Ornament as Cultural Mediation – Week 13

“On Beauty


Being Just”

By Elaine Scarry

The reading starts out by describing beauty and justice. Beauty is an “object’s symmetry, equality, and pressure against lateral disregard”

Beauty “enters the world” before justice, and lasts longer becayse it doesn’t depend on human action.

We appreciate things with a glance and can view it as perhaps beautiful, but it takes actual human intervention to judge, or have justice.

Even when beauty and justice are in the world, beauty performs in a way justice can’t, by just being part of the material world.

Radical Decentering

“At the moment we see something beautiful, we undergo a radical decentering”

When we view a beautiful object, we become less selfish, by being able to appreciate something that isn’t ourselves.

We “give up our imaginary position as the center… A transformation then takes place at the very roots of our sensibility” (Simone Weil)

“We willingly cede our ground to the thing that stands before us”

Iris Murdoch, in a 1967 lecture “The Sovereignty of Good over Other Concepts”

Says that the best thing, and most obvious, is beauty, or “unselfing”.

“It is as though one has ceased to be the hero or the heroine in one’s own story and has become what in a folktale is called the “lateral figure” or “donor figure”.


Beauty might be natural and perhaps used for “good”. But it’s justice that tries to always make sure of “good”.

John Rawls lists three forms of Justice:

Perfect Justice: Knowing what would bring justice, or “good”, and how to make it happen. (food shared equally, last person slicing a cake gets the last piece, etc)

Imperfect Justice: Knowing what would bring justice, and trying to make it happen. (guilty criminals should be convicted, innocents should go free, juries help)

Pure Procedural Justice: Not knowing what is really “just” or “right”, but hoping that by sticking to the rules, the best outcome will happen.

Nonself- interestedness happens when one realizes that:

1.The beholder does not become beautiful like the objects they view. (However, the “pursuer of knowledge” becomes smarter.)

2.In radical decentering, and what happens when one is looking at something beautiful

3.In the willingness of the beholder, to create something beautiful.

4.Also, it happens among people who do not view things as beautiful. Elaine Scarry asked people who were “individually opposed to beauty” to think in terms of the future… and asked them if they hoped that when people in future centeries thought of us, would they describe us as “beauty-loving”. And the majority did.


Lourise Schouwenberg and Hella Jongerinus

Different artists, like Berend Strik, Wim Delvoye, and Hella Jongerinus, use different, ornamental techniques in their world of contemporary art and design.

Berend Strik Untitled, 1993.

He uses modern vulgar slightly pornographic themes, and ornamental embroidery, and cross stitches

Nowadays, one can easily draw from techniques from long ago, or the most modern, up to date designs.

“The handcrafted single edition has been lost to serial products made in large runs”. Since the mid-twentieth century, “at the height of the industrial era”, people became disinterested in old-fashioned craft methods.

DROOG design (or “dry design”) has been a presence in the world of conceptual design since the 1990s. They simplify clothes down to the mininum accessories needed “to give it form”. They displayed work in 1998 at the Milan Furniture Fair, entitled “The Inevitable Ornament”.

In the fashion world, certain designers have welcomed decoration and ornament into their designs. For example,

Dries Van Norten, Martin Margiela, and Walter van Beirendock


(Walter van Beirendock)

Part of the resurgence of interest in craft has to do with the ever-increasing efficiency of the production process today. “Industry has …made good design available to the masses, and is capable of supplying products that border on perfection”. However, this has also led to an increase in the production of junk, because it’s so easy to do.


Hella Jongerinus

We get very attached to products that are useful, like the first example, one’s cellphone.

However, as easily as we get attached, it’s soon time to replace it with a newer version or model.

Marcel Proust valued everyday, useful objects. Personal experiences were attached to objects, and were viewed as less disposable than objects are today.

“The value we ascribe to most goods is universal and which are programmed for disposability is, of course, a value which is universal and which is dictated by the consumer society. These products are not good vehicles for the purely personal connotations of love, belonging, or even betrayal.”

Hella also talks about the difference between consumer products and works of art. Any object is now bound with the issue of functionality. It might restrict the impact of the object as an art piece.


Our group missed IDEO very much… but thinks that it’s true that design shouldn’t be thoughtless. And that there are many different ways to use an object.



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