The Sense of Order: Study in the Psychology of Decorative Art

The Sense of Order: Study in the Psychology of Decorative Art

Paperback The Wrightsman Lectures, V. 9

By (author) Leonie Gombrich, By (author) Ernst H. Gombrich, By (author) New York University

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  • Publisher: Phaidon Press Ltd
  • Format: Paperback | 412 pages
  • Dimensions: 203mm x 262mm x 28mm | 1,429g
  • Publication date: 1 January 1994
  • Publication City/Country: London
  • ISBN 10: 0714822590
  • ISBN 13: 9780714822594
  • Edition: 2, New edition
  • Edition statement: New edition
  • Illustrations note: illustrations, bibliography, index
  • Sales rank: 278,912

Product description

The Sense of Order provides a comprehensive survey of the rich history and theory of decorative art. The universal human impulse to seek order and rhythm in space and time can be seen in an astonishing range of human activities: children's play, poetry, dance, music and architecture, as well as art. Its persistent prevalence in our every activity calls for a rigorous explanation of this fascinating phenomenon in terms of our biological heritage. Professor Gombrich in this tome, which he himself regarded as his most original work, offers precisely this. His characteristic erudition and expertise signify his writings here as no less than revolutionary in our perception of art and, in turn, of our very selves. A pleasure to read, this pivotal book is as accessible as it is sophisticated, and as engaging as it is idiosyncratic.

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Author information

Sir Ernst Gombrich was one of the greatest and least conventional art historians of his age, achieving fame and distinction in three separate spheres: as a scholar, as a popularizer of art, and as a pioneer of the application of the psychology of perception to the study of art. His best-known book, The Story of Art - first published 50 years ago and now in its 16th edition - is one of the most influential books ever written about art. His books further include Art and Illusion(1979) and The Preference for the Primitive (2002), as well as a total of 11 volumes of collected essays and reviews. Gombrich was born in Vienna in 1909 and died in London in November 2001. He came to London in 1936 to work at the Warburg Institute, where he eventually became Director from 1959 until his retirement in 1976. He won numerous international honours, including a knighthood, the Order of Merit and the Goethe, Hegel and Erasmus prizes. Gifted with a powerful mind and prodigious memory, he was also an outstanding communicator, with a clear and forceful prose style. His works are models of good art-historical writing, and reflect his humanism and his deep and abiding concern with the standards and values of our cultural heritage.

Review quote

'It would be hard to imagine a more intelligent discussion of the natural history of decoration and ornament.' (Jonathan Miller, The Sunday Times)

Editorial reviews

E. H. Gombrich's numerous essays and his powerful, full-length study in the psychology of pictorial representation, Art and Illusion, have nurtured a generation of art historians and stimulated research and theory well beyond art history. The Sense of Order, consummating a labor of many years and intended as a companion to Art and Illusion, carries forward the theme of the earlier book into the study of non-pictorial art - i.e., decoration. As before, Gombrich seeks to explain why different styles of artwork exist, and his explanation looks to both the inherent psychology of visual perception and to the changing tastes of culture. Deocrative art, he finds, arises from the innate sense of spatial order imposed by the mind upon phenomena. Yet this order is not simple, for it combines the attributes of economy - quick comprehensibility, simplicity, predictability, etc. - with those of intellectual enjoyment: variety, complexity, surprise. Thus the order at the heart of decoration lies between monotony and confusion; and the history of that order, several episodes of which Gombrich narrates, takes in both the "force of habit," which gives persistence to motifs, and the varieties of taste - usually allied with morality - which prompt change. Of particular interest here are Gombrich's remarks on the recurrence of classical ideals opposing rich ornament as evil - taking the rise of modernist austerity out of Victorian art criticism as an instance, and the return of ornament nowadays as the completion of a cultural cycle. Neatly divided into three sections - on the relation of theory and practice in decorative art, the psychology of perception, and the psychological history of decorative motifs - and rhetorically clear, Gombrich's book is nonetheless exceedingly difficult to comprehend fully. Gombrich is here, as he admits, working his way through a forest of ideas, facts, and images in search of a theory, rather than presenting definitive conclusions. Still, the adventure affords a superior education in the history and psychology of non-pictorial art. (Kirkus Reviews)