Essay on Crime and Ornament

3 pages
697 words
Wesleyan University
Type of paper: 
Book review
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Adolf Loos an Austrian designer and architecture published an essay entitled Ornament and Crime which likened and contrasted the use of ornaments in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. His was a contradictory essay since he felt that in the modern times, ornaments had no place and were of no substantial value. He went as far as urging that ornaments hinder societal progression, that they are a waste of time. He argued that there would be no need to decorate an object and soon it would go out of style. Adolf Loos instead encouraged for simplicity since he believed that simple objects never become out-of-date and would be cherished all the time. In short, in his essay, Adolf encourages the reader to shun the wicked ways of the past and embrace a modern age that prioritizes on human beings, and that has no ornaments whatsoever. He writes of an era where Men had gone far enough for ornaments no longer to arouse feelings of pleasure in them and of a place where if there was no ornament at all, man would have to work four hours instead of eight.

His essay begins with a narrow view of the early human development. He further says that when a child is born, he is considered as one lacking a moral sense. The child is not able to distinguish between right and wrong and hence cannot be judged on a moral ground. However, he says that times have changed and people cannot be ruled as they used to in the past. For instance, he says that a Papuan would not be considered a murderer for killing and eating his enemies, but if a modern man does so, the will be convicted of murder.

Adolf Loos goes ahead to contrast the use of ornaments in the nineteenth century and the late eighteenth century, and this is when the brings in the idea of decorations as a crime. He explains that all art is erotic. The cross, for instance, is a suggestive sign that represents a man and a woman making love. The first works of arts were erotic since people would paint nude pictures on walls. Nowadays, however, smearing the walls with erotic images would consider a criminal act.

His next argument for ornament being a crime is when he talks about bathroom graffiti and drawings made by young children as an example of art. He explains that one can measure the culture of any society by the kind of pictures smeared on the walls. Additionally, he claims that childrens first scribblings are erotic images, which is quite troubling to imagine. Such a claim could bring a lot of debate. What is considered natural for a Papuan and a child is immoral for a modern man. In this line of thought, is a modern child was to do this, it would call for a criminal investigation.

The writer blames this ornament disease on the state. He claims that ornaments no longer bring joy to him and nor to the civilized society that he so much upholds. He argues that a cultivated bench would not be deemed attractive forever, but the love of something unadorned is something that only the civilized man can understand. He blames the slow speed of evolution on these people who are still stuck in the olden days of ornaments. According to him, they are the ones who keep the society from moving forward.

Indeed, Loos essay is a contradictory one as it offers opinions that arise critics and debate. Some of his conclusions lack solid supporting facts and are passed by prejudice. Most of his arguments on ornaments as a crime are erotic, and he does not consider the fact that there could be two sides of the coin. Instead, he chooses to see only one side. I think that people who make ornaments should not be considered criminals. I disagree with the claims that ornaments are a needless expression. They are a fundamental of any society and culture, and it is in such things that the culture is expressed and passed on from generation to generation. Ornamentation should not be eliminated even in the modern society.

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