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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 11, Issue 6 (September 1, 1936)

Good Taste. — Art in Industry

Good Taste.
Art in Industry.

The dining-room suite, fatly opulent, bulged and curved ornately, straddled the turkey carpet, flower-blobbed; the wall-paper, arrogant in colour and design, called attention to itself; the very jardinieres, heavily ornamented, overawed the simplicity of green fronds embowelled in them.

Friends said, “How effective! In what good taste!”—and thought, “How expensive! We could really do with a new carpet (or sideboard, or curtains, or table-runner) at home.”

That was when Victoria, and Albert the Good, and Domesticity, and the Cult of Comfort, heavily ornate, ruled over an England hurrying into the welter of the Machine Age.

In this outpost of English culture, there are lingering remains—the Victorian system in art has not worked itself out even among our friends and relatives. Among the travelled, and among the younger, among the enlightened, and among the unconforming few who refuse to bow to Mammon in this guise, yes!

After a too-rich diet, plain food. After over-ornamentation, restriction to utility alone. So, over the civilised world, people have purged their parlours of fripperies and endeavoured to get back to essentials—a difficult process, possible only by strict adherence to the formula that objects be made to fulfil their function alone, and that any ornament is detrimental. The spirit of this creed is expressed more in modern architecture than in any other product of our age. The owner of a bungalow, quite charmingly eaved, pergolaed and lawned, is jolted, definitely, at the sight of blocks of flats built strictly in pursuit of utility, air and sunshine. In the same way, descriptions of rooms designed for leaders in the “modern” movement read almost like a nightmare to the bungalow wife. “But one couldn't live in such a room,” she says. Probably not; it is too stark. But it must be remembered that the stripping away of all design is merely reaction after the too-lavish use of it in the early machine age, the period of strict diet which will effect the cure.

Manufacturers are now seriously considering design. It is realised that the aesthetic quality of most manufactured goods is still unduly low, and the market for them is consequently restricted. If those in power can set a standard and raise the average of public taste, and, at the same time, by employing artists in design, raise the aesthetic value of machine-made goods, supply and demand will meet on common ground.

In England, from which most of our, manufactured goods come, a Council of Art and Industry, set up by the Board of Trade, has been working for two years to educate the public to appreciate and demand things of good design and to encourage increased employment of skilled designers.

In New Zealand, manufacturers will follow English trends in design. It remains only to attend to the educative side of the process—a far more difficult proposition. Artistic education should start in the schools. It certainly starts there, but how far does page 61 it continue? Small skills in drawing and in handwork are developed, but the large matter of appreciation is almost neglected. Circumstances, of course, are against teachers. There is a lack of experts and also of material, both for manipuation and for example.

As for adult development in artistic taste, its growth is fortuitous, depending mainly on whether acquaintances are interested in such matters and have books to lend. Our chance to observe things of good taste is negligible. There is no New Zealand exhibition of furniture, fabrics, china, glass, carpets, showing beauty of form, proportion, and of colour, combined with appropriateness of design, such as was shown in Edinburgh recently by the Scottish Committee of the Council of Art and Industry.

Even the advent of an Empire Art Loan Collection, such as has added interest to the opening of the new National Art Gallery, has meant little to most of us, save a further realisation of our inability to recognise what is of good taste. Even a collection of almost priceless china looks to me, regarded as a person of higher than average education, a “lot of junk.” I am annoyed that I regard it in that way, that I have not the knowledge to appreciate it, but what can I do to remedy the defect?

When I find the scent, and follow the trail in pursuit of good taste, I will let you know.