CRANBROOK ACADEMY OF ART
GRADUATE THESIS, 1986
For my graduate studies at Cranbrook Academy of Art, I elected to confront and question my previously held tenents of design, art and philosophy. This challenge, I felt, would reveal a more intellectually mature visual awareness and literacy.
In my first year at Cranbrook, I elected to investigate the elements of music and its true essence. These investigations evoked a new analytical methodology for myself. The studies consisted of the silence of music, the inner continuity of music, and the tension of music. Throughout this process, with all its subjectiveness, I managed to decipher certain (somewhat esoteric) vocabulary. This vocabulary, although rooted in a subject I feel very confident of in terms of a plastic representation lead me to an empty pasture. This is not to say these were hollow endeavors. Much pertinent and valuable information derived from these investigations. It just could not be represented fully in the medium I am bound by, furniture design. ( See essay: The Elements of Musical Essence).
My second year thesis proposal consisted of the psychological and phiIosophical implications of the backstage theater environment. Along side of this, great emphasis was also placed on the theater vernacular and its metaphorical possibilities. Many investigations and much research was required in order to truly understand the history, direction, and implication of the theater vernacular in it’s entirety.
The art and science of Western theater design has persisted for 2,400 years. It is only since the turn of the century that anything resembling a truly new theater has begun to emerge. From the earliest beginnings in Greece (400 B.C.) to the Fall of Rome, (476 A.D.) the theater environment was totally in accordance with it’s time.
The forms of dramatic presentation change very slowly. The history of the theater reveals that new forms have always emerged very gradually. Today, in this exciting age of great technological and psychological advances, it’s imperative theater keep pace with man’s rapidly widening horizons. It is important that it expand or even explode it’s visual limits and limitations. In other words, drama must escape completely it’s architectural confines.
What the eye sees, within and without, is ever changing. Man’s perception of the world around him has increased immensely in the last decades. The developments in phenomenological psychology and in psychoanalysis have opened the doors which Freud unlocked. In order to truly understand the theater and all it represents, one must look beyond the props, beyond the trompe l’oeil, behind the curtain to the soul of the theater, the backstage.
The concept of a place, or in this instance backstage, the soul lives. New theater must begin here. In order to truly elicit the essence of theater, one must investigate the structure of this phenomenon.
Here lies the true language, void of whimsy and trickery for each visual element is authentic in its own context. Raw and vulnerable this phenomenological psychology leaves man experiencing incompleteness a sense of something beyond. This is precisely the new language of theater I investigated. The emotion of great discovery, the overlooked wonderland of the realist, the gestures of an artist with the soul of a child.
In the cabaret interior models, I was searching for the soul of the theater. I attempted to represent the rawness and vulnerability of the backstage by exposing the construction of the environment and juxtaposing it to the clean frontality of the set designs. Along side of this, I attempted to bring out the hidden spaces and placed in hopes of setting up a sort of hidden mystic amongst all the activity.
I positioned the entrance of the cabaret at the front of the stage forcing the individual to enter from a viewers position, in hopes of eliciting a sense of excitement and curiosity that seems to be associated with “coming” backstage. Once behind the curtain wall, the individual is confronted by a large volume of space in it’s raw materials. This sense of forced vulnerability and intimidations leaves the individual searching for a more intimate understanding of the backstage environment. It was then my hope this would cause a self participatory behavior similar to the activity that exists in the real backstage theater environment. The combination of the frontality, the activity and the transitory state should evoke a cause and reaction. This in turn could and should foster a sense of dialogue and excitement so absent in todays cabarets and clubs.
As I explored the endless possibilities of the theater vernacular, I became increasingly fascinated with actual set designs and their ephermeral nature. This curiosity evolved and eventually culminated in the fabrication of two full scale pieces of furniture incorporating my interpretation of the theater set.
In the furnishings, my intent was to characterize the frontality and ephemeral nature of the theater set. In order to achieve this, it was critical that I utilize materials and forms that allow extreme flexibility. After several investigations, I eventually chose the corner chair and the Parsons table as the forms, and perforated steel with magnetic sheet as the medium.
The perforated steel has many advantages. Although 51% transparent, it’s inherit strength allows the concept to have functional utility while at the same time a ephemeral nature, much the same as the theater itself. Applied to the table and chair is magnetic sheet cut to the style or concept of the performance. This is an important ingredient, for the magnetic sheet becomes the interchangeable message. In other words, the perforated furnishings become a canvas and the magnetic sheet becomes the painted stroke. This combination allows interchangeable and endless possibilities for whichever environment these furnishings exist within.
As I reflect on my two years of study at Cranbrook, it becomes increasingly apparent that all the investigations have perpetuated a more intellectually mature visual awareness. From the linear investigations of the elements of music to the psychological and philosophical implications of the backstage theater environment; my intent was to confront and question my previously held tenents of design. I feel my intent was successful, but by no means an end in itself. It now becomes clear that the goals I had set for myself could never have been totally obtained in a two year program. I am thankful that the process Cranbrook teaches is not an end in itself, but a llfe long committment, for this is just the beginning.
THE ELEMENTS OF MUSICAL ESSENCE
INVESTIGATIONS FROM THE FIRST YEAR OF STUDY
“When the ear begins to hear, and the eye begins to see, when the pulse begins to throb and the soul alive once more.”
Throughout the writings of the Beautiful in Music by Eduard Hanslick, Music and Silence by Gisele Brelet, and Architecture, Form, Space and Order by Francis D.K. Ching, one continually reads of the essence of a composition whether architecture, literature or music. Within this soul or pulse lies the substance which moves a medium from trite to classic. However slight or removed, without this ingredient a composition becomes as a heart without a soul, emotionless, illiterate and truly unconscious. So it becomes the essence, the subtler law, not the visual nor audible that bonds a composition with its audience.
The element of sound is perceived as the body of music. But sound is only an event. By its coming, it breaks an original silence and it ends in a final silence. Music like sound projects its form upon a background of silence, therefore, music is born, developed, and realized within a silence. The silence of its birth and the silence of its completion. The listening state of awareness is always strained toward an absence.
“Thus, silence is the Spiritual echo of music, the dwelling place of its final reality.”1 It is this framework which prevents the web of music from becoming confused. So the reality of
sound emanates precisely from the power of silence.
Musical form, like our inner continuity, is not a logical structure. Although it has an objective foundation, it achieves fulfillment subjectively. That is to say the freedom of musical form, like consciousness itself exist only by virtue of continual interpretive creation. Musical form structures itself by the very power of silence. it is the juxtaposition of these two elements that comprise the breathing phase and define its contours. Therefore, the alliance of silence and form, the indissoluble union, in real and heard music, between the sounds given to mind, and the act by which the mind gives them to itself.”2
Repitition and tension are also a basis of form. These elements balance the heightened anticipation with the reassuring occurence of melody. The simplist form of melody is that of a phase handled twice over in such a way that the instrument is led first to a point of temporary repose, and then by the same path to a point of final repose, and the sense of finality is often enhanced by a suspension, a postponement to the return home. The repeated first section; twice leading to the point of temporary repose, allows us a characteristic joy. As one breaks away into the free fantasia, the repetition and tension become as one. This is best exemplified by Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.
So it becomes the components of silence, form, repetition and tension which comprise a portion of the essence, of music. Each element within itself, each in harmony with one another. The growth of a composition may be compared to that of a flowering plant, with its multitude of leaves, blossoms and intertwining stems and branches. Not only do the leaves repeat each other but the leaves repeat the flowers, and the very stems and branches are like unfolded leaves. It is true that the flower alone is also considered the true beauty of the plant, but the flower is but one small element in a vast array within the composition, certainly less than the essence.
1) Music and Silence by Gisele Breiet.
2) Beautiful in Music by Eduard Hanslick.
Department of Design
This thesis is respectfully submitted to the Cranbrook Academy of Art as partial fufillment of requirements for the degree of Masters of Fine Arts.
May 9. 1986