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v1.11 preface
v1.11 cover
v1.11 contents


The Celtic Art Coracle volume 1 issue 11  p 166

Language of Ornament, continued

Primitive implies first-come, ab-original, from the same root as prime, of the first rank. Beware of the negative overtone which the word has acquired. Primitive does not mean second class, or crude. Likewise the word, "ornament" originally meant, to furnish with something necessary to the function of the object, although in recent times it has acquired the opposite meaning.

In this sense, a button is ornamented with holes, a bucket with handles, a book with a cover and a title. The ornamented thing is fitted out, be it an altar or an ancient tomb, with intelligible and sacred purpose. Without this ornament, the altar would be "un-fit" to perform its function. "To fit out" also means to equip with proper attire, as an astronaut with a space suit. A stone may also be dressed, to "make it fit" properly. Here the "dressing" has a function.

In the same way, "decor" is functional. The association of fitness with propriety is seen in the word, decorum, which has a common root with "decorate" and illustrates nicely the primitive meaning of ornament. In some societies, nudity is normal, except on ceremonial occasions, when people dress decoratively and ornament themselves.

The ritual necessity of "dressing up" (all children's love of dressing up is an innate impulse in this context) is a universal custom. "To dress", then, has real connection with the word decorate, as something that is necessary, even among people who have no apparent need to clothe themselves.

So does it not seem strange that when we see a pattern inscribed on stone we normally do not think of it as functionally necessary, although the stone has been furnished with the pattern no less than a bedroom with a mattress, or a cup with a handle?

Copyright Aidan Meehan 1983. Page updated 09.06.01

The Celtic Art Coracle Vol 1
Contents Coracle Press 1983
ISSN 0828-8321 
All Rights Reserved

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