University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Digital Library for the Decorative Arts and Material Culture

Page View

Wharton, Edith (1862-1937); Codman Jr., Ogden (1863-1951) / The decoration of houses
(1898)

XVI: bric-á-brac,   pp. 184-195


Page 186

x86
             The Decoration of Houses
and Cellini chiselled book-clasps and drinking-cups, there could
be no thought of the vicious distinction between the useful and
the beautiful.   One of the first obligations of art is to make all
useful things beautiful: were this neglected principle applied to
the manufacture of household accessories, the modern room
would have no need of knick-knacks.
  Before proceeding further, it is necessary to know what consti-
tutes an object of art.   It was said at the outset that, though
cheapness and trashiness are not always synonymous, they are
apt to be so in the case of the modern knick-knack.   To buy, and
even to make, it may cost a great deal of money; but artistically
it is cheap, if not worthless; and too often its artistic value is
in inverse ratio to its price.  The one-dollar china pug is less
harmful than an     expensive onyx   lamp-stand with moulded
bronze mountings dipped in liquid gilding.  It is one of the mis-
fortunes of the present time that the most preposterously bad
things often possess the powerful allurement of being expensive.
One might think it an advantage that they are not within every
one's reach; but, as a matter of fact, it is their very unattainable-
ness which, by making them more desirable, leads to the produc-
tion of that worst curse of modern civilization-cheap copies of
costly horrors.
  An ornament is of course not an object of art because it is ex-
peosive-though it must be owned that objects of art are seldom
cheap.   Good workmanship, as distinct from designing, almost
always commands a higher price than bad; and good artistic
workmanship having become so rare that there is practically no
increase in the existing quantity of objects of art, it is evident
that these are more likely to grow than to diminish in value. Still,
as has been said, costliness is no test of merit in an age when


Go up to Top of Page