Harvard Psychological Studies, Volume 1 eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 678 pages of information about Harvard Psychological Studies, Volume 1.

The method of the following outline treatment will be to deduct from the object under consideration those symmetrical elements which seem to be directly traceable to non-aesthetic influences; such elements as are not thus to be accounted for must be taken as evidence of a direct pleasure in, and desire for symmetry on the part of primitive man.  These possible non-aesthetic influences may be provisionally suggested to be the technical conditions of construction, the greater convenience and hence desirability of symmetrical objects for practical use, and the symmetrical character of natural forms which were imitated.

The first great group of objects is given in primitive architecture.  Here is found almost complete unanimity of design, the conical, hemispherical or beehive form being well-nigh universal.  The hut of the Hottentots, a cattle-herding, half-nomadic people, is a good type of this.  A circle of flexible staves is stuck into the ground, bent together and fastened at the top, and covered with skins.  But this is the form of shelter constructed with the greatest ease, suitable to the demands of elastic materials, boughs, twigs, reeds, etc., and giving the greatest amount of space with the least material.  There are, indeed, a few examples of the rectangular form of dwelling among various primitive races, but these seem to be more or less open to explanation by the theory advanced by Mr. V. Mendeleff, of the U.S.  Bureau of Ethnology.  “In his opinion the rectangular form of architecture which succeeds the type under discussion, must have resulted from the circular form by the bringing together within a limited area of many houses....  This partition would naturally be built straight as a two-fold measure of economy."[2] This opinion is confirmed by Mr. Cushing’s observations among the Zuni villages, where the pueblos have circular forms on the outskirts.  Thus the shape of the typical primitive dwelling is seen to be fully accounted for as the product of practical considerations alone.  It may therefore be dismissed as offering no especial points of interest for this inquiry.

   [2] Cushing, F.H.:  ‘Pueblo Pottery and Zuni Culture-growth,’
   Rep. of Bur. of Ethnol., 1882-3, p. 473.

Next in the order of primitive development are the arts of binding and weaving.  The stone axe or arrow-head, for example, was bound to a wooden staff, and had to be lashed with perfect evenness,[3] and when in time the material and method of fastening changed, the geometrical forms of this careful binding continued to be engraved at the juncture of blade and handle of various implements.  It should be noted, however, that these binding-patterns, in spite of their superfluous character, remained symmetrical.

   [3] Haddon, A.C.:  ‘Evolution in Art,’ London, 1895, pp. 84 ff.

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