FLW: Symbolism & Worldmaking

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An examination of Wright's work within the framework of symbolic forms as espoused by Nelson Goodman.


<ul><li><p>ARCH991-Carter </p><p>1 </p><p>FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT: SYMBOLISM AND WORLDMAKING </p><p>Ken Dahlin Arch 991 </p><p>Prof. Curtis Carter, PhD December 15, 2014 </p></li><li><p>ARCH991-Carter </p><p>2 </p><p>Discussion of the work of Frank Lloyd Wright often falls into either an homage to the cult of </p><p>personality veiled behind artistic genius or to the more superficial reciting of the physical aspects seen </p><p>in his style of architecture (flat roofs, corner windows, horizontal disposition, etc.). Wrights idea of </p><p>Organic Architecture was often spoken about both by him and many since him, but the term itself </p><p>conceals as much as it reveals. In fact, we might ask whether organic architecture was the primary art-</p><p>system he created, or if there was something underlying the standard tenets of organic architecture </p><p>that might better explain the process and method by which he lived and worked. </p><p>The premise to this essay is that an examination of Wrights thought and work within the </p><p>philosophical framework of symbolic forms as espoused by Nelson Goodman will be more useful in </p><p>providing understanding into the idea of organic architecture as he conceived of and practiced it. Of </p><p>the philosophers who have addressed the concept of worldmaking, Nelson Goodman is one of the </p><p>better examples from twentieth century analytic philosophy that wrote concerning this concept in his </p><p>book Ways of Worldmaking, along with various other writings. Additionally, work from Ernst Cassirer, </p><p>Susan Langer, Rudolph Arnheim and others will supplement this analysis. </p><p>Before we address Wrights early influences in the development of his process of world making, </p><p>we will briefly examine Goodmans worldmaking theory. Nelson Goodman (1906-1998) was an </p><p>important figure in twentieth century philosophy with contributions in aesthetics, applied logic, </p><p>metaphysics, epistemology, and philosophy of science. His idea of worldmaking began before his book </p><p>Ways of Worldmaking (1978) was written with his statement of the general problem of projection </p><p>whereby we project predicates onto reality (a reality that is itself constructed by those projections.)1 </p><p> 1 Alessandro Giovannelli, "Goodman's Aesthetics", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2010 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), </p></li><li><p>ARCH991-Carter </p><p>3 </p><p>Goodman believed that worlds were made rather than found.2 And these are made by the </p><p>construction of world versions, or symbol systems that supply structure. Because any two items are </p><p>alike in some respects and different in others, it is not defined when something should be classified as </p><p>being of the same class or two different classes. The criteria needed to be applied to determine this is </p><p>not found in nature and is supplied by applying a scheme or system of classification. One system is not </p><p>right or wrong necessarily but a world version must be consistent within itself to be acceptable. </p><p>Consistency, coherence, suitability for a purpose, accord with best practice are restraints that </p><p>Goodman recognizes.3 Additionally, in regards to perception, Goodman states that there is no </p><p>perception without conception, nor, after Gombrich, is there an innocent eye.4 Thus, to </p><p>Goodman, perception is not a neutral activity but how we see is both affected by our world version </p><p>and our worldmaking can be influenced by our perceptions. </p><p>Robert Schwartz, in his essay, The Power of Pictures, presents the example of Picassos portrait </p><p>of Gertrude Stein of which it was said that Picasso claimed it would be seen to be an accurate </p><p>representation of Gertrude even if in the beginning it was thought to look nothing like her. Schwartz </p><p>uses this to illustrate his main point that pictures may not only shape our perception of the world; </p><p>they can and do play an important role in making it.5 The power of the picture to emphasize and </p><p>discriminate certain aspects of the visual object can serve to change the way we see the world. Early </p><p>in Wrights career, he discovered Japanese art, and in particular the woodblock print (ukiyo-e). Like </p><p>Picassos portrait of Stein, the Japanese print discriminated in its portrayal of people and nature in a </p><p> 2 Catherine Elgin. Worldmaker: Nelson Goodman 1906-1998. Journal for General Philosophy of Science, Vol. 31, 10. 3 Ibid., 12. 4 Nelson Goodman. Ways of Worldmaking. Indianapolis,: Hackett Pub. Co., 1978, 6. 5 Robert Schwartz, The Power of Pictures. The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 82, No. 12 (Dec., 1985), pg 189. </p></li><li><p>ARCH991-Carter </p><p>4 </p><p>way that produced its particularly elegant, stylized, and idealized formalism. This had a powerful effect </p><p>not only on Wrights renderings, but also on his theory of architecture. </p><p>One could outline the development of Wrights worldmaking as follows: </p><p>1.) Wright first saw and interpreted art and architecture in a certain way before developing his </p><p>own system. As Goodman declares in Ways of Worldmaking, Worldmaking as we know it always </p><p>starts from worlds already on hand: the making is a remaking.6 World systems are not created out </p><p>of nothing. Perception itself, in Goodmans view, is a form of worldmaking. Although there are other </p><p>influences upon Wright worth consideration such as the Froebel block system, the influence I will </p><p>examine in this paper will be Wrights exposure to Japanese art; the Japanese print had impressed </p><p>upon Wright a particular way of seeing the world that appealed to him, so much so that he wrote a </p><p>book about it. </p><p>2.) Wright created a theory and body of work according to the world version he saw, thus </p><p>expanding and reinforcing his world making system. As he worked with the particulars and grammar </p><p>of a certain architecture, he would continue to revise and refine it, creating yet additional expressions </p><p>of his architectural oeuvre over a period of some 70 years. Due to his long and productive career, </p><p>we can see in Wrights work phases that were derivative of earlier phases, and also influenced by </p><p>external forces. </p><p>3.) Wrights worldmaking system(s), along with the skill with which it was conveyed both in </p><p>architectural works as well as renderings, writings, and persona, has consequently had a strong </p><p>influence on others whose perceptions of architecture have been influenced by the symbolic values </p><p>that Wright expressed in his works. Wrights influence was to affect others to see the world through </p><p>the lens and world system he created. </p><p> 6 Nelson Goodman. Ways of Worldmaking, 6. </p></li><li><p>ARCH991-Carter </p><p>5 </p><p>As we discuss this symbolic system that Wright created, it should be noted here that Nelson </p><p>Goodmans concern was not with endowing symbol systems with meaning or value but rather in </p><p>outlining a logical structural system, in effect providing a framework much like empty containers by </p><p>which individual worldmakers such as Wright could fill value and meaning content into that which was </p><p>significant to their work. Throughout Wrights career and writings we see an emphasis on the value </p><p>content of his symbol system that would not have concerned Goodman and yet became instrumental </p><p>in the expression of his architecture. Goodmans symbolic symbol system can be viewed as a new </p><p>organizing structure with which to gain additional perspective to Wrights works. It should also be </p><p>mentioned that even though Wright himself wrote about the symbolic function of form, he did not </p><p>develop a theoretical structure to his use of symbolic forms as Nelson Goodman had. </p><p>PART ONE: GOODMANS CONCEPT OF WORLD MAKING DESCRIBED </p><p>In the opening chapter to his book, Ways of Worldmaking, Goodman reflects on one of the major </p><p>themes of Ernst Cassirers work as being Countless worlds made from nothing by use of symbols </p><p>and relates his commonality with Cassirer as including the multiplicity of worlds, the speciousness of </p><p>the given, the creative power of the understanding, [and] the variety and formative function of </p><p>symbols.7 In defining what is meant by possible worlds, he emphasizes that he is not talking about </p><p>possible alternate worlds but of multiple actual worlds. Also worth noting is his view on the frame of </p><p>reference and its role in world making. The two statements, the sun always moves, and the sun </p><p>never moves might give one the impression that two different worlds delineated by separate frames </p><p>of reference resolve these apparent contradictory truths. However, Goodman asks the more </p><p> 7 Nelson Goodman, Ways of Worldmaking, 1. </p></li><li><p>ARCH991-Carter </p><p>6 </p><p>foundational question of how one would describe a world without any frame of reference?8 Our </p><p>universe, he says, consists of these ways rather than of a world or of worlds.9 </p><p>In reference to right versions of worlds we are not to look for a unity underneath these versions </p><p>but rather in an overall organization embracing them. For Goodman this is an analytic study of the </p><p>types and functions of symbols and symbol systems.10 He then states what many others, have </p><p>already stated, that there is no perception without conception, no innocent eye, and no substance as </p><p>substratum. We can have words without a world but no world without words or other symbols.11 </p><p>Or in the words of Remei Capdevila-Werning, Architects contribute to the process of worldmaking </p><p>not simply in the physical sense of making bricks, but most importantly in a metaphysical one, by </p><p>creating symbols and symbol systems that further constitute worlds.12 And also that, Any discipline </p><p>that contributes to the advancement of understanding through symbol systems, such as architecture, </p><p>contributes also to the creation of a world: the ways of creating meaning are also, in Goodmans </p><p>terminology, ways of worldmaking.13 </p><p> Frank Lloyd Wright as a worldmaker did so using an aesthetic with a highly developed symbol </p><p>system that expressed his architectural world vision. According to Susan Langer, the primary function </p><p>of art is to objectify feeling so that we can contemplate and understand it.14 By examining Wrights </p><p>symbol system we can better understand the Idea he was expressing through his architecture. </p><p> 8 Ibid., 3. 9 Ibid. 10 Ibid., 5. 11 Ibid., 6. 12 Capdevila-Werning, Remei. Goodman for architects, Thinkers for architects. New York: Routledge, Taylor &amp; Francis Group, 2014. 100. 13 Ibid., 102-3. 14 Carter, Curtis, After Cassirer: Art and Aesthetic Symbols (Langer-Goodman) Curtis L. Carter Copyright. 8. </p></li><li><p>ARCH991-Carter </p><p>7 </p><p> Specifically, regarding ways of worldmaking, Goodman delineates five processes that may be </p><p>used in worldmaking: 1. Composition and decomposition, 2. Weighting, 3. Ordering, 4. Deletion </p><p>and Supplementation, and 5. Deformation.15 Composition and decomposition in Goodmans view </p><p>involves taking apart and putting together, of dividing wholes into parts, of drawing distinctions, of </p><p>composing wholes and combining features into more complex assemblies. In this category Goodman </p><p>includes identification into classes and kinds. For weighting, Goodman says that emphasis and accent </p><p>and sorting into relevant and irrelevant make up world versions. Ordering can involve temporality as </p><p>well as proximity and are not found in the world but are built into a world.16 In the category of </p><p>deletion and supplementation, Goodman includes perceptual exclusion and the idea that we find what </p><p>we are prepared to find. Lastly, deformation or reshaping may create variations that amount to </p><p>revelations. </p><p>PART TWO: THE EARLY INFLUENCES ON THE DEVELOPMENT OF WRIGHTS WORLD VERSION </p><p> In order to maintain his persona of an original creative genius, Wright notoriously gave little credit </p><p>for his influence from other sources, primarily only giving credit to his mentor Louis Sullivan and </p><p>Japanese art. However, even his holding onto the idea of the creative genius can be seen as an </p><p>influence of Hegelian thought, along with the romanticism of his age. As we consider this in light of </p><p>Wrights worldmaking activities, Nelson Goodman says that it is not possible to create from nothing </p><p>but that to make a world is always to remake one: Worldmaking begins with one version and ends </p><p> 15 Nelson Goodman, Ways of Worldmaking, 7. 16 Ibid., 14. </p></li><li><p>ARCH991-Carter </p><p>8 </p><p>with another.17 And as Capdevila-Werning further points out, world making is a never-ending and </p><p>open-ended process, for a version or an interpretation of the world is always susceptible of being </p><p>modified: its symbolic functioning can reorganize, point out, or bring to the background the </p><p>constitutive elements of a version without ever reaching an ultimate world and without knowing what </p><p>the next world will look like.18 The artist or architects body of work is a succession of phases, </p><p>adaptations, reformulations, and progression from their early work which often begins under the </p><p>mentorship of someone elses style or a currently known style and moves toward a style that begins </p><p>to bring out their own personal signature and eventually into a mature style that stands distinct and </p><p>unique in the world--that is, if one is so talented and skillful to achieve this level of mastery of their </p><p>craft and art. </p><p>Wright was such an architect. From his apprenticeship first with Joseph Silsbee and then with </p><p>Louis Sullivan, Wright began as a pencil in the masters hand beautifully absorbing Sullivans flowing </p><p>ornamentation style as we see in Adler and Sullivans Auditorium building in Chicago. Eventually </p><p>Wright began to distinguish himself from Sullivan by abstracting and geometrizing his ornament rather </p><p>than drawing in the more literal decoration of his mentor. There were other characteristics to </p><p>Wrights work as well that he slowly developed in the decade just before and after 1900 such as his </p><p>conception of space, the use of materials, and his idea of organic integration, not just of the </p><p>ornamental aspects of a building but of the entire conception of the building itself. And at this point in </p><p>his career we have the golden age of his Prairie Style. This alone would have been enough to secure </p><p>his position as a great architect; however, he went on to develop other styles such as his Usonian, </p><p>textile block, along with individual masterpieces such as Fallingwater, the Guggenheim and Johnson </p><p> 17 Nelson Goodman, Ways of Worldmaking, 97. 18 Capdevila-Werning, Remei. Goodman for architects, Thinkers for architects. New York: Routledge, Taylor &amp; Francis Group, 2014, 103. </p></li><li><p>ARCH991-Carter </p><p>9 </p><p>Wax buildings. Even in his diverse output, however, we can see a relationship of one style to </p><p>another. His Usonian world-version would not have arisen without first his Prairie period. The </p><p>Johnson Wax administration building would not have been what it is without first the Unity Temple </p><p>and Larkin building. The Johnson Wax administration building can be considered a deform...</p></li></ul>