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Brown, J.W. (1929). Psycho-Analysis and Design in the Plastic Arts. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 10:5-28.

(1929). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 10:5-28

Psycho-Analysis and Design in the Plastic Arts

J. Warburton Brown

In speaking of design in art I intend here to use the term solely in connection with the plastic arts and to include under this heading not only sculpture and architecture, but all forms of graphic art (drawing, painting, pure ornament, etc.). The difference of medium employed in these several arts leads to an expression in two or three dimensions respectively.

Diverse as the results are, the factor of design is at least one common property between them. In all these arts there is seen to be an impulse at work to represent the forms of objects, or purely imaginary forms, in some particular arrangement. That arrangement we speak of as design or composition.

Since the days of the ancient Greeks and later the revival of their point of view at the Renaissance the aim of Western art seems more and more to have involved the realistic representation of objects, until in the nineteenth century this became almost the sole criterion by which a work of art was judged.

The more critical in these matters, however, refused to accept mere realistic representation as the only standard of merit; and since the days of the Impressionists up to the present time a strong reaction of feeling has taken place against the deadening effect of this outlook.

The imitation of Nature may be carried out by such mechanical means as the camera affords far more faithfully in regard to detail than by the laborious efforts of any individual, and yet the result may be much less satisfying. Wherein lies the difference?

Putting colour out of the question, it is generally acknowledged that the main difference is in the question of design, composition or arrangement, whichever term we like to use.

It is agreed by most artists, critics and writers on the subject of art that any form of plastic art fails to make a satisfactory appeal if it is lacking in this element.

A picture, for instance, may appeal from other more subsidiary points of view, such as its realistic representation of Nature, its historical or legendary interest, its dramatic content or its sentimentality; but these only form the main basis of appeal if the picture is lacking in design.

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