of his buildings by catering very specifically to the wants and needs of his client---give or take a self-indulgence or two ?

S
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Matt2



Joined: 30 Dec 2018
Posts: 170

PostPosted: Thu Oct 10, 2019 9:33 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

It is interesting to compare Wright's novel-ness with that of other artists, but there is a difference between novelty and rationality. The 20th century is full of artists developing a signature style. It was and remains almost a must to have a readily identifiable style whether it is Warhol's screen prints or Pollacks splatter paintings. But there is a danger in taking individuality to a wacky extreme. I find Goff and often Gehry fall into that category. And architecture should be rational. Few clients can afford expressive wackiness, especially in residences. Wright's work only went off the rails into irrational exuberance in the teens with the Imperial Hotel and a variety of unbuilt projects...all slathered with fussy detailing (throw in Midway Gardens even earlier). He regained rationality in the 30's and found that wonderful balance of the rational and the artistic with the Usonians. I think that's why mid-century modern is so popular now...there is both artistry and common sense rationality.
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SDR



Joined: 17 Jun 2006
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PostPosted: Thu Oct 10, 2019 10:30 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Interesting point of view. Semantics can trip us up, here---but are rationality and novelty mutually exclusive ? And is rationality a quality we think of in
Wright ? Yes, he made marvelous bedroom-floor plans, fitting in all the perceived or customary requirements while attending to exterior appearances.
But rationality and romanticism seem more like the natural opposites---to me.

Artists have displayed recognizable styles since the days of cave paintings, I expect. It occurs naturally, doesn't it ? Wright was exceptional in finding
clients for what was at the time nearly outlandish building.

It's the public or institutional buildings where I lose Wright, or he loses me; the exceptions are some of the greatest works of the Twentieth Century, of
course---Larkin, Midway, Imperial, Johnson Wax, Guggenheim. So many others lag behind the houses, in cohesion and composition---again, for me.
Some of his best work was actually built . . .!

As a dyed-in-the-wool modernist I found, as did many of my generation I expect, far less joy in the early work than in the Usonian; it was only after
time had passed that I was able to get into the Prairie houses. But then, so did men like Hitchcock and Johnson, at first. Wright was old hat . . . until,
and for ever after, he wasn't ?

S
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Matt2



Joined: 30 Dec 2018
Posts: 170

PostPosted: Fri Oct 11, 2019 10:24 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Semantics are tricky and maybe I used imprecise words. By rational, I simply mean the work makes sense and is appealing. Sure some early work was viewed as oddball, even sources of mockery, but the early works were later valued and the later works were praised to the heavens. Goff's work and Gehry's is still mostly oddball, great for attention-seeking museums but not so much for someone's house.

And I do think that most pre-20th century artists worked in one style or another, from Byzantine to Impressionism. In the 20th century, you had to have your own personal style. Wright's style seems so rational to me, especially in it's balance of prospect and refuge, that it is not really a style at all, but a totally logical way to build. (Granted, in some of his later work he veers back to some overly decorative fussy confections.)
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SDR



Joined: 17 Jun 2006
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Location: San Francisco

PostPosted: Fri Oct 11, 2019 11:00 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I understand you better. I would only object to the assertion that Wright's was a "totally logical way to build." While the result appeals to us in a
unique way---the spaces are said to just "feel right," the cantilever---all by itself---is the antithesis of rational construction---for instance.

The box with posts at four corners and at regular intervals between, is logical---rational. Wright intentionally avoided that formula, for artistic
reasons which will be readily understood by some---romantics, for instance---and not at all by others---practical men, engineers among them. The
very appeal of Wright's work is that it dispenses with logic in favor of what the man called "poetry."

On the other hand, the grid---regular intervals personified---and a design drawn upon that grid, will be seen as rational, logical, and a contributor to
architecture's eternal quest for order. Wright subscribed to that aspect of "rational building." But it is Mies, and his followers, who practice rational,
logical architecture; Wright was after something else---wasn't he ?

Well, he was logical, when compared to Goff or Gehry---I'll give you that !

S
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Matt2



Joined: 30 Dec 2018
Posts: 170

PostPosted: Fri Oct 11, 2019 11:31 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

How about the word "rigor"? Or "disciplined"? Not that anyone could call Wright disciplined, but I do sense he designed by a set of beliefs and he stuck to them, like he stuck to his grid. But he did convey poetry, romanticism and all the things you've noted, whereas other were overly expressionistic and Mies sort of boiled all the poetry out so that just the grid remained. Wright found balance in so many poetic ways.

BTW, I'm finding the "Fire" book terrific. One of the more readable books I've had the pleasure of not being able to put down. My only quibble is the title, which makes it sound like a gothic novel.
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Roderick Grant



Joined: 29 Mar 2006
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 11, 2019 12:28 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

FLW's discipline was geometry. Goff's recognizable relationship to FLW (as little as it is) also was a commitment to geometry. Gehry is committed to grandstanding. While Wes Peters built Guggenheim with a slide rule, without a computer, Gehry would be a shoe salesman.

As far as designing on a grid, FLW was doing that from early on. In the 1928 Architectural Record article, "The Logic of the Plan," grids are superimposed on Coonley, DD Martin, Unity Temple and the Ullman Project. At Hollyhock, the 4' square is omnipresent, divided in halves and thirds down to 4" units. The grids of the Usonians were explicitly drawn, but no more implicit than probably everything that preceded them back to Hickox.

Evaluating FLW's work without an examination of the way he enclosed space and defined movement throughout is incomplete. Even E. Fay Jones, who certainly captured the spacial concepts, didn't quite master that sense of movement, transitioning from one space to another.
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jay



Joined: 02 May 2016
Posts: 219

PostPosted: Fri Oct 11, 2019 1:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
How can one understand the architecture fully without exploring the complexity of the man who created it?


"Exploring the complexity of the man" might be an effective literary device in fictional works, but I seriously doubt that such an endeavor can ever be properly applied to real people. Authors of these exercises often start with a premise and then build a case of "evidence" around their hypotheses. This leads to what is called "confirmation bias".

Additionally, the idea that personal biographic incidents underlie the genesis of creative works I strongly question as well. Does a traumatic childhood lead an artist to be great? Maybe, maybe not. Many great artists had bad childhoods, many great artists had good childhoods. Or maybe the child with an absent father developed an Oedipus complex? Well, is the Oedipus complex an objective fact? And if it is real, how can we prove it leads to heightened creativity? Etc, etc, etc. We know very little about how the imagination actually functions, but a good question might be, does the imagination have anything to do with the strictly personal dimensions? Such as, if a guy is a serial philanderer, does that affect the art he makes?

Regardless, if people find these things enjoyable to read and contemplate, more power to you. I just doubt that any real conclusions can be drawn from such subjective exercises.

I do, however, find that the historical context of creative ideas goes a long way towards finding a deeper understanding of any artist's work. My belief is that artists synthesize and improve ideas and concepts that are already in existence, far more often that arriving at purely original ideas themselves. Looking at Wright's interest in Japanese culture, for example, is enlightening. Or researching the Usonian-esque ideas that were around prior to Jacobs I, like Schindler's house of 1922 or Alden Dow's work in the early 1930's. Or how about the story of Fallingwater, of how Wright wanted to 'beat the Internationalist style at its own game'?

I'm currently reading a book from 1893 titled "Philosophy of the Beautiful Volume II". I have no idea if Wright read it, but it feels in some passages like a Wrightian manifesto, and its publication coincides with a period of Wright's life when we can assume he was drinking up ideas heartily.
From the book:
"That Beauty consists in symmetry, in order, in proportion, in harmony, in unity and variety, in the fitness of the whole to its parts, in the ideal within the real, in the correspondence of the idea with its sensuous embodiment, in the normal fulfillment of function, in the typical form of the object, in perfection, in expression, etc. All of these ways of stating the case really involve each other... Beauty is one, underneath all its phases..."

https://books.google.com/books?id=_aifAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false


Last edited by jay on Fri Oct 11, 2019 2:02 pm; edited 1 time in total
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SDR



Joined: 17 Jun 2006
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Location: San Francisco

PostPosted: Fri Oct 11, 2019 1:58 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

That does sound eerily like Wrightspeak, doesn't it. I agree with the thrust and the effect of your argument. Words are available to those trying to speak of the indescribable; historical treatments are on the shelf and beckoning---like Scripture ?--- when the seeker has absorbed all the facts and still wants for "answers" . . .

Wright was a supremely disciplined designer; forms and details, once chosen for a project, were adhered to rigorously throughout. He chose to adorn this trait with the word Organic (one of the more concrete definitions of that notoriously squishy term), when it is in fact simply the habit of a good designer.

S
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Tom



Joined: 30 Jan 2011
Posts: 2775
Location: Black Mountain, NC

PostPosted: Fri Oct 11, 2019 10:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hendrickson's portrait of Wright and Corwin sounds possible and innocuous to me.
I really appreciated his research into Corwin.
I'm only 100 pages - so far so good.
So far no complaints.
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