Amelie Spitz MFA

Master-Thesis: "Ornament"

Supervision: Prof. Ute Eitzenhöfer, Prof. Eva-Maria Kollischan, Prof. Theo Smeets



The easiest description to understand ornament can be taken from the Oxford dictionary with the following description of a decoration being ‚a thing used or serving to make something look more attractive but usually having no practical purpose‘. However, this description is difficult to accept just as a single understanding of what an ornament is. On the other hand, it would be too easy to assume that an ornament can be ‚everything‘.

I started with a brainstorming on relevant topics and objects that keep occuring to me in everyday life.  150 years of discussion and pointing out the most important works:

One of the most widespread argumentation on ornament, is that of Adolf Loos and his book ‚Ornament and crime‘ which in my point of view approves on the above mentioned description on ornament the most. For Adolf Loos, ornament became an empty block of material with no use.

His view is still relevant today, because the original idea has not been challenged much until today. But we do know that much has happened till then. Jörg H. Gleiter summarises the turning points on ornamental debate in ‚Die Rückkehr des Verdrängten‘ or ‚Ornament Today‘. Through his approach ornament gets rehabilitated, back to a scientific dicscourse and may it be in a written form (and not in symbols).

The ornament is connected with material, we can only understand the impact of ornament on society through the fragments that were left to us from prior generations and ancient cultures. To understand ornament therefore, we have to go back in time to see what it meant in previous eras.

‚The Grammar of Ornament‘ (1856) written by Owen Jones in his late years summarises a huge amount of knowledge on ancient ornament. Every tribe that produces ornament of its own cultural value would always apply the same code or approach: inspiration from nature.

Ornament plays with our minds. The idea of reality and unconciousness comes into play: ornament could not exist without its material. With Millers essay on ‚Materiality‘ I will make clear how ornament is ingrained into material. Miller opens up a critical discussion on the importance of material culture and how the ‚thing‘ effects the unconsious mind of a human.

An ornament is more than a beautiful decoration, it implies a particular condition, a skill which which represents a moment of time. The structural ornament which has nothing to do with the ornament of previous eras, was introduced in the 1970s. It is a computer generated pattern, that follows the psychology of Gestalt. Aesthetics unfold in the tension between complete randomness and complete order.

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