The Search for Order 365

364 AMERICA BUILDS The Search for Order 365
courage, common sense and human sympathy, and a moral standard that is
plain, valid and livable.
The damage wrought by the World’s Fair will last for half a century
from its date, if not longer. It has penetrated deep into the constitution of
the American mind, effecting there lesions significant of dementia.
Meanwhile the architectural generation immediately succeeding the
Classic and Renaissance merchants, are seeking to secure a special immunity
from the inroads of common sense, through a process of vaccination with the
lymph of every known European style, period and accident, and to this allaround process, when it breaks out, is to be added the benediction of good
taste. Thus we have now the abounding freedom of Eclecticism, the winning
smile of taste, but no architecture. .For Architecture, be it known, is dead.
Let us therefore lightly dance upon its grave, strewing roses as we glide.
Indeed let us gather, in procession, in the night, in the rain, and make soulful, fluent, epicene orations to the living dead we neuters eulogize. . . .
Engineers in 1901, published it in the catalogue of the Chicago Architectural Club
exhibition of 1901, and revised it once more for presentation before the Daughters of
the American Revolution in Chicago in ] 904. He expanded on it once again, returning to a challenge he believed had yet to be taken up, to open the series of four
lectures he delivered at Princeton University in 1930.
t “The Architect.” Brickbuilder 9 (June 1900), 124-28.
No one, I hope, has come here tonight for a sociological prescription
for the cure of evils peculiar to this machine age. For I come to you as an
architect to say my word for the right use upon such new materials as we
have, of our great substitute for tools-machines. There is no thrift in any
craft until the tools are mastered; nor will there be a worthy social order in
America until the elements by which America does its work are mastered by
American society. Nor can there be an art worth the man or the name until
these elements are grasped and truthfully idealized in whatever we as a
people try to make. Although these elemental truths should be commonplace
enough by now, as a people we do not understand them nor do we see the
way to apply them. We are probably richer in raw materials for our use as
workmen, citizens or artists than any other nation-but outside mechanical
genius for mere contrivance we are not good workmen, nor, beyond adventitious or propitious respect for property, are we as good citizens as we should
be, nor are we artists at all. We are one and all, consciously or unconsciously,
mastered by our fascinating automatic “implements,” using them as substitutes for tools. To make this assertion clear I offer you evidence I have found
in the field of architecture. It is still a field in which the pulse of the age
throbs beneath much shabby finery and one broad enough (God knows) to
represent the errors and possibilities common to our time-serving time.
Architects in the past have embodied the spirit common to their own
life and to the life of the society in which they lived in the most noble of all
noble records-buildings. They wrought these valuable records with the
primitive tools at their command and whatever these records have to say to
us today would be utterly insignificant if not wholly illegible were tools
suited to another and different condition stupidly forced to work upon them;
blindly compelled to do work to which they were not fitted, work which
they could only spoil.
In this age of steel and steam the tools with which civilization’s true
record will be written are scientific thoughts made operative in iron and
bronze and steel and in the plastic processes which characterize this age, all
of which we call machines. The electric lamp is in this sense a machine. New
materials in the man-machines have made the physical body of this age
what it is as distinguished from former ages. They have made our era the
machine age-wherein locomotive engines, engines of industry, engines of
light or engines of war or steamships take the place works of art took in
previous history. Today we have a scientist or an inventor in place of a
Shakespeare or a Dante. Captains of industry are modern substitutes, not
only for kings and potentates, but, I am afraid, for great artists as well. And
yet-man-made environment is the truest, most characteristic of all human
records. Let a man build and you have him. You may not have all he is, but
certainly he is what you have. Usually you will have his outline. Though the
elements may be in him to enable him to grow out of his present self-made
45 F. L. Wright, The Art and Craft
of the Machine. 1901,1930
At the time Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) prepared this address, he and Sullivan
were not speaking. Sullivan had summarily dismissed his assistant in 1893 when he
discovered Wright was taking on private work during his off hours (they were reconciled shortly before Wright left for Europe in 1910 and remained close thereafter). t
Wright shared Sullivan’s view concerning the debasement of the profession, and in
1900 he discussed the plight of the architect in a paper read before the annual
meeting of the Architectural League of America in Chicago, claiming the architect
had sold out, that he had made himself a salesman of prepackaged styles. I An even
more important indication of his developing philosophy was Wright’s lecture, “The
Art and Craft of the Machine,” given at a meeting of the Arts and Crafts Society at
Hull House, Chicago, the next year. The way out of the dilemma, Wright proposed,
was by embracing the machine, exploiting its potential and developing a new architecture on the basis of this new sensitivity. How this might be done he illustrated in
designs for small single-family houses published at the same time in popular journals. § Wright slightly revised this lecture for delivery before the Western Society of
* Frank Lloyd Wright, “The Art and Craft of the Machine,” from Modern Architecture: Being the Kahn Lectures for 1930 (Princeton, 1930). pp. 7-23.
t See Wright’s Genius and the Mobocracy (New York, 1949). his biographical tribute to
Sullivan.
§”A Home in a Prairie Town” and “A Small House with ‘Lots of Room in It The
Ladies’ Home Journal 18 (February and July 1901). pp. 17. 15. These were two of hundreds of
designs Journal editor Edward Bok requested of many prominent and rising architects and
published in the magazine between 1895 and 1915.
366 AMERICA BUILDS The Search for Order 367
characterization, few men are ever belied by self-made environment. Certainly no historical period was ever so misrepresented. Chicago in its ugliness
today becomes as true an expression of the life lived here as is any center on
earth where men come together closely to live it out or fight it out. Man is a
selecting principle, gathering his like to him wherever he goes. The intensifying of his existence by close contact, too, flashes out the human record
vividly in his background and his surroundings. But somewhere-somehow-in our age, although signs of the times are not wanting, beauty in this
expression is forfeited-the record is illegible when not ignoble. We must
walk blindfolded through the streets of this, or any great modern American
city, to fail to see that all this magnificent resource of machine-power and
superior material has brought to us, so far, is degradation. All of the art
forms sacred to the art of old are, by us, prostitute.
On every side we see evidence of inglorious quarrel between things as
they were and things as they must be and are. This shame a certain merciful
ignorance on our part mistakes for glorious achievement. We believe in our
greatness when we have tossed up a Pantheon to the god of money in a night
or two, like the Illinois Trust Building or the Chicago National Bank. And it
is our glory to get together a mammoth aggregation of Roman monuments,
sarcophagi and temples for a post office in a year or two. On Michigan
Avenue Montgomery Ward presents us with a nondescript Florentine palace
with a grand campanile for a “farmer grocery” and it is as common with us
as it is elsewhere to find the giant stone Palladian “orders” overhanging
plate glass shop fronts. Show windows beneath Gothic office buildings, the
office-middle topped by Parthenons, or models of any old sacrificial temple,
are a common sight. Every commercial interest in any American town, in
fact, is scurrying for respectability by seeking some advertising connection,
at least, with the “classic.” A commercial renaissance is here; the renaissance
of “the ass in the lion’s skin.” This much, at least, we owe to the late Columbian Fair-that triumph of modern civilization in 1893 will go down in
American architectural history, when it is properly recorded, as a mortgage
upon posterity that posterity must repudiate not only as usurious but as
forged.
In our so-called “skyscrapers” (latest and most famous business-building triumph), good granite or Bedford stone is cut into the fashion of the
Italian followers of Phidias and his Greek slaves. Blocks so cut are cunningly
arranged about a structure of steel beams and shafts (which structure secretly robs them of any real meaning), in order to make the finished building
resemble the architecture de pictured by Palladio and Vitruvius-in the
schoolbooks. It is quite as feasible to begin putting on this Italian trimming
at the cornice, and come on down to the base as it is to work, as the less
fortunate Italians were forced to do, from the base upward. Yes, “from the
top down” is often the actual method employed. The keystone of a Roman
or Gothic arch may now be “set”-that is to say “hung”-and the voussoirs
stuck alongside or “hung” on downward to the haunches. Finally this mask,
completed, takes on the features of the pure “classic,” or any variety of
“renaissance” or whatever catches the fancy or fixes the “convictions” of the
designer. Most likely, an education in art has “fixed” both. Our Chicago
University, “a seat of learning,” is just as far removed from truth. If environment is significant and indicative, what does this highly reactionary, extensive and expensive scene-painting by means of hybrid collegiate Gothic signify? Because of Oxford it seems to be generally accepted as “appropriate
for scholastic purposes.” Yet, why should an American university in a land of
democratic ideals in a machine age be characterized by second-hand adaptation of Gothic forms, themselves adapted previously to our own adoption by
a feudalistic age with tools to use and conditions to face totally different
from anything we can call our own? The public library is again asinine
renaissance, bones sticking through the flesh because the interior was
planned by a shrewd library board-while an “art architect” (the term is
Chicago’s, not mine) was “hired” to “put the architecture on it.” The “classical” aspect of the sham-front must be preserved at any cost to sense. Nine
out of ten public buildings in almost any American city are the same.
On Michigan Avenue, too, we pass another pretentious structure, this
time fashioned as inculcated by the Ecole des Beaux Arts after the ideals and
methods of a Graeco-Roman, inartistic, grandly brutal civilization, a civilization that borrowed everything but its jurisprudence. Its essential tool was the
slave. Here at the top of our culture is the Chicago Art Institute, and very
like other art institutes. Between lions-realistic-Kemyss would have them
so because Barye did-we come beneath some stone millinery into the
grandly useless lobby. Here French’s noble statue of the republic confronts
us-she too, imperial. The grand introduction over, we go further on to find
amid plaster casts of antiquity, earnest students patiently gleaning a halfacre or more of archaeological dry-bones, arming here for industrial conquest, in other words to go out and try to make a living by making some
valuable impression upon the machine age in which they live. Their fundamental tool in this business about which they will know just this much less
than nothing, is-the machine. In this acre or more not one relic has anv
vital relation to things as they are for these students, except for the blesse~1
circumstance that they are more or less beautiful things in themselvesbodying forth the beauty of “once upon a time.” These students at best are
to concoct from a study of the aspect of these blind reverences an extract of
antiquity suited to modern needs, meanwhile knowing nothing of modern
needs, permitted to care nothing for them, and knowing just as little of the
needs of the ancients which made the objects they now study. The tyros are
taught in the name of John Ruskin and William Morris to shun and despise
the essential tool of their age as a matter commercial and antagonistic to art.
So in time they go forth, each armed with his little Academic extract, applying it as a sticking-plaster from without, wherever it can be made to stick,
many helplessly knowing in their hearts that it should be a development
from within-but how? And this is an education in art in these United
States.
Climb now the grand monumental stairway to see the results of this
cultural effort-we will call it “education” -hanging over the walls of the
exhibition galleries. You will find there the same empty reverences to the
past at cost to the present and of doubtful value to the future, unless a curse
is valuable. Here you may see fruits of the lust and pride of the patroncollector but how shamefully little to show by way of encouraging patronage
by the artist of his own day and generation. This is a temple of the fine arts.
368 AMERICA BUILDS
A sacred place! It should be the heart-center, the emotional inspiration of a
great national industrial activity, but here we find tradition not as an inspiring spirit animating progress. No. Now more in the past than ever! No more,
now, than an ancient mummy, a dead letter. A “precedent” is a “hang over”
to copy, the copy to be copied for machine reproduction, to be shamelessly
reproduced until demoralized utterly or unrecognizable.
More unfortunate, however, than all this fiasco, is the fiasco al fresco.
The suburban house-parade is more servile still. Any popular avenue or suburb will show the polyglot encampment displaying, on the neatly kept little
plots, a theatrical desire on the part of fairly respectable people to live in
chateaux, manor houses, Venetian palaces, feudal castles, and Queen Anne
cottages. Many with sufficient hardihood abide in abortions of the carpenterarchitect, our very own General Grant Gothic perhaps, intended to beat all
the “lovely periods” at their own game and succeeding. Look within all this
typical monotony-in-variety and see there the machine-made copies of
handicraft originals; in fact, unless you, the householder, are fortunate indeed, possessed of extraordinary taste and opportunity, all you possess is in
some degree a machine-made example of vitiated handicraft, imitation antique furniture made antique by the machine, itself of all abominations the
most abominable. Everything must be curved and carved and carved and
turned. The whole mass a tortured sprawl supposed artistic. And the floorcoverings? Probably machine-weavings of oriental rug patterns-pattern and
texture mechanically perfect; or worse, your walls are papered with paperimitations of old tapestry, imitation patterns and imitation textures, stamped
or printed by the machine; imitations under foot, imitations overhead and
imitations all round about you. You are sunk in “imitation.” Your muchmolded woodwork is stained “antique.” Inevitably you have a white-andgold “reception-room” with a few gilded chairs, an overwrought piano, and
withal, about you a general cheap machine-made “profusion” of-copies of
copies of original imitations. To you, proud proprietors-do these things thus
degraded mean anything aside from vogue and price? Aside from your sense
of quantitative ownership, do you perceive in them some fine fitness in
form, line and color to the purposes which they serve? Are the chairs to sit
in, the tables to use, the couch comfortable, and are all harmoniously related
to each other and to your own life? Do many of the furnishings or any of the
window-millinery serve any purpose at all of which you can think? Do you
enjoy in “things” the least appreciation of truth in beautiful guise? If not,
you are a victim of habit, a habit evidence enough of the stagnation of an
outgrown art. Here we have the curse of stupidity-a cheap substitute for
ancient art and craft which has no vital meaning in your own life or our
time. You line the box you live in as a magpie lines its nest. You need not be
ashamed to confess your ignorance of the meaning of all this, because not
only you, but everyone else, is hopelessly ignorant concerning it; it is “impossible.” lmitations of imitations, copies of copies, cheap expedients, lack of
integrity, some few blind gropings for simplicity to give hope to the picture.
That is all.
Why wonder what has become of the grand spirit of art that made, in
times past, man’s reflection in his environment a godlike thing? This is what
has become of it! Of all conditions, this one at home is most deplorable, for
The Searchfor Order 369
to the homes of this country we must look for any beginning of the awakening of an artistic conscience which will change this parasitic condition to
independent growth. The homes of the people will change before public
buildings can possibly change.
Glance now for a moment behind this adventitious scene-painting passing, at home, for art in the nineteenth century. Try to sense the true conditions underlying all, and which you betray and belie in the name of culture.
St~dy with me for a moment the engine which produces this wreckage and
bUIlds you, thus cheapened and ridiculous, into an ignoble record.
Here is this thing we call the machine, contrary to the principle of
organic ?rowth, but imitating it, working irresistibly the will of man through
the medIUm of men. All of us are drawn helplessly into its mesh as we tread
our daily round. And its offices-call them “services” -have become the
commonplace background of modern existence; yes, and sad to say, in too
many lives the foreground, middle distance and future. At best we ourselves
are already become or are becoming some cooperative part in a vast machinery. It is, with us, as though we were controlled by some great crystallizing
principle going on in nature all around us and going on, in spite of ourselves,
even in our very own natures. If you would see how interwoven it is, this
thing we call the machine, with the warp and the woof of civilization, if
indeed it is not now the very basis of civilization itself, go at nightfall when
all is simplified and made suggestive, to the top of our newest skycraper, the
Masonic temple. There you may see how in the image of material man, at
once his glory and his menace, is this thing we call a city. Beneath you is the
monster stretching out into the far distance. High overhead hangs a stagnant
pall, its fetid breath reddened with light from myriad eyes endlessly, everywhere blinking. Thousands of acres of cellular tissue outspread, enmeshed by
an intricate network of veins and arteries radiating into the gloom. Circulating there with muffled ominous roar is the ceaseless activity to whose necessities it all conforms. This wondrous tissue is knit and knit again and interknit with a nervous system, marvelously effective and complete, with
delicate filaments for hearing and knowing the pulse of its own organism,
acting intelligently upon the ligaments and tendons of motive impulse, and
in it all is flowing the impelling electric fluid of man’s own life. And the
labored breathing, murmur, clangor, and the roar-how the voice of this
monstrous force rises to proclaim the marvel of its structure! Near at hand,
~he ghastly warning boom from the deep throats of vessels heavily seeking
mlet to the waterway below, answered by the echoing clangor of the bridge
bells. A distant shriek grows nearer, more ominous, as the bells warn the
living current from the swinging bridge and a vessel cuts for a moment the
flow of the nearer artery. Closing then upon the great vessel’s stately passage
the double bridge is just in time to receive in a rush of steam the avalanche
of blood and metal hurled across it; a streak of light gone roaring into the
night on glittering bands of steel; an avalanche encircled in its flight by
slender magic lines, clicking faithfully from station to station-its nervous
herald, its warning and its protection.
Nearer, in the building ablaze with midnight activity, a spotless paper
band is streaming into the marvel of the multiple-press, receiving indelibly
the impression of human hopes and fears, throbbing in the pulse of this great
\ ),
370 AMERICA BUlLDS
activity, as infallibly as the gray-matter of the human brain receives the
impression of the senses. The impressions come forth as millions of neatly
folded, perfected news-sheets, teeming with vivid appeals to good and eVIl
passions; weaving a web of intercommunication so far-reaching that distance
becomes as nothing, the thought of one man in one corner of the earth on
one day visible on the next to all men. The doings of all the world are
reflected here as in a glass-so marvelously sensitive this simple band
streaming endlessly from day to day becomes in the grasp of the multiplepress.
If the pulse of this great activity-automatons working night and day
in every line of industry, to the power of which the tremor of the mammoth
steel skeleton beneath your feet is but an awe-inspiring response-is thrilling, what of the prolific, silent obedience to man’s w.ill underly~n? it ~ll? ~f
this power must be uprooted that civilization may live, then cIvilizatIon IS
already doomed. Remain to contemplate this wonder until the twinkling
lights perish in groups, or follow one by one, leaving others to live through
the gloom; fires are banked, tumult slowly dies to an echo here and there.
Then the darkened pall is gradually lifted and moonlight outlines the shadowy, sullen masses of structure, structure deeply cut here and there by ha.lfluminous channels. Huge patches of shadow in shade and darkness commmgle mysteriously in the block-like plan with box-like skylines-contrasting
strangely with the broad surface of the lake beside, placid and resp~ende~t
with a silver gleam. Remain, I say, to reflect that the texture of the City, this
great machine, is the warp upon which will be woven the w?of and patter~
of the democracy we pray for. Realize that it has been deposIted here, partIcle by particle, in blind obedience to law-law no less organic so far as we
are concerned than the laws of the great solar universe. That universe, too,
in a sense, is but an obedient machine.
Magnificent power! And it confronts the young architect and his artist
comrades now, with no other beauty-a lusty material giant without trace of
ideality, absurdly disguised by garments long torn to tatters or contemptuously tossed aside, outgrown. Within our own recollection we have all bee~
horrified at the bitter cost of this ruthless development~appalled to see thIS
great power driven by greed over the innocent and defenseless-we have
seen bread snatched from the mouths of sober and industrious men, honorable occupations going to the wall with a riot, a feeble strike, or a stifled
moan, outclassed, outdone, outlived by the machine. The workman himself
has come to regard this relentless force as his nemesis and combines against
machinery in the trades with a wild despair that dashes itself to pieces, while
the artist blissfully dreaming in the halls we have just visited or walking
blindly abroad in the paths of the past, berates his own people for lack luster
senses, rails against industrial conditions that neither afford him his opportunity, nor, he says, can appreciate him as he, panderer to ill-gotten luxur~;
folding his hands, starves to death. “Innocuous martyr upon the cross of art!
One by one, tens by tens, soon thousands by thousands, handicraftsmen and
parasitic artists succumb to the inevitable as one man .at a machine does th.e
work of from five to fifty men in the same time, wIth all the art there IS
meanwhile prostituting to old methods and misunderstood ideals the far
greater new possibilities due to this same machine, and doing this disgracefully in the name of the beautiful!
The Search for Order 371
American society has the essential tool of its own age by the blade, as
lacerated hands everywhere testify!
See the magnificent prowess of this unqualified power-strewing our
surroundings with the mangled corpses of a happier time. We live amid
ghostly relics whose pattern once stood for cultivated luxury and now stands
for an ignorant matter of taste. With no regard for first principles of common sense the letter of tradition is recklessly fed into rapacious maws of
machines until the reproduction, reproduced ad nauseam, may be had for
five, ten or ninety-nine cents although the worthy original cost ages of toil
and patient culture. This might seem like progress, were it not for the fact
that these butchered forms, the life entirely gone out of them, are now
harmful parasites, belittling and falsifying any true perception of normal
beauty the Creator may have seen fit to implant in us on our own account.
Any idea whatever of fitness to purpose or of harmony between form and
use is gone from us. It is lacking in these things one and all, because it is so
sadly lacking in us. And as for making the best of our own conditions or
repudiating the terms on which this vulgar insult to tradition is produced,
thereby insuring and rectifying the industrial fabric thus wasted or enslaved
by base imitation-the mere idea is abnormal, as I myself have found to my
sorrow.
And among the few, the favored chosen few who love art by nature
and would devote their energies to it so that it may live and let them liveany training they can seek would still be a protest against the machine as the
creator of all this iniquity, when (God knows) it is no more than the creature.
But, I say, usurped by greed and deserted by its natural interpreter, the
artist, the machine is only the creature, not the creator of this iniquity! I say
the machine has noble possibilities unwillingly forced to this degradation,
degraded by the arts themselves. Insofar as the true capacity of the machine
is concerned it is itself the crazed victim of artist-impotence. Why will the
American artist not see that human thought in our age is stripping off its old
form and donning another; why is the artist unable to see that this is his
glorious opportunity to create and reap anew?
But let us be practical-let us go now afield for evident instances of
machine abuse or abuse by the machine. I will show you typical abuses that
should serve to suggest to any mind, capable of thought, that the machine is,
to begin with, a marvellous simplifier in no merely negative sense. Come
now, with me, and see examples which show that these craft-engines may be
the modern emancipator of the creative mind. We may find them to be the
regenerator of the creative conscience in our America, as well, so soon as a
stultified “culture” will allow them to be so used.
First-as perhaps wood is most available of home-building materials,
naturally then the most abused-let us now glance at wood. Elaborate machinery has been invented for no other purpose than to imitate the woodcarving of early handicraft patterns. Result? No good joinery. None salable
without some horrible glued-on botchwork meaning nothing, unless it means
that “art and craft” (by salesmanship) has fixed in the minds of the masses
the elaborate old hand-carved chair as ultimate ideal. The miserable tribute
to this perversion yielded by Grand Rapids alone would mar the face of art
beyond repair, to say nothing of the weird or fussy joinery of spindles and
372 AMERICA BUILDS The Search for Order 373
jig-sawing, beamed, braced and elaborated to outdo in sentimentality the
sentiment of some erstwhile overwrought “antique.” The beauty of wood lies
in its qualities as wood, strange as this may seem. Why does it take so much
imagination-just to see that? Treatments that fail to bring out those qualities, foremost, are not plastic, therefore no longer appropriate. The inappropriate cannot be beautiful.
The machine at work on wood will itself teach us-and we seem so far
to have left it to the machine to do so-that certain simple forms and handling serve to bring out the beauty of wood, and to retain its character, and
that certain other forms and handling do not bring out its beauty, but spoil
it. All wood-carving is apt to be a forcing of this material likely to destroy
the finer possibilities of wood as we may know those possibilities now. In
itself wood has beauty of marking, exquisite texture, and delicate nuances of
color that carving is likely to destroy. The machines used in woodwork will
show that by unlimited power in cutting, shaping, smoothing, and by the
tireless repeat, they have emancipated beauties of wood-nature, making possible, without waste, beautiful surface treatments and clean strong forms that
veneers of Sheraton or Chippendale only hinted at with dire extravagance.
Beauty unknown even to the Middle Ages. These machines have undoubtedly placed within reach of the designer a technique enabling him to realize
the true nature of wood in his designs harmoniously with man’s sense of
beauty, satisfying his material needs with such extraordinary economy as to
put this beauty of wood in use within the reach of everyone. But the advantages of the machines are wasted and we suffer from a riot of aesthetic
murder and everywhere live with debased handicraft.
Then, at random, let us take, say, the worker in marbles-his gangsaws, planers, pneumatic-chisels and rubbing-beds have made it possible to
reduce blocks ten feet long, six feet deep, and two feet thick to sheets or thin
slabs an inch in thickness within a few hours, so it is now possible to use a
precious material as ordinary wall covering. The slab may be turned and
matched at the edges to develop exquisite pattern, emancipating hundreds
of superficial feet of characteristic drawing in pure marble colors that formerly wasted in the heart of a great expensive block in the thickness of the
wall. Here again a distinctly new architectural use may bring out a beauty of
marbles consistent with nature and impossible to handicraft. But what happens? The “artist” persists in taking dishonest advantage of this practice,
building up imitations of solid piers with molded caps and bases, cunningly
uniting the slabs at the edge until detection is difficult except to the trained
eye. His method does not change to develop the beauty of a new technical
possibility; no, the “artist” is simply enabled to “fake” more architecture,
make more piers and column shafts because he can now make them hollow!
His architecture becomes no more worthy in itself than the cheap faker that
he himself is, for his classical forms not only falsify the method which used
to be and belie the method that is, but they cheat progress of its due. For
convincing evidence see any public library or art institute, the Congressional
Library at Washington, or the Boston Library.
In the stone-cutting trade the stone-planer has made it possible to cut
upon stone any given molded surface, or to ingrain upon that surface any
lovely texture the cunning brain may devise, and do it as it never was possible to do it by hand. What is it doing? Giving us as near an imitation of
hand tooth-chiselling as possible, imitating moldings specially adapted to
wood, making possible the lavish use of miles of meaningless molded string
courses, cornices, base courses-the giant power meanwhile sneered at by
the “artist” because it fails to render the wavering delicacy of “touch” resulting from the imperfections of hand-work.
No architect, this man! No-or he would excel that “antique” quality
by the design of the contour of his sections, making a telling point of the
very perfection he dreads, and so sensibly designing, for the prolific dexterity of the machine, work which it can do so well that handwork would seem
insufferably crude by comparison. The deadly facility this one machine has
given “book architecture” is rivalled only by the facility given to it by galvanized iron itself. And if, incontinently, you will still have tracery in stone,
you may arrive at acres of it now consistently with the economy of other
features of this still fundamental “trade.” You may try to imitate the handcarving of the ancients in this matter, baffled by the craft and tenderness of
the originals, or you may give the pneumatic chisel and power-plane suitable
work to do which would mean a changed style, a shift in the spiritual center
of the ideal now controlling the use of stone in constructing modern stone
buildings.
You will find in studying the group of ancient materials, wood and
stone foremost among them, that they have all been rendered fit for plastic
use by the machine! The machine itself steadily making available for economic use the very quality in these things now needed to satisfy its own art
equation. Burned clay-we call it terra cotta-is another conspicuous instance of the advantage of the “process.” Modern machines (and a process is
a machine) have rendered this material as sensitive to the creative brain as a
dry plate is to the lens of the camera. A marvelous simplifier, this material,
rightly used. The artist is enabled to clothe the steel structure, now becoming
characteristic of this era, with modestly beautiful, plastic robes instead of
five or more different kinds of material now aggregated in confused features
and parts, “composed” and supposedly picturesque, but really a species of
cheap millinery to be mocked and warped by the sun, eventually beaten by
wind and rain into a variegated heap of trash. But when these great possibilities of simplicity, the gift of the machine, get to us by way of the architect,
we have only a base imitation of the hand-tooled blocks-pilaster-cap and
base, voussoirs and carved spandrils of the laborious man-handled stonecrop
of an ancient people’s architecture!
The modern processes of casting in metal are modern machines too,
approaching perfection, capable of perpetuating the imagery of the most
vividly poetic mind without hindrance-putting permanence and grace
within reach of everyone, heretofore forced to sit supine with the Italians at
their Belshazzar-feast of “renaissance.” Yes, without exaggeration, multitudes of processes, many new, more coming, await sympathetic interpretation, such as the galvano-plastic and its electrical brethren-a prolific horde,
now cheap makers imitating “real” bronzes and all manner of metallic antiques, secretly damning all of them in their vitals, if not openly giving them
away. And there is electro-glazing, shunned because its straight lines in glasswork are too severely clean and delicate. Straight lines it seems are not so
374 AMERICA BUILDS The Search for Order 375
susceptible to the traditional designer’s lack of touch. Stream lines and
straight lines are to him severely unbeautiful. “Curved is the line of beauty”-says he! As though nature would not know what to do with its own
rectilinear!
The familiar lithograph, too, is the prince of an entire province of new
reproductive but unproductive processes. Each and everyone has its individualities and therefore has possibilities of its own. See what Whistler made
and the Germans are making of the lithograph: one note sounded in the
gamut of its possibilities. But that note rings true to process as the sheen of
the butterfly’s wing to that wing. Yet, having fallen into disrepute, the most
this particular “machine” did for us, until Whistler picked it up, was to give
us the cheap imitative effects of painting, mostly for advertising purposes.
This is the use made of machinery in the abuse of materials by men. And
still more important than all we have yet discussed here is the new element
entering industry in this material we call steel. The structural necessity
which once shaped Parthenons, Pantheons, cathedrals, is fast being reduced
by the machine to a skeleton of steel or its equivalent, complete in itself
without the artist-craftsman’s touch. They are now building Gothic cathedrals in California upon a steel skeleton. Is it not easy to see that the myriad
ways of satisfying ancient structural necessities known to us through the
books as the art of building, vanish, become history? The mainspring of their
physical existence now removed, their spiritual center has shifted and nothing remains but the impassive features of a dead face. Such is our “classic”
architecture.
For centuries this insensate or insane abuse of great opportunity in the
name of culture has made cleanly, strengthy and true simplicity impossible
in art or architecture, whereas now we might reach the heights of creative
art. Rightly used the very curse machinery puts upon handicraft should
emancipate the artist from temptation to petty structural deceit and end this
wearisome struggle to make things seem what they are not and can never be.
Then the machine itself, eventually, will satisfy the simple terms of its modern art equation as the ball of clay in the sculptor’s hand yields to his desire-ending forever this nostalgic masquerade led by a stultified culture in
the name of art.
Yes-though he does not know it, the artist is now free to work his
rational will with freedom unknown to structural tradition. Units of construction have enlarged, rhythms have been simplified and etherealized,
space is more spacious and the sense of it may enter into every building,
great or small. The architect is no longer hampered by the stone arch of the
Romans or by the stone beam of the Greeks. Why then does he cling to the
grammatical phrases of those ancient methods of construction when such
phrases are in his modern work empty lies, and himself an inevitable liar as
well ?
Alread y, as we stand today, the machine lias weakened the artist to the
point of destruction and antiquated the craftsman altogether. Earlier forms
of art are by abuse all but destroyed. The whole matter has been reduced to
mere pose. Instead of joyful creation we have all around about us poisonous
tastes-foolish attitudes. With some little of the flame of the old love, and
creditable but pitiful enthusiasm, the young artist still keeps on working,
making miserable mischief with lofty motives: perhaps, because his heart has
not kept in touch or in sympathy with his scientific brother’s head, being out
of step with the forward marching of his own time.
Now, let us remember in forming this new Arts and Crafts Society at
Hull House that every people has done its work, therefore evolved its art as
an expression of its own life, using the best tools; and that means the most
economic and effective tools or contrivances it knew: the tools most successful in saving valuable human effort. The chattel slave was the essential tool
of Greek civilization, therefore of its art. We have discarded this tool and
would refuse the return of the art of the Greeks were slavery the terms of its
restoration, and slavery, in some form, would be the terms.
But in Grecian art two flowers did find spiritual expression-the acanthus and the honeysuckle. In the art of Egypt-similarly we see the papyrus,
the lotus. In Japan the chrysanthemum and many other flowers. The art of
the Occident has made no such sympathetic interpretation since that time,
with due credit given to the English rose and the French fleur-de-lis, and as
things are now the West may never make one. But to get from some native
plant an expression of its native character in terms of imperishable stone to
be fitted perfectly to its place in structure, and without loss of vital significance, is one great phase of great art. It means that Greek or Egyptian found
a revelation of the inmost life and character of the lotus and acanthus in
terms of lotus or acanthus life. That was what happened when the art of
these people had done with the plants they most loved. This imaginative
process is known only to the creative artist. Conventionalization, it is called.
Really it is the dramatizing of an object-truest “drama.” To enlarge upon
this simple figure, as an artist, it seems to me that this complex matter of
civilization is itself at bottom some such conventionalizing process, or must
be so to be successful and endure.
Just as any artist-craftsman, wishing to use a beloved flower for the
stone capital of a column-shaft in his building must conventionalize the
flower, that is, find the pattern of its life-principle in terms of stone as a
material before he can rightly use it as a beautiful factor in his building, so
education must take the natural man, to “civilize” him. And this great new
power of the dangerous machine we must learn to understand and then
learn to use as this valuable, “conventionalizing” agent. But in the construction of a society as in the construction of a great building, the elemental
conventionalizing process is dangerous, for without the inspiration or inner
light of the true artist-the quality of the flower-its very life-is lost, leaving a withered husk in the place of living expression.
Therefore, society in this conventionalizing process or culture, has a
task even more dangerous than has the architect in creating his building
forms, because instead of having a plant-leaf and a fixed material as ancient
architecture had, we have a sentient man with a fluid soul. So without the
inner light of a sound philosophy of art (the educator too, must now be
artist), the life of the man will be sacrificed and society gain an automaton
or a machine-made moron instead of a noble creative citizen!
If education is doomed to fail in this process, utterly-then the man
slips back to rudimentary animalism or goes on into decay. Society degenerates or has a mere realistic creature instead of the idealistic creator needed.
376 AMERICA BUILDS
The world will have to record more “great dead cities.”
To keep the artist-figure of the flower dramatized for human purposes-the socialist would bow his neck in altruistic submission to the “harmonious” whole; his conventionalization or dramatization of the human being wCJUldbe like a poor stone-craftsman’s attempt to conventionalize the
beloved plant with the living character of leaf and flower left out. The anarchist would pluck the flower as it grows and use it as it is for what it iswith essential reality left out.
The hereditary aristocrat has always justified his existence by his ability, owing to fortunate propinquity, to appropriate the flower to his own uses
after the craftsman has given it life and character, and has kept the craftsman too by promising ‘him his flower back if he behaves himself well. The
plutocrat does virtually the same thing by means of “interests.” But the true
democrat will take the human plant as it grows and-in the spirit of using
the means at hand to put life into his conventionalization-preserve the individuality of the plant to protect the flower, which is its very life, getting
from both a living expression of essential man-character fitted perfectly to a
place in society with no loss of vital significance. Fine art is this flower of the
man. When education has become creative and art again prophetic of the
natural means by which we are to grow-we call it “progress” -we will, by
means of the creative artist, possess this monstrous tool of our civilization as
it now possesses us.
Grasp and use the power of scientific automatons in this creative sense
and their terrible forces are not antagonistic to any fine individualistic quality in man. He will find their collective mechanistic forces capable of bringing to the individual a more adequate life, and the outward expression of the
inner man as seen in his environment will be genuine revelation of his inner
life and higher purpose. Not until then will America be free!
This new American liberty is of the sort that declares man free only
when he’ has found his work and effective means to achieve a life of his own.
The means once found, he will find his due place. The man of our country
will thus make his own way, and grow to the natural place thus due him,
promised-yes, promised by our charter, the Declaration of Independence.
But this place of his is not to be made over to fit him by reform, nor shall it
be brought down to him by concession, but will become his by his own use
of the means at hand. He must himself build a new world. The day of the
individual is not over-instead, it is just about to begin. The machine does
not write the doom of liberty, but is waiting at man’s hand as a peerless tool,
for him to use to put foundations beneath a genuine democracy. Then the
machine may conquer human drudgery to some purpose, taking it upon
itself to broaden, lengthen, strengthen and deepen the life of the simplest
man. What limits do we dare imagine to an art that is organic fruit of an
adequate life for the individual! Although this power is now murderous,
chained to botch work and bunglers’ ambitions, the creative artist will take it
surely into his hand and, in the name of liberty, swiftly undo the deadly
mischief it has created.
edited by
LELAND M. ROTH
AMERICA
BUILDS
Source Documents in
American Architecture
and Planning
ICON EDITIONS
~
HARPER & ROW, PUBLISHERS, New Yorl
Cambridge, Philadelphia, San Francisco, London
1817
Mexico City, Silo Paulo, Sydney

 

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