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Cometmaker

Henna as a decorative design

7 posts in this topic

In this thread on henna:

Whatever one may think of it (and I am suprised that in a forum devoted to Ayn Rand that it has not been said), henna body art is not art. Not by my definition or any rational definition of art. Why is it being called art? It is a type of design. It is a hobby, maybe. It is maybe even a ritual in some way. It is not art.

I hope I have provided enough context to now say that I consider it not only not an art, but unattractive as well. But, to each his own. But there is absolutely no context (a woman dancing, or moving in any way in any type of lighting) in which these markings on skin can make anyone more attractive or interesting. Just my opinion - with context provided.

Although mostly implicitly stated in the linked thread above as to the categorization of henna interspersed among other comments, leading to the statement that "it has not been said", I'd like to explicitly categorize. It is not relevant whether one has seen henna prior to viewing the thread or not, but as a pre-emptive comment to those who may state that one should be aware of the different aspects of henna application, I have seen henna applications most of my life throughout many different ethnic groups and am aware of the application method. Consider the works presented in The Touch of Dimple.

Can these henna applications even be considered a decorative design? If henna, or any object is intended for decorative use, the requirements are that:

1) it must be suited to 1a) the material of which it is made (including its limitations), and 1b) enhance the surface it is intended to decorate (that is, the background surface must be as carefully considered as the patterns placed against them)

2) the decoration should be placed at structural points that enhances the surface or structure it decorates

3) esthetically, the decoration should be used in moderation, it should give enough background space to give an effect of simplicity and dignity to the design

The above criteria means skin is not a suitable surface for decorative design where an original motif (whether it be flower, bud, leaf, boteh, paisley, etc.) can be identified. The plant dye is not adapted, or perhaps a better word is conventionalized to enhance the surface it is on, since the primary interest, as noted by some posting members in the initial thread, is displaying a geometric pattern, or cluster of leaves, and not the background (skin). Due to differences in material, function and character, it cannot be compared with decorative jewellery.

Henna is a design, but not a decorative design.

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Can these henna applications even be considered a decorative design? If henna, or any object is intended for decorative use, the requirements are that:

1) it must be suited to 1a) the material of which it is made (including its limitations), and 1b) enhance the surface it is intended to decorate (that is, the background surface must be as carefully considered as the patterns placed against them)

2) the decoration should be placed at structural points that enhances the surface or structure it decorates

3) esthetically, the decoration should be used in moderation, it should give enough background space to give an effect of simplicity and dignity to the design

The above criteria means skin is not a suitable surface for decorative design where an original motif (whether it be flower, bud, leaf, boteh, paisley, etc.) can be identified. The plant dye is not adapted, or perhaps a better word is conventionalized to enhance the surface it is on, since the primary interest, as noted by some posting members in the initial thread, is displaying a geometric pattern, or cluster of leaves, and not the background (skin). Due to differences in material, function and character, it cannot be compared with decorative jewellery.

Henna is a design, but not a decorative design.

I don't think this follows, not least because your criteria don't make up a definition for henna not to fit. "Decorative" simply means "intended to increase the visual appeal of an object" (here, parts of the body). Obviously that's what the henna is intended to do, and people in certain cultural contexts obviously do find it appealing. Your criteria are aesthetic ones and just mean that henna decoration isn't good decoration.

I'm sympathetic to your criteria (two of them anyway), but you list them as out-of-context rules along the lines of the so-called unities in theater: "a play must take place within 24 hours," etc. By way of giving criteria such as yours a foundation, I would point to the fact that the hallmark of aesthetic quality is integration, which in the decorative arts means the visual integration of the parts of a design with each other and with their vehicle. I agree with you that henna doesn't integrate well with the human body – indeed, I'm a real purist when it comes to the body and think it needs barely any ornament to be worthy of rapt contemplation as a beautiful thing.

Finally, I don't agree with your requirement that decoration display "simplicity and dignity." Highly complex decoration can be exquisitely beautiful, as in this interior (QuickTime required). Scroll around to get the full 360-degree effect.

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I don't think this follows, not least because your criteria don't make up a definition for henna not to fit. "Decorative" simply means "intended to increase the visual appeal of an object" (here, parts of the body).

Yes - the object , skin, is the surface used. The term decorative can only be used when, as you say, "the visual integration of the parts of a design with each other and with their vehicle". If henna is intended to increase the visual appeal of skin, it would not fail to integrate the design with the vehicle. The reason henna is applied is to view the henna itself. As I wrote previously, when henna is applied as patterns and resembles real world objects such as leaves or vines, it cannot be a decoration to skin.

...you list them as out-of-context rules along the lines of the so-called unities in theater: "a play must take place within 24 hours," etc...people in certain cultural contexts obviously do find it appealing. Your criteria are aesthetic ones and just mean that henna decoration isn't good decoration.

How well henna application fits the definition of decoration has been left independent of whether I personally like or dislike henna. Decoration is the surface enrichment of a structural design. My criteria set out whether henna fits the definition of decoration.

Finally, I don't agree with your requirement that decoration display "simplicity and dignity." Highly complex decoration can be exquisitely beautiful, as in this interior (QuickTime required). Scroll around to get the full 360-degree effect.

I wrote the effect of sufficient background space in the design must be "simplicity and dignity". Is there not simplicity and dignity in the repetitive patterns in Islamic architecture (and some types of rugs, Nain rugs, for example)? The mathematics are somewhat complex, I do not find the visual appearance so.

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I don't think this follows, not least because your criteria don't make up a definition for henna not to fit. "Decorative" simply means "intended to increase the visual appeal of an object" (here, parts of the body).

Yes - the object , skin, is the surface used. The term decorative can only be used when, as you say, "the visual integration of the parts of a design with each other and with their vehicle". If henna is intended to increase the visual appeal of skin, it would not fail to integrate the design with the vehicle. The reason henna is applied is to view the henna itself. As I wrote previously, when henna is applied as patterns and resembles real world objects such as leaves or vines, it cannot be a decoration to skin.

This would exclude from the definition of "decoration" a good 90% of the decorative art in the world, if not more. What decoration doesn't call attention to itself in at least some way?

...you list them as out-of-context rules along the lines of the so-called unities in theater: "a play must take place within 24 hours," etc...people in certain cultural contexts obviously do find it appealing. Your criteria are aesthetic ones and just mean that henna decoration isn't good decoration.

How well henna application fits the definition of decoration has been left independent of whether I personally like or dislike henna. Decoration is the surface enrichment of a structural design. My criteria set out whether henna fits the definition of decoration.

I haven't said anything about whether you like it either; I've indicated that the three criteria you provided were aesthetic ones, not definitional. ("The surface enrichment of a structural design" is an interesting definition, I hadn't heard it phrased that way before. I'll have to think about how well it applies to things like manuscript illumination; can a flat page be considered a "structural design"?)

I think the philosophical point here is that just because a thing is not a good example of its type, doesn't mean it's not an example of its type at all. A blunt axe is still an axe, just not a good one, and henna is (I think) inappropriate decoration for a human body, but still decoration.

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What decoration doesn't call attention to itself in at least some way?...I think the philosophical point here is that just because a thing is not a good example of its type, doesn't mean it's not an example of its type at all. A blunt axe is still an axe, just not a good one, and henna is (I think) inappropriate decoration for a human body, but still decoration.

I separate the terms design, decoration/decorative design and structural design.

Design is any arrangement of lines, forms, colours and textures. Decorative design or decoration, to elaborate on my definition of it being a surface enrichment of a structural design, is any line colours or materials that have been applied to a structural design for the purpose of adding richer quality to the structural design. Structural design is made by the size, form, colour and texture of the object, whether it be the object itself, in space, or a drawing of that object worked out on paper or on the screen. Intense color in a decorative design, for example, will call attention to itself, but this quality must be added for the purpose of enhancing the surface on which it is borne. My definition does not invalidate most or all decorative design, it simply excludes henna from being a tying of this type.

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Sorry, I meant to write:

Intense color in a decorative design, for example, will call attention to itself, but this quality must be added for the purpose of enhancing the surface on which it is borne in order for this to be a decorative design. My definition does not invalidate most or all decorative design, it simply excludes henna from being a thing of this type.

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Please refer to my last post in "Henna Body Art" (post #55).

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