By MISS MARIE R. GARESCHE, St. Louis High School.
Decoration is the science and art of beautifying objects and rendering them more pleasing to the eye. As an art, individual taste and skill have much to do with the perfection of the results; as a science, it is subject to certain invariable laws and principles which cannot be violated, and a study of which, added to familiarity with some of the best examples, will enable any one to appreciate and understand it, even if lacking the skill and power to create original and beautiful designs.
The study of decoration offers many advantages. It cultivates the imagination and the taste; it develops our capacity for recognizing and enjoying the beautiful in both nature and art; it adds to the pleasure and refinement of life. Practically, its importance can hardly be overestimated, as it enters into almost all the industrial pursuits. We can think of but few classes of objects, even the most simple, in which some attempt at ornamentation is not made.
Ornament is one of the principal means of enhancing the value of the raw material. A piece of carved wood, or an artistically decorated porcelain vase, worth perhaps many hundred dollars, if reduced to the commercial value of the material of which they are composed would be valued at but a few dollars or cents. The higher the ornamentation ranks, from an artistic point of view, the greater becomes the value of the article to which it is applied. Knowledge of good designs is thus evidently important, to the purchaser of the object ornamented as well as to the designer who planned it. This can only be attained by cultivation.
To know and appreciate the best ornament should be an aim set forth in any scheme of general education. This knowledge and appreciation can be obtained by studying the application of the laws and principles of ornamental art as exemplified in the works of masters, and also by endeavoring to apply these principles in designs of our own creation.
We can only arrive at a knowledge of these principles by a consideration of the object. In other words, nature and history must be studied. First, nature, for she is the primary source and origin of all good ornament, whether ancient or modern; and if, as in everything else, we would not become servile imitators and weak copyists, we must go to the fountain head. Second, history, for by the study of the ornament of past ages we will not only become acquainted with the highest developments of which ornamental art is capable, but will moreover broaden our views as to its object and scope, and will stimulate our own imagination and invention, by leading us to the contemplation of the myriad beautiful and protean forms it has assumed, when surrounding conditions, such as religion, climate, temperament, nationality, etc., have been different. Knowledge of historic ornament will also prevent the imposition on the public, so common in our day, of weak and unworthy productions which claim to be based on classic originals, and which constitute a great stumbling block to the progress and appreciation of good art. The result is somewhat analogous to that produced upon conscientious but ill-informed minds, who make every effort to appreciate and enjoy the spurious productions of a great author, not knowing that they are not genuine.