Special Subject: History, Theory & Criticism of Art - Ornament: The Rococo and After

In 1910, in his lecture “Ornament and Crime,” Adolph Loos famously declared the end of ornamentation. But ornament is back from its (presumed) banishment, stimulating debate about the aesthetics of decoration and the relationship of design to nature and technology. Taking ornament’s current return as a point of departure and addressing a variety of media (from architecture to furniture to porcelain to painting), this course looks back to earlier European debates about the meanings and functions of decoration, especially as they were articulated in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. How did ornament become a locus for anxieties about gender, nature, technology, morality, and the power of the sensual? How did it figure in theories of beauty and form? How was the art of other cultures—Maori, Moorish, and Japanese, for example—assimilated into European art and design in these periods, and why? A primary focus of the course will be the role of the “primitive” and the foreign in debates about ornament. Historiography is an important component of the course, and particular emphasis will be placed on the intersection of ornament and questions of history and style that lay at the heart of the discipline of art history as it developed in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.