Group Title: use of the design elements in the stage designs of Robert Edmond Jones and Lee Simonson
Title: The use of the design elements in the stage designs of Robert Edmond Jones and Lee Simonson
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 Material Information
Title: The use of the design elements in the stage designs of Robert Edmond Jones and Lee Simonson
Alternate Title: Design elements in the stage designs of Robert Edmond Jones and Lee Simonson
Physical Description: vi, 210 leaves : ill. ; 28 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Middleton, Herman David, 1925-
Publication Date: 1964
Copyright Date: 1964
Subject: Theaters -- Stage-setting and scenery   ( lcsh )
Speech thesis Ph. D   ( lcsh )
Dissertations, Academic -- Speech -- UF   ( lcsh )
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Thesis: Thesis - University of Florida.
Bibliography: Bibliography: leaves 203-209.
Additional Physical Form: Also available on World Wide Web
General Note: Manuscript copy.
General Note: Vita.
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00097936
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: alephbibnum - 000561429
oclc - 13531461
notis - ACY7363


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Full Text







August, 1964

Copyright by
Herman David Middleton


For the use of illustrations the writer gratefully

acknowledges the cooperation of the following individuals

and organizations: Victor Jackson, for the photograph of

the setting from The Rhine Gold; Orville Larson, for

photographs of the settings of Robert Edmond Jones;

Marshall Metze of Sandak, Inc., for photographs of the

paintings of Franz Kline and settings by Lee Simonson;

Crown Publishers, Inc., for the Gauguin print; and The

IMuseum of Modern Art for the print of Jackson Pollock.

Special assistance was given by Edward Kook, Peter

Larkin, Ralph Pendleton, Mary Hall Furber, Orville Larson,

and the staffs of The Library of Congress, The New York

Public Library, and The University of Florida Library.

The study was conceived and executed under the

direction of Dr. L. L. Zimmerman. Other suggestions and

encouragement were given by the late Dr. Dallas C. Dickey,

Professor H. P. Constans, and committee members Dr. Melvin

Baker, Dr. August Staub, and Dr. Roy E. Tew. The problems

of the study have been lived with and shared by the writer's

family his wife, Amelia, son, David, and daughter,



For the interest and aid of all of these the writer

is most grateful.

1' DL j *- U iH 1 I,. ter

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L .. .

Limiitations of the -ediui of
Scene ,lsi;n

,.eatre on

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.i Process of artisticc executionn

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ii fouch of tne oet
":nry VIII

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Plate Page
1 Jackson Pollock, "Number One," 1950 21
2 Paul Gauguin, "Still-Life," 1890 26

3 Franz Kline, "Painting No. 7," 1952 29
4 Franz Kline, "Mahoning," 1956 33
5 Robert Edmond Jones, A Touch of the Poet,
"Melody's Tavern," 1946 62

6 Robert Edmond Jones, Macbeth, Act III,
Scene 4, "The Banquet," 1921 77

7 Robert Edmond Jones, Henry VIII, Act II,
Scene 1, "Buckingham's Farewell," 1944 92

8 Robert Edmond Jones, Henry VIII, Act II,
Scene 4, "Katharine's Trial," 1944 102

9 Robert Edmond Jones, Henry VIII, Act III,
Scene 2, "The King's Apartment," 1944 112

10 Robert Edmond Jones, Henry VIII, Act IV,
Scene 1, "The Coronation of Anne," 1944 117

11 Robert Edmond Jones, Henry VIII, Act V,
Scene 5, "The Christening of Eliza-
beth," 1944 124

12 Lee Simonson, The Adding Machine, Scene 4,
"A Place of Justice," 1923 142

13 Lee Simonson, Dynamo, Act III, "The
Dynamo," 1929 151

14 Lee Simonson, Amphitryon 38, Act I,
"Amphitryon's Palace," 1936 158

15 Lee Simonson, The Rhine Gold, Scene 1,
"The Bottom of the Hhine," 1948 174


The purpose of this study is to analyze the way in

which the elements of design have been used in the exe-

cution of selected stage settings of Robert Edmond Jones

and Lee Simonson. These elements are: line, mass, color,

and, light and shade. Designers Jones and Simonson were

selected since they are generally acknowledged to be the

finest of the first generationi of scene designers of the

United States.

The need for such a study was shown when the writer

taught advanced courses in scene design and theatre history

at the University of Delaware. It was discovered that

only a few books contained reproductions of the work of

modern scene designers, and that color reproductions of

their work was almost non-existent. Moreover, none of

these published designs is analyzed in detail. They exist

in a vacuum with no suggestions as to how the student

ought to approach viewing them, and with essentially no

descriptions of how they represent a particular designer's

1Prior to the twentieth century scenery for the
proscenium arch stage was designed by easel painters.
The modern theatre, which uses scenery as an organic
part of the production, has necessitated the development
of a particular kind of artist, the scene designer.



method of creating an organic setting for a given play


This study's purpose demands that a framework or

basis for scene design analysis be established, one which

makes it possible to discover how the design elements -

line, mass, color, light and shade were used by Robert

Edmond Jones and Lee Simonson. It is to be inferred that

this, in turn, might become the basis for a study of the

work of any theatrical designer. Furthermore, this writer

believes it is only through understanding the artist's

problems, the process by which the work of art was pro-

duced, that one may deeply appreciate a work of art and

be able to analyze it.

The process of scene design has two parts: concep-

tion and execution. It derives from two sources: modern

aesthetics and design theory as it is found in the space

arts, painting, sculpture, and architecture. An artist

is always restricted in his conception and execution by

the limitations of the particular medium in which he

works. In examining the artistic process involved in

scene design, it should be remembered that probably no

medium restricts the artist as much as the theatre does

the scene designer. Therefore, before the design process

operative in scenic art can be isolated and considered,

the major limitations of the medium must be explored.

Limitations of the Medium of Theatre
on Scene Design

The scene designer must remember that theatre is a

motion art since a performance of a play consists of

actors moving in space. Usually these actors are sur-

rounded by scenery and are illuminated with varying

degrees of light. Sometimes the scenery moves and fre-

quently there are changes in the patterns of light and

shade. While the easel painter captures the movement of

his subject in his mind's eye and executes it on a two-

dimensional canvas in a stationary picture, the scene

designer must provide the actors with a decor which allows

them to move around according to the dictates of the ideas,

emotions, and physical necessities of the script being

interpreted. This limitation is peculiar to theatre. The

only other space art in which movement may exist is in some

modern sculpture. Mobile sculpture moves and presents a

constantly changing stimulus to the viewer. The complexity

and demands of that movement, however, do not reach the

proportions of that found in a stage production. Movement

in the latter becomes highly complex with the actor,.

segments of scenery, and/or light and shade moving in

various combinations.

The artistic processes of the modern scene designer

also are affected significantly by the fact that he is

working in an era in which the theatre is dominated by


the playwright. The twentieth century theatre bases its

production of plays upon the playwright's script, in

contrast to the last two centuries in which the theatre

was dominated by the actor, and in which virtuoso painters

were needed to create an artistically satisfying picture

before which the great stars could perform. Today, the

script becomes the blueprint from which the many artists -i

director, actors, scene designer, costume designer -

build the play, with the director's interpretation of the

script as the means of unifying the final composite

product. Consequently, in his design process the contem-

porary designer must employ the design elements in a manner

capable of satisfying the needs of the playwright's script

as interpreted by the director.

The scene designer also is controlled by the types

and styles of scenery peculiar to his age. 7hile spe-

cialized types of settings such as arena and platform

staging do exist, the twentieth century proscenium theatre

inherited and retained two basic types of stage scenery -

the wing and drop setting and the box setting. These

types function within a space whose maximum and minimum

limits are determined by the size of the human figure, and

they are revealed to audiences primarily through the use

of the picture frame stage of the proscenium theatre. The

stylistic development or treatment of these types,

however, is no longer limited to the representational


styles of the nineteenth century realism and naturalism.

Today, one also discovers such presentational styles of

scenic art as constructivism, theatricalism, and expres-

sionism. John Colby Lewis has summarized the emergence of

these presentational art styles in these words,

First the realistic elements were reduced in number
and simplified. Thus the complete nature of the object
was conveyed by sug estions, and imagination once more
returned to art. It was then but a step to the symbol,
a sign which would stand, not for the material nature
of the object but for its essential inner meaning.
The impressionists symbolized the whole with a part
of the whole. The expressionists employ a symbol which
is pure form. The form is carefully organized so that
every part of it is a necessary statement of the idea.
Since it expresses an idea rather than describing an
object, the form is abstract. For the same reason it
may ignore everyday logic of space and time in the
interest of expressing an idea that transcends indi-
vidual manifestations in space and time.2

The modern American scene designer may be influenced by

all of these styles as he fulfills his creative function

in the theatre. Because the twentieth century audience

accepts many styles of scenery, the scene designer has

considerable freedom with which to work within the medium

of theatre.

The final limitation imposed upon the scene designer

is due to the fact that the medium of theatre requires that

its scenery fulfill three purposes. The first is that it

reveal the emotions of the playwright's 'script by

john Colby Lewis "A Correlation of the Theatre
with the Graphic Arts" IPh. D. dissertation, Cornell
University, 1940), p. 458.

reinforcing the physical and psychological relationships

of the characters in the story. writing g in On the Art of

the Theatre, published in 1905 and now a standard reference

work for theatre artists,3 Gordon Craig presented this

fundamental belief of the twentieth century theatre.

According to him, all artists who participate in the pro-

duction of a play must make their contributions "match the

verse or the prose, the beauty of it, the sense of it."4

Lith respect to the scene designer he suggested specifi-

cally that

.. he does not merely sit down and draw a pretty
or historically accurate design, with enough doors and
windows in picturesque places, but he first of all
chooses certain colours which seem to him to be in
harmony with the spirit of the play, rejecting other
colours as out of tune. He then weaves into a pattern
certain objects -- an arch, a fountain, a balcony, a
bed -- using the chosen object as the centre of his
design. Then he adds to this all the objects which
are mentioned in the play, and which are necessary to
be seen. To these he adds, one by one, each character,
and each costume. He is likely as not to make several
mistakes in his pattern. If so, he must, as it were,
unpick the design, and rectify the blunder even if he
has to go right back to the beginning and start the
pattern all over again -- or he may even have to begin
a new pattern. At any rate, slowly, harmoniously,
must the whole design develop, so that the eye of the
beholder shall be satisfied. I:hile this pattern for
the eye is being devised, the designer is being
guided as much by the sound of the verse or prose as
by the sense or spirit. . .5

3Gordon Craig, On the Art of the Theatre (London,
1912), p. 149.

4Ibid., p. 139.

5Ibid., pp. 157, 158.


rere is revolution indeed! - idea of a scene de. .',r

..1., ied "verse," "prose, "sense,' or isrit as

totally force i to the ni eteenth century i er of .i,

and drop scenery.

his ne., oderi conce t, of scenic pu .. ie, vith its

obli,, Lion co reve; the e ot. co C n he scri .,

was ade ore licit the iork of e ia and

the ei an c. ioser, ichard I, or t.em, the ie

art C iusic, .ir tin, act as e oni one hih

coula .ive co direct Ion ..he soul, ia

conceived of a in of "word-tone draa ivth twe seen

i. Music i satial form hicih, tt ,,.. it li. ts,

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the nineteenth century concept of an enlarged easel

painting whose purpose was to provide a background for

the actors. Today, it is recognized that the physical

and psychological relationships of the characters of a

play constantly change, and that these periods of tension

and release create differing moods. In order to reveal

these moods, it is necessary for the scenery to change.

Craig has said, for example, that the "Scene must be

living . seemingly alive, breathing as in Nature the

Earth seems to breathe . ."7

The playwright selects the characters, situations,

and locations. Modern theatre practice requires the scene

designer to produce the locations which the playwright

feels are appropriate for the action of his characters.

A common location for this dramatic action is the living

room setting. Simple though this scenic demand might

appear to be, the designer is faced with the task of

creating a setting which not only provides the physical

necessities or elements peculiar to that locale, but which

also reinforces the eternally fluctuating moods of the

characters and situations. For instance, in Ibsen's Hedda

Gabler, the designer must provide a room which appears

appropriate to the social and economic position of its

owners, the Tesmans. It must have suitable walking and

7Gordon Craig, "The Living Scene," English Review,
XXXII (June 31, 1921), 527.


seating space for the number of characters who frequent

it, and it must provide physical or inanimate items needed

in each of the particular scenes: a stove into which

Hedda can thrust the manuscript of Eilert Lovberg; a

desk for the use of George Tesman's research and for the

storage of the pistols with which Hedda kills herself.

moreover, the designer must provide a room which can

reflect the varying and constantly changing moods of the

activities which take place there. For instance, the room

needs to be happy and bright, gay with abandonment as

Hedda stands in the French doors, flooded with morning

sunlight, shooting at a pistol target in the garden.

Later, when a morning caller, Judge Brack, interrupts her

practice and makes his threat of blackmail, the room must

take on a totally different visual character. Moreover,

these totally contrasting moods occur within the short

span of fifteen minutes. The designer has no choice but

to provide a setting which will reflect and reinforce

these moods and the many others which are inherent in the


The medium of theatre is unique in this demand that

the designer's process provide scenery which allows for

the fluctuating emotional values of the play. The easel

painter need only capture the feeling of a single moment

on his canvas. The sculptor chisels on a mass with

actual depth capturing the feeling of one mood, a mood


which will never change. T'e painter or sculptor may

take as much time as he nue s to adequately express the

mood of the moment thro:,:i his stationary figures. ore-

over, he has complete control over his choice of mood.

There is no one to dictate the mood which must be ex-

pressed. The scene designer, on the other hand, has infi-

nitely more complex problems. He deals with actual mass

in actual space, moreoverr he must work on a large scale

in a medium which has constantly moving figures, a

shifting center of interest, and the constantly changing

moods chosen by the playwright. He must limit his personal

desires, not only until he has accommodated all the demands

imposed by the playwright's characters, situations, and

locations, but until he has satisfied the director's

interpretation or concept of them. Furthermore, the time

at his disposal is limited. The scene designer can observe

and work with his piece of art only while the complete play

is actually being rehearsed or performed. .hen the actors

leave the stage the play no longer exists, and the

designer's scenery, which is an integral part of the play,

has no reason for being.

The third purpose of scenery is that it be artistic -

it must be an expression of the artistry of the designer.

Through the efforts of Appia and Craig the force of the

imagination was regenerated as a means of artistic ex-

pression in the theatre and specifically in scene design.


The lesson modern theatre practitioners learned from

Craig, and, in turn, passed on as a charge to scene

designers, was that "There is only one power which com-

mands today, as it has always commanded in the past. It

is the Imaginative Power."8 To discover the extent to

which modern stage designers use "Imaginative Power," it

is only necessary to refer to the six scenic interpre-

tations of Hamlet which Lee Simonson has pictured in The

Art of Scenic Design.9 Each of the designers, Robert

Edmond Jones, Norman Bel Geddes, Stewart Chaney, Vlatislav

Hofman, Donald Oenslager, and Simonson himself, reveals

through his drawings a different interpretation of the

play. Simonson explains his own very original interpre-

tation by saying,

Hamlet is usually thought of as a black figure in a
gloomy world, or his gloom is projected onto his
surroundings. The basic idea of my project is that
he is a black and brooding figure in a bright world
and the scheme of production is designed to emphasize
his isolation in a sensuous, guzzling, luxurious
court. Therefore, the center of the castle structure
is dull red. Every time the court assembles it
brightens this glow of red with its brilliant robes
studded with jewels and ornamented with bronze and
gold. Hamlet moves against this brightness in
solitary protest, uniquely black.10

8Gordon Craig, Towards a New Theatre (New York,
1913), p. 6.
9Lee Simonson, The Art of Scenic Design (New York
1950), pp. 162-174.
10Ibid., p. 162.


In a conversation11 with Simonson, the writer

attempted to pursue this interpretation further. Simonson

was asked why he used dull red as the color for the castle

structure. Vhy didn't he use a rich yellow? Why did he

curve the stairs to the left rather than to the right?

The purpose of these questions was to see if particular

portions of the dialogue had prompted his use of a partic-

ular color, or his choice of a particular line in the set

structure. He said, "No," that he felt that this was his

imaginative expression of the playwright's idea.

The designer's "Imaginative Power," as manifested

by the Simonson comment, can be limited, obviously, by the

two previously mentioned purposes of scene design. Then

too, it is further limited by physical factors which

prevail in the realm of theatrical art. "Imaginative

Power" can be curtailed by the materials with which the

designer works and the stage space which the theatre pro-

vides. These last two limitations, however, are not

unique with theatre. The painter, for instance, is lim-

ited by the materials at his disposal, and the size of his

canvas may be limited by studio space or the size and/or

decor of the particular room in which it is to be hung.

In characterizing the process of scene design, -the

following might be said. It must take place within the

11Greensboro, N. C. to Simonson in New York, N. Y.,
January 21, 1963.


four limitations imposed by, and peculiar to, the medium

of theatre. It must recognize that the medium is a space

art in which there is constant movement of the subject

matter. Not only is it dominated by the influence of the

playwright, but it is limited by two basic types of

staging (albeit these embrace many styles) which demand

the fulfillment of three distinct purposes. Most designers

recognize these limitations and work within them. For

example, Jo Mielziner, who was once Robert Edmond Jones'

apprentice, says Jones "could be described as a dreamer,

but he was also a doer. Idealist he was, but certainly he

cannot be dismissed as a mere visionary. A prophet, yes,

but at the same time a most practical craftsman."12 whilee

craftsmanship, used here to mean the ability of the artist

to accommodate his "Imaginative Power" to a particular

medium, is a necessary part of all art media, the severe

limitations imposed by theatre make it a critical factor

in scene design.

The following chapter will identify the steps in the

design process which are the basis of scene design. 'bith

the uniqueness of the theatre in mind, it will show how

the scene designer, through the application of design

theory, may meet the responsibility which he has to the

12jo Mielziner, "Practical Dreams," The Theatre of
Robert Edmond Jones, ed. Ralph Pendleton (Middletonm,
Conn., 1958), p. 20.


medium and the script while, at the same time, preserving

his own artistic integrity.

Succeeding chapters will provide an analysis of the

design elements as used in a number of the significant

works of Jones and Simonson. Since this study is concerned

primarily with the design elements, the other parts of the

design process are referred to only if they have direct

bearing upon a particular point being made concerning a

design element. It should be noted also that it is not

the function of this study to discover what design process

Jones and Simonson used. Rather, it seeks to study their

use of the design elements and principles in order to

demonstrate the manner in which they function, and to

establish a means or pedagogical device by which the scenic

art under consideration can be understood.

Since complete biographical studies stressing

personal backgrounds, artistic development, and individual

impact upon modern American theatre have been made of Jones

and Simonson,13 none of this information will be included

in the following chapters unless it has a direct bearing

upon a point under discussion.

13Eugene Robert Black, "Robert Edmond Jones: Poetic
Artist of the New Stagecraft" (Ph. D. dissertation,
University of Wisconsin, 1955).
Zack Lee York, "Lee Simonson, Artist-Craftsman of
the Theatre" (Ph. D. dissertation, University of
Wisconsin, 1950).



The Process of Artistic Conception

As I. A. Richards says,

The greatest difference between the artist or poet
and the ordinary person is found as has often been
pointed out, in the range, delicacy, and freedom of
the connections he is able to make between different
elements of his experience.1

How does the artist give birth to the subjective

conception, this unusual penetration of some facet of

human life? What is his method of procedure? A modern

explanation, offered by Benedetto Croce in his Asthetic,2

identifies three steps in the process.


The first step in this process of artistic concep-

tion is "impression."3 The artist is impressed by some-

thing in his environment.

1I. A. Richards, Principles of Literary Criticism
(London, 1948), p. 181.

2Benedetto Croce, Asthetic as Science of Expression
and General Linguistic, trans. Douglas Ainslie (London,
1909), p. 22.

3Ibid., p. 156.


The result of this impression is that the artist

sees nature in a specialized manner one peculiar to his

unusual and particular ability to penetrate its mysteries.

Croce calls this phenomenon "Spiritual Aesthetic

Synthesis."4 It is the period in which the artist thinks

about the impression which he has received, mulls it over

in his mind, and sensitively investigates its essence.

The images or concepts which the artist synthesizes

in this, his own, specialized manner are a product of his

particular knowledge. As Croce notes, this knowledge is

S either intuitive knowledge or logical knowledge;
knowledge obtained through the imagination or knowl-
edge obtained through the intellect; knowledge of the
individual or knowledge of the universal; of indi-
vidual things or of the relations between them. . .5

Therefore, the conception of the artist may "well all be

intuitive facts without a shadow of intellective


The artist's completed concept may come after a

minimum of time, or it may take a great deal of delib-

eration. For example, two famous painters, Leonardo and

Degas, are known to have spent long hours in deliberation.

Croce points out that Leonardo stood for days before his


5Ibid., p. 1.

6Ibid., p. 3.

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roct closei coC ect

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particular medium, however, it gets modified. It is at

this point that the differences among the arts emerge, as

the following discussion will demonstrate.

The designer finds his inspiration within the play-

wright's script and the director's interpretation of it.

For example, if the playwright specifies that the situa-

tions of his play occur in a living room, and the director

believes that the play's style demands a naturalistic

style of scenery, the designer must provide it. While

the script and director's interpretation may call for a

very specific kind of room, the designer does have

considerable freedom in the aesthetic development of

such details of the room as its size, style, color, domi-

nate line pattern, and even the materials from which it

will be constructed.

During the period of synthesis, the scene designer

applies his intuitive and logical knowledge to the kind

of life which the script reflects, keeping in mind, all

the while, the peculiar limitations of the medium. In

his mind's eye he sees the characters moving in space

among constantly changing scenic forms which invoke

emotional responses parallel to those being revealed by

the actors. In the case of a traditional realistic pro-

duction, he also bears in mind that he is designing for a

proscenium arch stage which has two basic types of scenery.

IIoreover, he knows the stage's space, adjacent storage


areas, and the amount and efficiency of its scene

changing equipment will determine the size and amount

of scenery which may be used. In short, his synthesis

must be a vision of a sequence of stage settings which

can be adequately handled by the particular stage for

which the production is being designed. Furthermore,

these elements or conditions are different for each stage.

If the play must be performed on more than one stage, as

almost all professional productions in this country are,

the designer must adjust his concept to the smallest and

least elaborately equipped stage which the play will

encounter. It should be noted also that in the process

of synthesis, whether he uses the box set, the wing and

drop type of set, or a combination of the two, the

designer must scale it to fit the proportions of the

actors, whose sizes have maximum limits.

The third step of the scene designer's process of

conception is also different from that of the easel painter

or sculptor. While the designer may well bask in his

feeling of hedonistic accompaniment, he must always

realize that his artistic conception is only a part,

albeit an important part, of a conception which is gener-

ated by the combined effort of the playwright, director,

actors, costumer, and lighting designer.

The Process of Artistic Execution

ihen the artist has arrived at his artistic


conception he is ready to execute it by translating

it, via the techniques of his particular medium, from a

mental image into a work of art which may be appreciated

by the public.

Existing theories in the graphic arts indicate the

artist's execution involves three steps.11 (1) He must

express the for. of the mental conception in terms of the

design factors content, decoration, and expression.

(2) This necessitates his mastery of the technique of

composition which involves the use of the design elements -

line, mass, color, and, light -id shade. (3) In employing

the design elements he must respect and utilize the

principles of harmony, rhythm, and balance.

Factors of Design

The factors of design content, decoration, and

expression maintain an interdependence which may be

visualized by imagining three overlapping rings, each

labeled appropriately. For example, decoration may reveal

the expression of the artist; content may be decorative,

and it frequently is. The three factors are also mutually

important. In revealing form, an emphasis on decoration

lDenman W. Ross, A Theory of Pure Design (New York,
1933); j;verard M. Upjohn, Paul S. Wingert, Jane G. Mahler,
History of Viorld Art (New York, 1949); Wallace S. Baldinger,
The Visual Arts (New York, 1960).


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more than content or expression is no better or worse

than emphasizing expression more than either of the other

two. It is the judgement of the artist which determines

which factor or factors are emphasized. He may arrive at

this decision as a result of intuitive knowledge, logical

knowledge, or even because of circumstances outside his


Content. -- This factor is defined as the subject

matter of the work of art. It may be representational.

That is, it may resemble very closely an object in real

life. To illustrate, in the case of sculpture the body

would be revealed in exact detail with careful attention to

the minutae of the hand, the head, and the muscles. In

contrast, it may be presentational and tend not to resemble

an object in real life. Modern artists frequently are

totally abstract or symbolic, as is Jackson Pollock in his

painting, "Number One," shown in Plate 1. This painting

contains no evidence of recognizable forms, and the

representational oriented art patron may say that this

painting has no subject matter. For the symbolist oriented

patron, however, its content may suggest

endless cosmic motion. But unlike a photograph
of the heavens, which might show the specific appear-
ance . .of heavenly bodies and movements, such
paintings give what photography or even scientific
description never could: a sense of immeasurable


scale, a response to infinite motion, and an intuition
of the vital creative force of the cosmos.,12

Decoration. -- The second factor of design, decora-

tion, may be defined as those attributes which are pleasing

to the eye and used by the artist in addition to those

inherent in his content or expression. Decoration abounds

in modern life. Stained glass windows which are frequently

found in churches offer a good example of this design

factor. In these there frequently is no effort to accu-

rately portray objects or figures. The effect of such a

window upon the spectator is achieved primarily through

the color of the fragments of glass and their combination.

Expression. -- The third factor of design, expres-

sion, may be defined as the comment of the artist. Ac-

cording to Upjohn, Wingert, and Mahler, all painting has

some degree of expression.13 There is even a degree of it

in a representational portrait since it is the result of

the analysis of the subject's personality by the artist.

In a symbolic or presentational work, this comment is

achieved by abstraction and/or distortion. Abstraction is

the stripping of the artistic concept of all material

aspects not essential to the concept. Distortion results

when the remaining material is altered in order to present

12John P. Sedgwick, Jr., Art Appreciation Made
Simple (New York, 1959), p. 151.
13Upjohn, Wingert, and Mahler, p. 5.


more effectively the concept, an alteration that shows

no respect for the representative attributes (natural

appearances) of the material. The degrees of abstraction

and distortion vary infinitely, The painting by Jackson

Pollock mentioned earlier is a complete abstraction with

the lines and masses bearing no resemblance to actual

objects. As an example of America's abstract-expressionist

movement, this work attempts to express mind and being

through the artist's "spontaneous, uncalculated"14 use of

paint. Like most products of this movement, Pollock's

"Iumber One" is an immense canvas measuring sixty-eight

inches by one hundred four inches. Abstract-expressionist

works frequently assume these dimensions so that they may

be "gone into"15 by the viewer rather than taken in.

The spectator fights his way around in such canvases,
he is not likely to sit back and be entertained: his
time and energy are involved: the spaces are vast,
the substances incredibly activated yet compelling
and authoritative.16

As the Pollock canvas reveals, artists use abstraction and

distortion to intensify reality. The use of these two

techniques has led to the development of the many "isms"

which characterize the diverse styles of twentieth century

14John I. H. Baur, "Painting of the Twentieth
Century," Arts of the United States, ed. Uilliam H.
Pierson, Jr., and Martha Davidson (New York, 1960), p. 80.

1Sedgwick, p. 150.


art. ll t th -les arc co onl j the

lPr,e herc)' "'.*:. ne "eolic :rt t.-.

cs of artist, it in iti to

he 1 events

second ste in t e r-, .s ecuion is

concerned with c.. .tion 7hich is the aer i inwhich

the -raphic artist uses r .. a.r- es the d .. elements.

All art objects can be ti-;o 't to consist of individual

elements similar to the chemical elements which 'e up

chemical c Lnds. Janet K. .ith in A ..a of Design

defines the design elements as the "irreducible item

serving as of the c .i t ..ts of or lex thins in

the real. of art."f17 ^.' :-ities '"fer over the number and

names ,' the ele ets. Ac to Sith the elements of

the visual arts re: line, sha -, tone, s. ce, color,

texture, mass.1 Ac ordi to r the events of the

visual arts are: int, line, i .e, texture, color, -rs,

space.19 since s4,. indica .' ese "' fereness in +1 --si-

fication are ac-- .Lc n no serious, the oe "oyed in

this rt 'y is a c sit ich constructed "- the

1jn1 ... ___ ( or
1 5 ), p. 8.

1 I,
19 +li]-,-_er, p. vii.

Plate 2
Paul Gauguin, "Still-Life," 1890


writer from the possibilities found in standard reference

sources. Point will be considered a part of line since a

line is a series of connected points. In addition

texture, shape, plane, and space are to be considered as

aspects of mass. Thus, in this study, the design elements

of the visual arts are conceived to be line, mass, color,

and, light and shade.

Line. -- A line may be as simple as a trace of a

point or as complex as the pattern formed by different

colors coming together. Traces may be found in the Pollock,

Plate 1. A line pattern formed by the meeting of various

shades of green may be seen in the Gauguin, Plate 2.

There are five types of line: vertical, horizontal,

slow curves, sharp curves, and jagged. Every trace or

pattern, however complex, may be analyzed ultimately into

these five types.20 Usually in a work of art one type of

line predominates over the others.

As a result of experience, psychological conno-

tations normally have been attached to the various types

of line. Long vertical lines are noble.

Stand before some Gothic cathedral -- close to it.
Look against the wall and upward, and let those lines
engrave themselves upon your eyeballs -- lines one
after another pressing tirelessly up into space.
Forget that life is made of acts, forget that there
is a cheap cafe just behind you. Let the world blot
itself out and let only those lines remain. You seem

20Milton Smith, Play Production (New York, 1948),
p. 46.

to ascend with them -- whither? That you cannot
tell; upward! That is the whole of it. The noises
of the city are a blur; your thoughts become misty.
Only those lines remain, striving upward. And they
will remain and strive, most likely, after half a
dozen governments, liberal, revolutionary, and
reactionary, have frittered themselves away.21

In contrast to vertical lines, long horizontal ones are

tied down to earth and usually involve base or ignoble

feelings. In a similar manner one may say that slow

curves are sensuous and sophisticated, sharp curves are

comic, and jagged lines and diagonals with their sharp

angles are exciting. Pollock's "Number One," for example,

reveals great excitement through the predominate use of

diagonal and jagged lines, yet these are almost always

softened by slow curves mostly in the vertical plane.

Moreover, all types of line are used in the painting and

the total pattern which they create gives the painting its

feeling of unlimited, violent energy.

In addition to creating or producing a psychological

effect, line has two other purposes. These are to reveal

form, and to lead the eye to the focal point of the work

of art. Paul Gauguin's "Still-Life," shows line giving

form to the fruit, bowl, cup, and cloth which form the

major details of the picture. The bold verticals and hori-

zontals of the window frame, and the slow curves of the

edge of the table lead the eye to the focal point of the

21Hiram Kelley Moderwell, The Theatre of To-Day
(New York, 1927), p. 85.

Plate 3

Franz Kline, "Painting, No. 7," 1952


picture, the bowl of fruit. In a more complex but similar

manner, the lines formed by the right and left edges of

the cloth lead the eye to the bowl of fruit. Although

both of these lines run out of the edges of the picture,

the eye of the viewer is kept in the picture and carried

to the focal point by the curving line pattern in the

folds in the cloth which interrupts the basic line. In

the case of the left edge of the cloth, this reverse move-

ment tends to throw the eye of the viewer upwards towards

the bowl of fruit, while the line pattern of the right

edge of the cloth tends to lead the eye upwards in two

possible directions one towards the right edge of the

window frame; the other towards the cup handle and the

cup rim. Both the window frame and the parts of the cup,

however, lead the eye to the focal point of the painting.

Mass. -- The second element in composition which the

graphic artist employs is mass. It may be defined as a

"quantity of matter."22 Painting possesses mass only

through illusion. Sculpture, architecture, and stage

design possess actual mass. If a straight vertical line

dravm on a white canvas is broadened, the effect of a mass

is created. Plate 3 shows Franz Kline's "Painting, No. 7"

which may be said to consist of six vertical lines and

three horizontal ones which have been broadened into

22Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary (8th ed.;
Springfield, Mass., 1953), p. 516.


masses. Since this black and white oil measures fifty-

seven and one-half inches by twenty-nine and three-quarter

inches, the nine lines have been broadened considerably.

Since the nine masses have no apparent depth, they are

called planes.

In so far as psychological attributes of mass are

concerned, they are the same as those of line, except for

the fact that the energy of mass is greater. For example,

the focal point in Kline's "Painting, No. 7" shows a

violent clash of vertical and horizontal forces, and as a

consequence, it conveys a strong sense of energy.

Another of the major characteristics of mass is that

it always exists in space. Space may be thought of as an

"environment for energies."23 These energies are the

result of the artist's use of mass, sometimes called

positive space, in space, sometimes called negative

space.24 In Kline's "Painting, No. 7" the nine planes
convert about two-thirds of the total space available to

the artist into positive space. One of the major interests

of modern artists has been the use of mass in space.

According to Simonson, whose designs are to be examined in

the course of this study, Bernard Berenson called renewed

attention to the third-dimension in 1896:

23Janet K. Smith, p. 29.

24Henry N. Rasmusen, Art Structure (New York, 1950),
PP. 75, 76.

"Space-composition . is not an arrangement to be
judged as extending only laterally, or up and down on
a flat surface, but extending inwards in depth as
well . space-composition differs even more widely
from ordinary composition in its effect. The latter,
reduced to its elements, plays only on our feeling for
pattern. . Space-composition is much more potent.
Producing as it does immediate effects . on the
vaso-motor system, with every change of space we
suffer on the instant a change in our circulation and
our breathing a change which we become aware of as a
feeling of heightened or lowered vitality."25

The use of complex illusory third-dimension is illustrated

in Plate 2. By dividing his canvas into an infinite

number of receding planes, Gauguin achieves a feeling of

great depth. By giving these planes mass, the objects have

an illusion of a third-dimension. The relationships among

these receding planes are very important. It is the

feeling of total depth which they give to the picture which

causes the focal point, the bowl of fruit, to be placed in

proper perspective in so far as its location within the

total depth of the picture is concerned. The greater

portion of depth is placed behind the bowl of fruit, and

this serves to thrust it forward towards the viewer. The

lesser portion of depth in front of it tends to keep the

bowl of fruit pulled back within the picture frame. The

relationships among the masses cause thrusts and counter-

thrusts which affect the feelings of the viewer by virtue

of the fact that they establish a "heightened or lowered

p. 60.25Lee Simonson, The Stage Is Set (New York, 1932),
p. 60.

* I -L le I


late 4

. ,, t I -,3


vitality." Sheldon Cheney admonishes the viewer of a

work of art to

S. make sure that he is not merely following tracks
from edge to edge, but rather feeling the tensions
from axis to axis. Every plane has axes, meeting at
a center of weight; and "planetary movement" may be
said to be engendered by the tensions between axial

The living axial relationships of volumes across
space cannot be reduced to law. For one reason, there
are those other elements to enter in and modify or
correct: color, texture, etc. The task of creation
is bound up in almost intuitive counterpoise of the
several movement-means. But this much can be recorded
confidently; the Moderns as a group recognize main
movement and counterplay of movement as resulting
chiefly from tensions between related'volumes; and
what is sometimes termed the focal point of the
picture is whee the coiled power of the tension
system enters.

Cheney credits Cezanne with revolutionizing painting by

his search for a dynamic use of mass. For centuries

before 1900 painters had been content to record nature

realistically through "static surface composition."28

A more complex example of the dynamic use of mass

and space in graphic art can be found in Franz Kline's

"Mahoning," Plate 4. This eighty by one hundred inch

painting uses black oil on canvas. The over-all effect is

one of great violence. In comparing this canvas with his

"Painting, No. 7," one notes Kline has achieved this effect

26Sheldon Cheney Expressionism in Art (rev. ed.;
New York, 1948), p. 177.
27Ibid. p. 214.

2Ibid., p. 225.


through a system of highly complicated masses. This

complication, when coupled with the diagonal character of

masses, gives the "Mahoning" canvas a far greater sense of

excitement than is found in "Painting, No. 7." The three

long horizontal masses running across the top half of the

picture keep the structure tied down and counteract the

upward force or thrust of the short verticals and main

diagonal. The center of these forces lies near the left

edge of the picture. Wherever the eye enters the picture

it gravitates to one of the black masses and gets carried

swiftly to this focal center.

The final characteristic of mass to be discussed

here is texture. It may be natural or imposed, and it may

change with wear. It may appear as a regular pattern or at

random. It may be soft, hard, dull, shiny, coarse, fine,

or have an infinite number of other attributes. "Texture,"

says Wallace Baldinger,

appeals to the tactile sense, which we begin culti-
vating the moment we are born. About the first thing
that we do as infants is reach out and touch things,
learning gradually that an object with a particular
"feel" carries with it a particular "look."29

Textures, like the other aspects of mass, may have psycho-

logical connotations. The black masses used in the two

Kline paintings reveal rough textures, similar to rough

textured logs in nature which are usually uncomfortable to

29Baldinger, p. 12.


touch. In contrast, the cup and the bowl in the Gauguin

painting reveal a smoother texture. Texture, however, is

relative. The smoothness of Gauguin's cup and bowl is

not nearly as smooth as that of an actual silver cup and

bowl. From his painting it is impossible to tell whether

the cup and the bowl are silver, and the quest of an

answer is artistically pointless. The importance of the

picture lies in Gauguin's interpretation of this bit of

still-life, not in its resemblance to nature. The whole

of this painting has a roughness of texture which reveals

the masculinity of the artist.

Color. -- The third element used by the graphic

artist in developing composition is color. It is "a sen-

sation evoked as a response to the stimulation of the eye

and its attached nervous mechanisms by radiant energy of

certain wave lengths and intensities."30 Physical color

has three dimensions. Hue is the dimension "in respect to

which colors may be described as red, yellow, green, or

blue, or as intermediate between two of these."31 In other

words, it is the dimension which persons commonly and

erroneously refer to as color. Value, sometimes called

brilliance, is the dimension "which measures" variations

3NWebster's New Collegiate Dictionary, p. 162.


"among the grays.',32 A hue is usually called a shade if it

has some black added to it and a tint if it has white

added to it the amount of black or white determining its

value. Saturation is the dimension "in which colors may

be differentiated as being higher or lower in degree of

vividness of hue."33 A hue may have its vividness dimin-

ished by being saturated with its complementary color.

For instance, the vividness of a red may be lessened by

the addition of some green. These physical attributes of

color have been classified and discussed in the Prang,

IIunsell, and Ostwald color systems.34 The Prang system,

which includes the familiar color wheel of three primaries,

red, yellow, blue, and of three secondaries, orange, green,

violet placed at the mid-line of a sphere with black at

one pole and white at the other pole, is the standard

pigment theory in art. Being interested in the physical

sources of color, Frang examined surfaces colored with

pigment in order to determine and systematize the manners

in which they selectively absorbed certain light rays.

The Munsell theory which includes five primaries, red,

yellow, blue, green, purple, and five intermediate hues,

which are made by mixing equal strengths of the primaries,



34Brief but clear discussions of Prang, Munsell, and
Ostwald theories may be found in Janet K. Smith, pp. 23-25.


is the standard light theory in art. Kunsell was

interested in "the selective emission of light rays from

a primary light source.'35 Through his study of the

effect of colored filters on a light source he developed

a color circle on uhich one hundred hues are distin-

guishable. Both worked with color in isolation. "They

paid little, if any, attention to the eye which registered

the color effects or to the response of the brain to the

eye's message."36 Ostwald like Prang studied the selective

absorption of light rays by pigment, but he went a step

further. He was concerned with the effect of these

phenomena upon the eye. The eyes are most sensitive to

blue and yellow, and red and green. These four are the

Ostwald primaries. Lying between them are orange, purple,

turquoise, and yellow-green, the secondaries. His color

wheel, therefore, contains eight hues. The system is

worked out mathematically with exact intervals "fixed as

to wave length and quantity. This is the most accurate

system so far devised, in respect to pigments and to the

sensations they produce through the eye on the receptor,

the human brain. ,37

Uhile it is necessary for the artist to understand

35Ibid., p. 26.


37Ibid., p. 24.

physical color in order for him to have control over its

dimensions in so far as pigment and light are concerned,

his primary interest lies in its psychological effects.

The psychological aspects of color which are derived from

nature were explored in considerable detail as early as

1910 by Kassily Kandinsky. A few of his comments con-

cerning the pignent primaries will serve to suggest the

extent and method of his analysis.

Yellow is the typical earthly colour and never
contains a profound meaning. With an intermixture of
blue, it takes on a sickly colour. When compared with
the frame of mind of some individual, it would be
capable of the colour representation of madness -- not
melancholy or hypochondriacal mania but rather an
attack of violent, raving lunacy. .. Blue is the
typical heavenly colour. When very dark, blue
develops an element of repose. When it sinks into
black, it echoes a grief that is hardly human. It
attains an endless, profound meaning sinking into the
deep seriousness of all things where there is no end.
Rising toward light, a movement little suited to it,
it takes on a different character, growing more
distant to men like the high, light blue of the sky.
The lighter it is the weaker it becomes until it
achieves a silent repose by becoming white. ,
Absolute green, which is the most restful colour in
existence, moves in no direction, has no corresponding
appeal, such as joy, sorrow, or passion, demands
nothing. This persistent lack of movement is a
quality which has a quieting effect on the tired souls
of men, though it becomes tiresome after a time.
Pictures painted in shades of green confirm this
statement. A picture painted in yellow will always
exhale a spiritual warmth, or a blue painting appears
cooling, (that is an active effect, because man, as an
element of the universe, has been so created as to
exercise constant eternal movement). Green has a
wearisome effect (passive effect). Passivity is the
most characteristic quality of absolute green,


carrying with it a certain emanation of this quality
of richness and self satisfaction.38

The ideas of Kandinsky are found in many popular

concepts of the psychological use of color. Among these

are those which label hues warm and cool, analogous, and

complementary. A brief discussion of these will serve to

establish the dynamic use of color made by modern artists.

Taking cues from nature, man considers orange, red,

and yellow the sun hues as warm hues, and blue, green,

and violet the earth hues as cool hues. The warm hues'

tendency to advance and the cool hues' tendency to recede

are shown in Gauguin's "Still-Life." The hue of the fruit

in the bowl helps to thrust it towards the viewer. The

receding nature of the dark valued greens and the dark

valued purples cause them to retire quietly in the back-

ground. This tendency for the hue to recede, however, is

accompanied by just enough use of warm hue within these

dark valued greens to keep them significant. This is

illustrated in the view framed by Gauguin's window. Here,

he uses a dash of light valued yellow and a touch of light

valued red to make the receding masses of the exterior

bcene significant. In considering the role or function of

hue it should be noted also that warm hues have a tendency

to spread, while the cool hues have a tendency to become

31Wlassily Kandinsky, On the Spiritual in Art, trans.
Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation (New York, 1946), pp. 63-

smaller. Kandinsky said,

If two circles of the same size are drawn and painted
respectively yellow and blue, a brief concentration
on these circles will reveal in the yellow a spreading
movement outwards from the center. The blue, on
the other hand, develops a concentric movement (like
a snail hiding in its shell).39

Likewise, it has been found that hue has the capacity to

generate excitement. Consequently, warm hues are fre-

quently used by artists to point up the center of interest

in a composition.

The final theory concerning the use of the three

dimensions of color which must be discussed is that

involving analogous and complementary hueS. Today's

artist refers to the various color wheels and thinks of

analogous hues, those lying adjacent to each other on the

wheel, as being ones which produce a pleasing sensation

when used together. Pollock's "Number One" shows the use

of analogous cool hues. Blues and grayed greens are the

main colors. A very light value of brown (brown being a

dark value of an orange-yellow hue) serves as a contrast

and points up the blues and grays. Complementary hues,

those lying opposite each other on the wheels, clash

boldly when used with equal degrees of saturation and

value. ,hen used in unequal quantities or with unequal

degrees of saturation and value they clash in a subtle


391bid., pp. 60-62.


Light and shade. -- The fourth clement used by the

graphic artist in structuring his composition is light and

shade. Light has three dimensions: direction, intensity,

and color. The direction from which the light rays come

determines where the brightest illuminated area on a

particular mass will be.

The strongest light upon any surface other than a
polished or reflected one will be where the surface
more directly fronts the rays. If this surface be at
right angles to the light, it will intercept its rays
with the fullest effect. The nearer it approaches
the right angle, the lighter it will be and the nearer
the surface approaches;-he parallel to the rays, the
darker it will appear.4u

The intensity of the light sources determines three stages

of visual perception of mass in space, "The recognition of

presence, bare perception of form, and acute and definite

perception of form."41 Within each of the three stages

there are infinite variations. Essentially, the eye

perceives mass with acute detail, when it is illuminated

with a high degree of intensity, and when it stands at

right angles to the light source. As the angle diminishes

and the intensity decreases, one reaches the intermediate

stage in which there is only the bare perception of form.

With extremely low levels of intensity there may be only

the recognition of the presence of the mass. In nature

40Edmund J. Sullivan, Line (London, 1922), p. 107.

41Henry Adams Klopot, "The Distribution and Form of
Light in Space" (MFA thesis, Yale University, 1941), p. 7.

two kinds of light are found. One, general illumination,

is diffused and relatively even in intensity. The other,

specific illumination, is undiffused with shafts of light

rays highlighting certain areas. The process which an

artist uses to control the direction and intensity of

general light and/or specific light in order to achieve

infinite variation of highlight, shade, and shadow, and

thus reveal mass, is called chiaroscuro.

The color of any object may best be seen in high-

light, and it disappears or fades as the object passes

through the infinite degrees of shade into shadow. Since

light controls the intensity of the color of an object as

seen by the eye, it essentially determines the amount of

movement of the object within the picture plane the

degree with which the object will appear to thrust forward

towards the viewer or recede within the picture plane.

Colored light also has great control over the appear-

ance of an object. It may change the form of the object

markedly, or it may bring a unity to a combination of

objects, thus creating a new form. For example, when a

painter reveals a landscape under the rays of an orange

setting sun, all items in the scene are unified by virtue

of the fact that they reflect varying degrees of that

common or single color frequency.

Control Principles of Design

The third step in the process of execution concerns


itself with the control principles of design harmony,

balance, and rhythm. The name derives from their purpose,

which is to control the manner in which the artist uses

the design elements, line, mass, color, and, light and

shade, in his expression of the form of his artistic con-

ception. The degree of order in his execution of that

conception will depend upon the lack or presence of

harmony, balance, and rhythm in the use of the design


Harmony. -- whenever r two or more impressions or

ideas have something in common that is appreciable, they

are in harmony, in the measure of what they have in

commonn."2 A great deal or excess of harmony in a work may

bring monotony; too little harmony may bring such variety

that the necessary unity of form may not be achieved.

Monotony is not used here as a negative term, as an artist

may purposely use it for a special effect. The proper

degree of monotony or variety within the harmonious

relationship of the design elements is determined by the

content, expression, and/or decoration of the artistic

concept. The relationships within the colors, lines,

masses, spaces, highlights, shades, and shadows, and, the

relationships of all of these with each other ought to be

such as to faithfully reveal the concept of the artist.

42Ross, A Theory of Pure Design, p. 1.


Pn expminatior of the "Ptill-Tife,' Plte ?), ill Fprve to

illustrate the principle of hcri 'n it, C in uses

a tri 'ic selection -'" color invov' t:e e

s r- on the : I color 1. 7" t violet

ani -ee is r- r 'monl ith s caller

iount J or. *. r' rtion is one diension J har-mony.

It is concer.. rit' relti' he 't, idl,

d ,h, nd sracc. "- one "ion is itself either

r,- ".t norr en i' 'et eer,

however, relrtf inshi r estbl

harmonize. In -al, o vious ro

interest: : oes hih -fer t!

u e or the ascinae of

sce e .ers work rrith such. r
l. -* -_ ~ "^ r *

)ortions ar tz s

ie :" Ise t1

s1. ,: e. 4<

passes a s c<

r 1 U. :i ion is I ficult 0o aciov

Ilalnce. -- e s c t r. i:.c.

b 1 *.* is conere th

S. some o "tion a conseque
as it occurs at soe moment of i e or a
of a' -e; an ... iuwm iich induces,
moment anc in its 'ace, a sus ion o
move et, ca s a e or a rest.i

It is baed ..ion ran's affinity for a sense

its necessity for his ic'1 well .

43 1" er, p. 37.

4..1 S s, A .'hvO_ :- f 're .-si,, p. 1.


Ie of

nt eqil:"11 i ium
t o int
for the
all I -,e or

of 1.... e and

"Unless for



the thrill of it we entrust ourselves to some contraption

that tosses us about and stands us on our heads, we tend

to resent any force that throws us off our balance."46

The feeling of pleasure at balance and displeasure at lack

of balance is projected to our environment. "'e engage

thus in a process called empathy. Through it we project

ourselves psychologically into the object or situation.

Ve identify ourselves with it. IUe feel it operating in

ourselves in a positive muscular way."47 Unless there is

balance in a work of art there will be this empathic

discomfort within the viewer.

There are two kinds of balance: symmetrical, some-

times called formal; and asymmetrical, sometimes called

informal. Symmetrical balance is usually illustrated with

a fulcrum under a seesaw with identical objects placed

equidistant from the fulcrum. !e speak of this mass as

being in balance, and this particular arrangement as being

symmetrical. The effect of such balance is great dignity.

It is static and easily comprehended.

Asymmetrical balance results when "one balancing

form assumes some special quality of attraction to make

up for its not being a mere reversal of image so placed as

46Baldinger, p. 29.


to balf-ncc mroth r

much I c s r it!


forn." ine r o rrti&ts Pre

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os, or rt

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thrusts and counter-

iei s cc, it is

I *ei,-it"hu relyl

on o.. fe, c i ers L .. e or

sy tmetrical o, ojects. the ictvorians,

bal ce was tic

S. tl. .. Fce of the canvas, vari oi by
de Li PS understood t'C the laws of ers active.
It is to the later .ters 'c and recessive.
S'..- .- rface move ..0 is __ed back-and-forth thrust
return,. fquilibrium is construed les as balanced
objects, as related ts of tension between

- eff et of such lance is .. T. It is c and

i se t' vie-er. but extreme lv ( ic't to

a, trial blI i illustrated

anal- ue

in t .he. ,

tensions rias

results in a fei-

techni which rev

re r t onl a fo

30 C

- re ( s

elements in

Without the u

ss ee c .oef

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achieve a. -trical balance.

id., p.

49Cheney, p. 127.

color P

S-t 'fr


t lines,

sible to as 'ev

ai. o

e tl

Rhythra. -- The final control principle which the

graphic artist uses is rhythm. It may be defined as

"movement marked by regular recurrence of, or regular

alternation in, features, elements, phenomena, etc."50

As may be seen from the definition, rhythm depends upon

repetition with stress, It gets its effect in the graphic

arts when the viewer is led through repetition of a motif

to expect that motif to continue. An example might be

found in architecture where a building might have a series

of six evenly spaced windows, followed by a large door,

and then repeat the pattern with six more windows and a

second large door. As the eye moves across the side plane

of the structure the doors function as stressed accents in

the pattern, the windows as the unstressed ones. A combi-

nation of the two give rhythmic movement to the pattern.

Rhythmic patterns in painting are not as regular as

those in architecture. In Kline's "Painting, No. 7," for

example, a rhythmic pattern results when the eye moves

across the vertical masses. A different rhythmic pattern

results when the eye moves across the horizontal masses.

The power resulting from the clash of forces inherent in

these two rhythmic patterns gives a feeling of violent

energy at the center of interest. In the Gauguin painting

there are obvious rhythmic patterns in the curving orange

50iebster's New Collegiate Dictionary, p. 728.


surfaces which represent the fruit in the bowl. Another

pattern is set up by the use of orange color in four

different locations in the picture. Similarly, the use of

yellow in four locations results in a rhythmic pattern.

Each of these patterns has an accent. In the case of the

pattern of red, it is the bowl of fruit. In the case of

the yellow pattern, it is achieved by the lemons in the

foreground. IMany other rhythmic patterns are discernible

in this picture, but these serve to illustrate some of the

ways in which the Fainter creates rhythms through the use

or handling of color.

In the process of artistic execution, the role or

use of the design factors, the design elements, and the

design principles is fundamentally the same for all graphic

arts. Vhen the process of artistic execution is being

performed within the limitations of a particular medium,

however, modifications are necessary. Insofar as the

medium of scene design is concerned, these will become

apparent during the following discussion.

In the modern theatre the three design factors apply

directly to the work of the scene designer. In the case

of the box set, with a content usually quite representa-

tional since it frequently depicts someone's living room

or place of business, the decorative aspects are probably

the ones admired in furniture magazines: a particular

lamp, fireplace mantel arrangement, or new style of


window treatment. In this case, the expression of the

scene designer can be found in the special way he selects

items from the hundreds of combinations available to him,

and in the special way he uses or treats those selected.

Since the stage setting must serve the script of the play-

wright, the designer must work within the framework of

the playwrights "blueprint." A wide area remains,

however, in which the designer's artistic conception is

the deciding factor. For example, the designer frequently

simplifies a box set by cutting away portions of walls and

using only those pieces of furniture which function in the

action of the play.

In the case of the presentational style of scenery

frequently found in the modern theatre, settings often

have so little content that they resemble no place at all

until the director brings on the actors with their partic-

ular costumes and properties. In these settings masses

may be used in the stage space simply as decorative forms,

and this degree of decoration may vary from the simple to

the elaborate. This decorative function, and even the

elaborateness of the decoration itself, is usually depen-

dent upon the amount of expression which the designer is

permitted by the director's interpretation of the script.

This type of presentational setting is frequently employed

for multi-set classical plays, as well as for modern plays

and dances. One example is the Robert Edmond Jones


settinr for "'r-'-eere's IrT let. Is producer! in 1923

in 'e ^o -, '. s tAi T rere-onted notbin-, in -rticular,

t' r for it be rsid to hve h no ccitent.

c r eniclo -' '- hi-- rrs wich in some of

th int"i scenes .- v su' ested the rowh he n

l".l1 of a castle. "' re ere eraev l small c in

t t,, t' e central desi n motif i'p P lar e arch

in cth ener. fors were not decorate i 'i

of trns of coor. t decorative ele

con in dr'ved frc t heir shapes, th r in ch

th aere arra )-- and the -, in which th ere ae

vis; t1 rou1- tV,- use of li ht. Since these ites 9ere

deterin t'e the er, the S i ay be sai to

ve c a :' t of the eression of its

Ses '. c'O r'i to ee Sir .j 's descri 'ion of the

auction, the c': ir content demnd by t scri t's

le mi. :' 1 i4 ions was rvidd by the "' "ttern of

the and th -ttern of *"e ac' r's movements."51

e for -t le of entational scenery described

.'l e fr equent contains abstraction and distortion. he

etre in its styles of scenery, '1,- ver, is unable to

follow b.tracticn 7. distortion as far as the other arts.

vertheless, the .r-.:. of abstraction has fascinated

modern cne des' rs. John Colby Lewis describes

51 Sionson, e Art of Lcenic .-i, n, p. 162.


Adolphe Appia's use of it in designing Wagner's Die


The first sketches offer an impressionistic treatment
in light and shade of three suggested objects a crag,
the mouth of a cave, and a tree indicated by one limb
and a branch projecting in from the margin. The
second designs are purely formal: the cave a rectan-
gular opening, the craig a slightly curving spheric
section at the head of a flight of steps; the tree
seems to have disappeared. This reduction to a
geometry, intended to express itself only through the
movements of the actor exemplifies an abstraction
which, in later years attracted Appia so much that he
wished to eliminate the swan from Lohengrin, not being
able to conceive the bird successfully as an ab-

Although it is possible that abstraction and distortion

could be complete in stage settings, the human being, the

essence of the theatre and the moving center of attention

in every designer's work, resists.

Once the scene designer has decided which of the

factors of design will dominate the execution of his

artistic conception, he is ready to compose his design by

employing the elements line, mass, color, and, light and

shade. It is by the use of these elements that he is able

to execute settings which not only contain psychological

values parallel to those inherent in the characters and

situations of the script, but also possess artistic values

which reflect his own "Imaginative Power."

The scene designer's use of line and mass is similar

to that of the easel painter and sculptor. Frequently he

52Lewis, p. 392.

uses line to create the impression of mass in space

through the use of perspective painting on a two-

dimensional surface. In modern theatre practice this

technique is frequently used on the i:ing and drop type of

settings employed in multi-scene musical comedies. Just

as frequently, however, the scene designer will ignore

this method of introducing the element of mass and, in

accord with the theories of Appia and Craig, actually

create mass by filling the stage space with actual three-

dimensional forms, the lines of which are inherent in the

shapes of the units. When he does this, the designer is

using line and mass as the sculptor does, although it is

doubtful if many sculptors work on as large a scale.

Although stage spaces are large, the designer fre-

quently needs to create the impression of even larger

space. In these instances he may use the same techniques

as were found in the easel painting of Gauguin. He may

place many receding planes in the stage setting in order

to create a feeling of great depth even though the actual

depth may be quite limited. A striking example of this

will be observed in Chapter III in the course of an

analysis of Simonson's setting for the "Prologue" of The

Rhine Gold.

In his use of mass, the scene designer's efforts

parallel those of the painter and sculptor in two other

respects. In the first place, he uses it as a


consideration in determining or establishing balance

within the stage picture. Then, since these masses can

be textured and given distinctive, reflective, and

psychological potentials, he uses it as a means of

achieving variety.

Insofar as the third element of design is concerned,

stage designers use the Prang color theory in creating

effects and statements in the scenery itself, and the

Munsell color theory in determining or producing lighting

effects. The psychological values of color are also

commonly used by scene designers since they enable them to

structure visual statements parallel to the feelings or

situations inherent in the script. In a bright comedy in

which there is no deep conflict, the scenery and costumes

may be conceived in terms of light tints of analogous

hues. Very moody plays are usually conceived in terms of

dark shades of complementary hues, the clashing hues

serving to point up the deep conflict in the script.

These hues may be used in the scenery itself, or one hue

may be found in the costumes and another in the scenery.

While the stage designer's use of line, mass, and

color is similar to that of other graphic artists, he

faces serious restrictions in the use of light. He is

the victim of many variables. Since light sources in the

theatre are usually hidden from view, it is frequently

impossible for the designer to haVe ideal control over the

direction of the rays which emanate from his instruments.

This necessity for masking also limits the number and

location of the positions at -hich instruments can be

mounted. A further restriction c.n be engendered by the

fact that the level of illumination which the designer

may use on stage must conform to the limitations or

capacities of the spectator's vision. For example, normal

eyes have the tendency to fatigue considerably when one

views a full-length play "lighted with less than twelve

footcandles of illumination.'53 Likewise, the glare which

results when the mean level of illumination exceeds the

thirty-one footcandle range can produce visual discom-

fort.54 Nevertheless, the scene designer makes every effort

to control the intensity and direction of the light he uses

on stage. It is only through such control that he is able

to focus the attention of the audience upon the actors who

are the moving centers of attention in his stage picture.

It is usually possible, moreover, for the designer to

highlight, shade, or shadow the separate sections of a

setting in a wide variety of ways. By doing this he

creates a variety of focal points within the setting which

can serve to point up the successive focal points in the

53John G. Felton, Jr., "Optimum Level of Illumination
for Maximum Visual Efficience in the Theatre" (M. A.
thesis, State University of Iowa, 1938), p. 38.



scenes and their constantly changing moods. In spite of

the variables, it is by the use of light that the scene

designer can most effectively achieve the "living scene"

so important to modern stagecraft.

Color in light gives the designer another dimension

in which he may work to produce a "living scene." By

changing the color of the light striking the scenic

elements he can change the color of the elements them-

selves. This change in color may be a decisive one, as

when a "sky" drop changes from day to night, or it may be

extremely subtle, as in the case of a spot of amber light

unobtrusively accenting the' gilt on the capital of a

setting's Corinthian column.

While the scene designer develops his composition

through the use of the design elements, and in accord with

the relative importance he assigns to the design factors,

he must constantly bear in mind the importance of the

design principles in guiding his proper use of the ele-

ments. It is by the control of the elements through

proper employment of the principles of harmony, balance,

and rhythm that his artistic conception will be capable

of being aesthetically sound and pleasurable. The

designer works with these principles in the same manner

as other graphic artists. The proper degree of repetition

or variety in the use of line, mass, color, or light

determines the lack or presence of harmony. Symmetrical


and asymmetrical balance result fror his proper use of

the elements, just as it does in easel painting or

sculpture. Rhythm coiaes from the accented repetition of

line, mass, color, and/or light patterns in space. These

rhythms affect an audience's "vaso-motor system," to use

Simonson's words, just as surely as they affect the

viewers of the Gauguin and Kline paintings discussed

earlier in this chapter. Rhythmic patterns in scenery are

usually very complicated and involve not only horizontal,

vertical, and diagonal movements, but movement in actual

depth as well. In addition, they can be employed to

reflect the psychological values of the script. For

instance, a languid rhythmic pattern may bring a feeling

of repose to the audience, while a violent pattern may

induce great tension. Sometimes the designer may use

rhythmic patterns to build excitement around the major

acting areas in a manner similar to that which Gauguin

used in calling attention to the focal point of his

"Still-Life" composition.

It is evident from the foregoing that the scene

designer's use of the design process, the basis of scenic

creation, is similar to that of other creative artists.

All arts are alike in the process of artistic conception.

The artist gives birth and form to his subjective concep-

tion through a process which begins when he is impressed

by something in his environment. This gives rise to a


synthesis or formation of a concept, which, in turn,

affords the artist considerable aesthetic pleasure. It

is in the adaptation of this artistic concept to a

particular medium prior to and during its execution that

the differences among the arts become ap aren't. In the

graphic arts, including scene design, the artist executes

his concept in a particular style which embraces the three

factors of design decoration, content, and expression.

This execution is made possible by the development of

composition through the use of the design elements line,

mass, color, and, light and shade. The use of these

elements must be governed, however, by the control prin-

ciples harmony, balance, and rhythm.

Now that the design process has been explored, and

its parts identified, analyzed, and applied to the medium

of scene design, it is possible to examine the scene

designs of Robert Edmond Jones and Lee Simonson and to

establish the manner in which they have used the design


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1946. Before analyzing Jones' design for A Touch of the

Poet, it is necessary to review the story and characters

upon which its conception and execution are based. The

play is concerned with the lives of the Melody family.

The principal figure is Cornelius, the father. Being

unsuccessful as an innkeeper in New England in 1828,

Cornelius finds pleasure in life through strong drink,

strong drinking companions, and the illusion that he is

still the irresistible lover and dashing officer which he

was in his youth. Rather than face his problems, he runs

away from life. With the help of drink, and a mirror into

which he speaks the poetry of Byron, he surrounds himself

with a life of illusion. His wife, Nora, devotes herself

to taking care of him. His daughter, Sara, refuses to

condone her mother's subservient attitude and her father's

failure to maintain contact with reality. As the play

opens Sara has fallen in love with the son of a Yankee

family whose parents consider her beneath them. Cornelius

whips himself into a frenzy of temper over this rebuff

and, in spite of warnings from Sara and Nora, drunkenly

sallies forth to challenge the father of the young man to

a duel. He never sees the Yankee aristocrat, however,

since the man sets both his servants and the police upon

Cornelius. Soundly beaten, Cornelius is brought home

sober. It is then, for the first time, that he renounces

his illusions and faces life. Next, Sara's young man


determines to marry her in spite of the opposition of his

family. This insures her happiness, although she does

sense a twinge of unexplicable sadness at the passing of

her father's old self.

Such a brief summary of the plot of A Touch of the

Poet tends to make it appear simply a melodramatic and

sentimental theatre piece. The play, however, does have

signal dramatic assets which are of prime consideration

to a scene designer. For example, the play's action, in

Francis Fergusson's use of that term,1 is "to face the

facts of life." All of the incidents in the story, and

all of the motivations of character stem from the efforts

of the Irish family to face these facts and, hence, become

accepted in this Yankee country. With regard to this

dimension of the play, Joseph Wood Krutch states,

Suppose that one does face fact. Does one then emerge
in triumph? Is fact, or things-as-they-really-are,
something that at least the strong can face, or is to
face it merely to face a bottomless pit? At the
conclusion of the present play Cornelius faces fact
and "reforms." He has renounced delusion, and the
thing of which he is dispossessed is the illusion
about himself. But the curtain descends and the
situation reminds one inevitably of that at the end
of The Iceman Cometh. Moreover, the killing of the
mare suggests the murder of the wild duck in Ibsen's
play, and the moral is the same. At least for some,
says Ibsen, life without a "life illusion" is
impossible. For some or for all?2

1Francis Fergusson, The Idea of a Theatre (Princeton,
N. J., 1949), passim.
2Joseph Wood Krutch, "The O'Neill's On Stage Once
More," Theatre Arts, XLII (October, 1958), 71.

Plato 5

Robert Edmond Jones, A Touch of the Poet,
"Melody's Tavern," 1946


A study of Jones' design for the production

ultimately must establish the means which he employed

to make the visual elements of the production parallel

the inherent values of the script. The aptness of this

objective becomes apparent, of course, when one recalls

Jones' statement that as the designer works "in his mind's

eye he must see the high original intention of the

dramatist, and follow it. . "3

In terms of Jones' ability to follow the "original

intention of the dramatist," it is apparent immediately

that in his design, Plate 5, he faithfully adhered to the

explanations and instructions provided by the playwright.

For example, O'Neill notes at one point that

At left front, two steps lead up to a closed door
opening on a flight of stairs to the floor above.
Farther back is the door to the bar. Between these
doors hangs a large mirror. Beyond the bar door a
small cabinet is fastened to the wall. At rear are
four windows. Between the middle two is the street
door. At right front is another door, open, giving
on a hallway and the main stairway to the second
floor, and leading to the kitchen. Farther front at
right, there is a high school master's desk with a

A look at Jones' design reveals that with one negligible

exception, the door on the right which is closed rather

than open, all of the playwright's suggestions were

3Robert Edmond Jones, Drawings for the Theatre (New
York, 1925), p. 16.

Eugene O'Neill, A Touch of the Poet (New Haven,
Conn., 1957), p. 7.


followed. Elsewhere in the text O'.eill calls for "The

dining room of i'elody's Tavern, in a village a few miles

from Boston. .. over a hundred years old . now

fallen upon neglected days. . low ceilinged, with

heavy oak beams and paneled walls."5 The dining room and

barroom were originally one room, but, according to the

playwright, Cornelius Melody has had them "divided into

two rooms by a flimsy partition, the barroom being off

left. The partition is painted to imitate the old paneled

walls but this only makes it more of an eyesore."6 Further

study indicates that Jones followed these suggestions just

as scrupulously, even to the point of making the new left

wall contrast with the other walls through a special use

of color and line.

While the specific requirements set down by the

playwright serve to establish certain limits for the de-

signer, a second set of limitations is imposed upon him

by the period in which the action takes place. Although

O'Neill places his action in 1828, the building in

question is one hundred years old. To keep his design in

accord with the architectural style in use in New England

in 1728, Jones introduced glazed windows, employed a color

suggestive of mellowed oak, and made use of a particular



type of hardware on the doors. There is also a sparseness

of decoration which is appropriate in view of the archi-

tectural simplicity of the period.

In spite of these limitations, there is evidence

that Jones had the opportunity to make an individual

statement or expression when designing A Touch of the Poet.

For instance, neither O'Neill nor the architectural stan-

dards of the period prescribed the direction in which the

ceiling beams ought to run a major artistic consider-

ation insofar as line is concerned. While the detail of

the paneling had to fit the style of the period and the

situation called for by O'Neill, Jones was permitted a

freedom of choice with respect to the manner in which line

could be used in the treatment of the windows and doors.

Furthermore, while the period did dictate the use of large

rather than delicate masses, and while O'Neill did specify

certain walls and furniture, Jones was the one to finally

determine the sizes, shapes, and relationships of those

masses. Aside from the playwright's specific reference

to white tablecloths and the period's characteristic use

of unsophisticated hues, Jones also had free rein in the

selection of color. He enjoyed a similar degree of

expressive freedom in terms of the use of light since

O'Neill did nothing more than specify morning as the time

of day at which the events of the play transpire.

As a designer, then, Jones was faced with the


problem of establishing an appropriate environment for

the playing out of a series of very realistic events and

actions. Considering the relationship between the

designer and the script and the limitations imposed by

O'Neill's stylistic choice, the avenues by which Jones

articulated his personal artistic impression become

valuable sources of definition for the nature and poten-

tial of the design elements.

Line. -- In establishing the manner in which Jones

has used the desiLn elements to express visually the

realistic atmosphere of Cornelius Melody's tavern, one

possible point of departure is an examination of his use

of line. Long, low, horizontal lines predominate on the

walls and in the stage properties. In fact the only

strong verticals are in the corners where the walls come

together, and on the "temporary" wall on the left. V'hile

these verticals serve to relieve some of the monotony of

the horizontals, they give no suggestion of the nobility

usually associated with extended vertical lines. Since

the play is a struggle of man with man, not man with his

god, it is significant to note that Jones has established

a basic line pattern which confines that struggle close

to earth. This fact becomes inescapable when one notes

the manner in which the heavy horizontal beams of the

ceiling seem to hover close to the floor.

In the previous chapter it was pointed out that the


most exciting lines are those which form angles. Since

the situations in O'Neill's play are melodramatic, the

severe angularity of the line intersections in the design

is particularly appropriate. Moreover, Jones created the

major portion of these intersections in his construction

of the windows, thereby turning the limitation of the

period's small paned windows into a dramatic asset. This

effect is given added strength since the total absence of

window decoration, including curtains, insures that the

angles are kept clearly visible.

Mass. -- Further insight into Jones' method of

solving the design problems of A Touch of the Poet can be

gained by a study of his control or use of mass. Exami-

nation reveals that the planes of the walls, floor, and

ceiling are the main masses in the design. The ceiling

appears the heaviest and dominates the others. While the

main wall takes on significant literal dimensions, the

panes of its windows with the clear, pale, blue sky beyond

tend to diminish its weight. This particular treatment of

the windows also tends to thrust the back wall towards the

spectator, thus counterbalancing the sense of deep reces-

sion created by the dark ceiling. The character and

interaction of these masses tends to create the impression

of a dark cloud of doom hovering over the sparse earthly

domain of the Melodys.

Jones positioned these masses within the stage space


in such a manner that a system of symmetrical balance is

created. The long back wall joins two shorter side walls

on each side of it; similarly, the ceiling mirrors the

floor. 1,hile the basically symraetrical placement of

these masses could produce a degree of monotony because

of its essentially static quality, Jones varies the deco-

rative detail of the units in order to create visual

interest. For example, while the center door with the

two pairs of windows on each side of it clearly reinforces

the setting's symmetry, Jones has introduced significant

variations in the details on the two side walls. This is

most noticeable in the treatment of the doors. Not only

are they positioned differently in each of the side walls,

but they are of a completely different design. As a

consequence, the side walls, although symmetrically bal-

anced units, in no way mirror each other. Insofar as the

ceiling and the floor are concerned, variety is achieved

in these masses by virtue of the fact that the ceiling

timbers run horizontally and the floor boards run verti-

cally. The variety which Jones achieved through the

control of the masses' inherent decorative elements adds

considerable visual interest to an ordinarily stable and

undynamic system of relationships.

The minor masses in the design, the tables, the

cupboard near the left wall, and the desk near the right

wall, tend to be large and bulky and reflect the rustic,

hand hewn qualities of the period. In contrast to the

major units, these are positioned in space so that they

balance asymnetrically. This combination of symmetrical

and asymmetrical balance in the design becomes one of its

most striking features and contributes significantly to

its aesthetic interest. lUhen viewed as a unit, the

symmetrical balance of the larger units generates a

feeling of repose appropriate to the relatively simple

materialistic world inhabited by the ielodys, while the

variety in the decorative elements and the asymmetrical

balance of the furniture creates just enough variety to

make the setting visually stimulating.

Color. -- Since the effects of masses are not

limited to those created by their character and manipu-

lation but extend to or include those produced by their

coloration, Jones' use of that element of necessity must

be considered next. It might be noted, first, that the

use of warm amber, a low value of a yellow-orange hue,

creates a feeling of domesticity completely fitting to

this New England family. These hues are also quietly

decorative. -iithin the basic monochromatic color range

there is considerable variety, however, since it ranges

from the lightest tint of yellow-orange, seen in the

center panels of the rear wall, to the dark burnt siennas

of the beams and furniture. Accents are provided by the

pale blue of the sky beyond the windows and the white



In this design, one important function of color is

to set apart the left wall and establish the fact that it

is a new partition. The color of this wall, a single

shade of lighter yellow-orange, has a harsh, new quality

when compared with the soft patina of the aged, old walls.

This distinctive feature serves as a reminder of the fact

that stage settings exist only in terms of the script for

which they are designed. While a representational setting

such as this one is expected to make a sensible picture,

it is meaningless when divorced from the script for which

it is created.

Color also serves to insure that the furniture,

tables and benches, cupboard, and desk remain distinct

units. These are treated in very dark values of yellow-

orange and appear as dark brown objects. Because of the

difference between the light values used on the walls and

floor and the dark values of the furniture, the two

general groups of mass units are clearly distinguishable.

Added attention is directed to three of the four tables

by their white cloths.

Since Jones has expanded the color potential

normally available to a designer by including one of the

characters in his sketch, his choice of costume color and

its integration into the total design scheme must be

considered. The scarlet of the uniform worn by Cornelius

is the most vivid hue in the setting. It attracts so much

attention that it becomes the major factor which causes

him to dominate the scene. Another factor, of course, is

his dominant position in the setting near the center of

the stage. Jones also appears to have considered the

character as a unit of mass inasmuch as he has placed him

in a position which permits him to function integrally in

the over-all pattern of mass and color. For example, the

vertical mass that is the character contrasts strongly

with the large, horizontal masses of the tables and

benches to which he is related. This relationship is

achieved by the placement and proximity of the masses in

space, and the character's location at the accent point

of a rhythmic pattern created by the three white-topped

tables. The latter device not only employs color, but it

is extremely subtle as well; it merits careful analysis.

The four tables are placed two on each side of the center

of the stage with a wide space separating the left and

right pairs. Since the uppermost table at the left side

is uncovered and dark, the space between the covered table

on the left and the other downstage table appears to be

greater than it actually is. Because of the placement of

the three white tables and the similarity of their size

and shape, a rhythmic pattern is developed. The eye

perceives two white masses on the right separated by a

small space, then an apparently long space interval and

a single white mass on the left. As it scans from left


to right and right to left, there is a pattern of regular

or recurring intervals with the accent in it being estab-

lished by the longer space interval which exists between

the table located at right center and the single white

covered table on the left. Artistically, Jones uses this

space accent as he places the figure in the setting. He

locates that figure in the space which serves as the long

interval in the spatial relationship between tables.

Then, in its rhythmic movement, the eye meets actor and

accent simultaneously, and greater attention or emphasis

centers on the actor.

Light and shade. -- Although design elements such

as line, color, or mass may perform a seemingly more

obvious and descriptive role in a realistic setting such

as the one under consideration, the matter of light and

shade is equally important and demands careful attention.

O'Neill specifies the time of day as nine o'clock in the

morning. Jones establishes this by having sunlight stream

through the windows at an angle appropriate to the sun's

mid-morning position or elevation.

Using this morning sun as a light source, Jones is

able to establish a level of illumination sufficient to

make all of the action visible. moreover, through careful

location of the instrument sources which are to provide

it, he succeeds in creating highlight, shadow, and shade

where one might expect it in an actual room of this type.


The upper and lower horizontal edges of the setting are

the darkest areas, with the intensity increasing to a

medium level in the center of the room where most of the

action would probably take place. As logical and simple

as this may appear to be, examination of the sketch

indicates Jones had an acute feeling for the subtlety of

its gradations and the variety which could be contributed

by the shadows which the objects in the room created.

His handling of light also made possible a potential

effect which might be noted. The sun streaming through

the windows was apparently to be of a high intensity.

That being the case, it is conceivable that it could be

used to backlight characters. This potential, if employed

as Jones does in his sketch, would tend to thrust the

characters towards the audience. In so doing it would

supplement the emphasis which the elements of color and

mass are able to place on a figure standing in front of

the windows.

The total effect. -- Within the limitations imposed

by the playwright and the period, Jones created a setting

which provides an appropriate atmosphere for the charac-

ters and situations. The dominating horizontal line

pattern, rather than becoming monotonous or creating

boredom, establishes a sense of earthiness. In his ar-

rangement of the masses symmetrical and asymmetrical

balance are combined in a most imaginative manner. Color


in the setting is interesting because of the range of

values and saturations achieved within the monochromatic

use of hue to which Jones was limited by the architectural

facts of a realistic script. Also significant is the

contribution which color makes in the establishment of a

rhythmic and emphatic potential of the design.

Although the playwright limited the design to a

representational style, the artistry of Jones appears to

far exceed the realistic suggestions of Eugene O'Neill.

As designer, Jones also appears to have had the touch of

a poet.


After the death of Jones in 1954, critic Stark

Young singled out Jones' design for Macbeth as

S. the most profoundly creative decor that I have
ever seen in the theatre. I am using the term as
Plato used it when he said: "Poetry (creation) whih
is the general name signifying every cause whereby
anything proceeds from that which is not into that
which is."7

At the opening of the production in 1921, however, the

critics ladled heavy criticism upon the expressionist

scenery of Jones.

The production's failure is given extensive treat-

ment by Black, and, for present purposes, it is

7Stark Young, "Robert Edmond Jones: A Note," The
Theatre of Robert Edmond Jones, ed. Ralph Pendleton
(Middletown, Conn., 1958), p. 5.

8Black, pp. 97-120.


sufficient to explain that these critics of 1921 did not

understand the then new expressionistic style of design

which Jones employed. They refused to acknowledge that

Macbeth could be staged in any but the traditional manner.

In addition, when they considered the expressionistic

elements of the setting in relation to the acting style,

they recognized an inartistic juxtaposition of styles.

This judgement, admittedly, was a valid one since the

acting of Lionel Barrymore and Julia Arthur Macbeth and

Lady Macbeth was naturalistic and the characters were

"underplayed to the extreme."9 Time has shown that the

play may have more than one interpretation, although today

such a juxtaposition of styles would be criticized just as

it was in 1921. While the 1921 Hopkins-Jones production

was a failure with critics and audiences, the settings of

Jones remain as landmarks in modern American scene design.

For example, in his work on Jones, Black exonerates the

designer, arguing that the failure was due to the direc-

tion and the acting rather than to the design. "Somehow,

during the preparation of the production they failed to

realize what was happening."10 However, the "subsequent

lesson to be learned did not escape Jones. Never again

9Ibid., p. 109.



did he design a setting incongruous with the rest of the


For this writer the most exciting of the Jones

designs for the Macbeth production is the one for "The

Banquet." This scene is the climax of Shakespeare's

play. It is here that Macbeth learns from his hired

murderer that Banquo is dead, but that Fleance has es-

caped. Being no hardened criminal, Macbeth is goaded by

his conscience, and in the scene in question he has the

hallucination of seeing Banquo's ghost appear at the

banquet table. Twice he sees the ghost. After its second

appearance his nerves are completely shattered, and he says

to his guests,

You make me strange
Even to the disposition that I owe
Then now I think you can behold such sights
And keep the natural ruby of your cheeks.12

When Ross asks, "What sights, my lord?",13 the Queen comes

to the rescue of her husband by explaining that he is ill

and ordering them to leave at once. As the scene ends,

the frantic Macbeth decides upon a course of continued

bloody action. With respect to that decision, Adams notes

that it "marks the turning-point both in Macbeth's charac-

ter and in his career. The play breaks here, and the rest

12William Shakespeare, Macbeth, ed. Joseph Quincy
Adams (Boston, 1931), p. 66.


Plate 6
Robert Edmond Jones, Macbeth, Act III, Scene 4,
"The Banquet," 1921


of the story merely chronicles the decay in his moral

nature, and tae rapid decline in his fortunes."'1

The setting, shown in Plate 6, indicates Jones'

conception of the scene at the climactic moment when

Banquo's ghost appears. It is almost impossible to tell

from the drawing whether it is the first or second ap-

pearance of the ghost. Since the scene obviously builds

in emotional intensity, it would seem natural for Jones

to have illustrated the second of the two appearances

since it is the more dramatic.

In contrast to the guide lines for the design

process which Jones had available when working on the

O'Neill script, the content of this scene is prescribed

solely by the dialogue. In this manner it is established

that the scene occurs in the banquet room of the palace.

Because of Macbeth's private conversation with the

murderer, there needs to be an entrance which is apart

from the banquet table where the guests are seated. A

special location also needs to be provided for the appear-

ance of the ghost of Banquo. The only food or drink

called for in the dialogue is wine for toasts. In terms

of the literal conditions to be incorporated into the

design, the custom of the period required a seating ar-

rangement according to rank. As Adams explains, it was

14Ibid., p. 201.


customary for the King and Queen to sit at a small table

"mounted on a dais . while a long table on the lower

level was provided for the guests."15

It is obvious from an examination of Plate 6 that

Jones' design for this scene met the requirements of the

director, playwright, and period. Since director Hopkins

conceived of i'Maebeth and Lady Macbeth as being possessed

by the evil spirits of the witches and totally without

control of their destinies, Jones supplied masks which

hovered overhead, constantly reminding the audience of the

forces shaping the lives of the helpless monarch and his

queen. Every element called for in the dialogue is

present, except the wine goblets an unimportant detail

at this moment in the scene. The two level historical

arrangement of the tables is used thus satisfying the

protocol of the period.

The most notable feature of the design, however, is

something other than the extent to which it fulfills these

literal requirements. It is the fact that these require-

ments are fulfilled in a highly artistic manner. Having

gained freedom in the selection and construction of envi-

ronmental detail by the choice of a presentational style,

Jones captured the turbulent spirit of Shakespeare's scene

through the use of abstract forms and statements. His

15Ibid., p. 191.


primary concern was to externalize the inner spiritual

forces at work within the characters, and in the process

he was free to employ line, mass, color, and light in any

way that would serve to symbolize Macbeth and Lady

'iacbeth's pangs of conscience over the bloody deeds for

which they were responsible. The resulting artistic

product produced effects which Stark Young described as


the gold frames, or sharp gold lines, or the
forms like Gothic abstractions, or however we may
define them, which standing alone against the black,
defined the scenes. Three great tragic masks were
hung to the front, high above the action, and from
them vast daggers of light poured down, crossed,
pierced, flooded the action below, as in the witches'
scene or the banquet. The banquet hall with its gold
and light and figures moving, and above all else Lady
Macbeth's robe, in which, by a hidden combination of
many shades, an unheard-of intensity of red Was
discovered, defied any conveyance in words.10

Since the preceding comment justifiably assigns a

unique degree of poetic artistry to Jones' design for the

banquet scene, the next step is to analyze its execution

in order to discover the particular way in which the

design elements were handled and the manner in which they

contributed to the uniqueness of this artistic product.

Line. -- In view of the interpretation which charac-

terized this production, a particular, even unique, use of

line was warranted. Examination discloses that the line

pattern is basically angular. The angles which are

16young, p. 5.


created by the intersection of lines engender feelings

of excitement in the viewer. The clashing lines in the

design seem especially appropriate in view of the level

of excitement which accompanies these hallucinations.

This angular pattern receives particular emphasis by

virtue of the fact that it is seen in relation to the

contrasting curve of the proscenium arch. Essentially,

angles dominate the major units of scenery. Not only do

they appear in the planes of the witches' masks, but

examination reveals these masks are a part of a larger,

sharper v-shaped pattern of light which has its apex at

center stage. A similarly strong angularity is apparent

in the centrally located red mass. Moreover, its many

sharp angles are pointed up or emphasized by the fact that

it is seen against the huge off-white mass immediately

behind it. This mass, it might be noted, has a shape rem-

iniscent of a Gothic arch, but in keeping with the general

line treatment in the setting, the Gothic curve has been

replaced by a series of angles. Diagonals and angles also

dominate the silhouettes of the three central figures,

Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, and the ghost. In the case of Lady

Macbeth's gown, its angular shape is accented by its


It is interesting to note that this angularity is

not limited to the key elements in the setting. Angles

also appear in scenic ingredients of secondary interest.


Both the tables at which the nobles are seated and the

tall candelabra are slightly distorted and angular in

shape. With respect to the latter item, one finds that

while the candles do thrust upwards at odd angles towards

the supernatural symbols above, the nature of the light

cast by the candelabra is such that it results in a soft

oval glow. The curved limits of the area illuminated

tend to modify somewhat the momentum of the angular,

upward thrusts of the candelabra themselves. Admittedly

the figures at the tables are all in dark shade, and the

visual statement Jones envisioned them making is difficult

to establish, but their basic line pattern appears to

consist of a series of softened angles. Apparently, then,

he has extended this line character or idiom into the

figures with which he chose to populate his setting. In

exploring the extent to which Jones has given his setting

an angular character, it might be noted, finally, that

there is a strong shaft of diagonal light which forms a

distinct line pattern as it travels from the right edge

of the picture to the figure of Lady Macbeth.

Vhile the use of line has given the design a

distinctive angularity, there are a few curves and hori-

zontals in the setting. In addition to the curves

mentioned above, the strong shaft of diagonal light

entering from the side causes a hard, curving line to

surround Lady Macbeth. Insofar as horizontals are

concerned, they may be found in the top of the canopy over

the Queen, in the table tops, and in the branches of the

candelabra. These are deliberate and calculated and serve

to add aesthetic interest to the design by virtue of the

fact that they contrast with the dominating angular use of


Mass. -- The expressionistic style which Jones chose

for this setting not only afforded unique opportunities,

for the use of line, but for the use of mass as well.

Except for the figures which Jones has introduced in his

sketch of the setting, the design has three key mass

units the masks overhead, the center unit with its

canopy and off-white backing, and the four tables with

their chairs and candelabra. In addition, several illu-

sory masses are created by the introduction or use of

strong beams of light in front of dark curtains. The

first of these is that mass created by the beams of light

which connect the three masks to the area stage center.

The second is created by the beam of light which origi-

nates on the right and focuses on the figure of Lady


As a result of his control of the positions of

these masses, Jones achieved a maximum artistic effect

from relatively few units. The center unit, for example,

consists only of the platform with its two red and white

vertical forms. Their location and relationship, however,


establish two distinct space units a shallow space

between the two vertical forms, and a deep space which

runs from the red vertical form to the front of the stage.

Thus, while the unit is basically simple, it produces both

a unique effect and a unique potential for the play's

director. For example, a regular rhythm is set up as the

eye moves down from the white form to the red panel and

ultimately to the white framed figure of Lady Macbeth

which Jones has located stage center. In turn, the ap-

pearance of the ghost could be given special emphasis if

placed off center since that would break the regular

rhythm established by the arrangement of the red and

white masses.

Insofar as the other masses in the design are

concerned, it will be noted that the secondary units on

the right and left serve to balance the larger unit in

the center. They also extend the base of the design

horizontally. This serves to counterbalance the upward

thrust of the center unit and, in essence, anchors it to

the stage floor. The upward thrust of the center unit is

also modified by the overhead masks which constitute the

fourth group of masses. While there are few individual

units in any of these four groups of masses, the total

effect is such that the stage appears to be completely

filled, completely articulated.

In examining the arrangement of these masses, it


will be seen that their balance is symmetrical. Vile,

as has been noted, this kind of balance has an essentially

static quality, it is overcome in this instance by the

excitement generated through the use of the diagonal and

angular line pattern and stark color on these masses.

Color. -- W;hile a decisive relationship between

color and mass exists in Jones' design for "The banquet,"

attention also must be given to the overall use or role

of color in the setting. In a note to the writer, Edward

F. :ook17 stated that he remembered the color of macbeth

as "symbolic and violent." 'Vhile an examination of

Plate 6 reveals a stark and shocking combination of black,

white, and red, one wonders, however, about Young's

reference to the gold of the banquet scene (see quote page

80). Since this was obviously a color effect introduced

during the course of production, its absence in Plate 6

may indicate that at the time of his initial conception

of the scene Jones was most preoccupied with symbolizing,

through color, the character's bloody deeds. In consid-

ering the symbolic role which color plays in the design,

attentionn should be called to the infinite number of greys

17Notes addressed to the writer on the reverse sides
of the pages of Jones' lighting plot of MIacbeth. This
plot was made available by Edward F. Kook, assistant to
Jones. Cited hereafter as Jones, ITacbeth Light Plot. The
complete plot including the instrument mounting diagram
numbers eighteen pages. The artistic director of Jones'
estate believes this to be the only extant Jones lighting


which recede into the black void beyond the functional

portions of the set. These not only serve as a neutral

background for the brilliance of the reds and whites, but

also create numberless shadows and amorphous shapes which

symbolize and accentuate the mystery surrounding the

bloody deeds and the hallucination of Macbeth himself.

Perhaps the most significant fact about the use of color

in this design is that the violent feelings of the char-

acters at this climactic moment in the tragedy were

suggested or mirrored through use of a limited number of

hues which contrasted strongly with each other when used


Light and shade. -- With respect to the matter of

light and shade, which he has relied on to produce a

living, boundless atmosphere, Jones states, ". . our

real problem in the theatre is to know where to put the

light and where to take it away," and ". . it demands

the knowledge and the application of a lifetime."18 He

also believed

The actors who reveal the heightened life of the
theatre should move in a light that is altogether
uncommon. Our purpose must be to give by means
of light an impression of something out of the
ordinary, away from the mediocre, to make the per-
formance exist in an ideal world of wisdom and

18Robert Edmond Jones, The Dramatic Imagination
(New York, 1941), pp. 111, 112.

19Ibid., p. 115.

A study of the design for "The Banquet" reveals

that Jones relies en light to contrast the four groups

of passess from the infinite space which bounds them. In

doing so, the light becomes a means by which these masses

can be unified. Light also serves to point up the

important elements in the design and to subdue the un-

important ones. Insofar as the source of motivation for

this illumination is concerned, that which covers the

central unit has no natural or literal source; it finds

its justification in the supernatural forces which exist

within the framework of the play. Since most of the

action of the leading characters could be expected to

take place around that unit, as Jones illustrates in his

sketch, the control of the direction and location of the

light sources makes possible distinctive highlights on the

emphatic characters. Since this light and/or highlight is

so intense and decisively controlled, it is possible, to

achieve uniquely contrasting light levels within the

scene. One may note this in the sketch by examining the

light level in the area presumably illuminated by the

candelabra. It is far less extreme, thus enveloping the

right and left masses in varying and more intensive

degrees of shade. Likewise, since the masks which sym-

bolize the power of the witches are also of secondary

importance, they are visible only as hazy abstractions.

In fact, although they were hanging overhead during the


entire scene, they were made completely visible to the

audience only during the two appearances of the ghost.20

Uith respect to the color of this light, there is

little use of colored light in the banquet scene. From

the drawing it would appear that none was used, and,

indeed, Kook reports a "minimum of color in lights."21

This is further borne out by the fact that, with one

exception, Jones' lighting plot calls for only subtle

colors such as daylight blue, pink, and white. The excep-

tion, of course, is the red filter used in the spotlight

which focuses on the area where, in the sketch, Jones

placed the figure of Lady Macbeth.22 Aside from its con-

notative and atmospheric effect, this red light would

have made the red of her costume highly saturated, and

thus even more expressive a fact which might account for

Young's reference to the peculiar and intense color of

that costume. Certainly, as an effect, this use of light

serves to illustrate Jones' belief in the importance of

knowing where to put light and where to take it away, and

the necessity of having an "uncommon" light for actors in

the poetic theatre.

A study of Jones' light plot for "The Banquet"

20Jones, "Macbeth Light Plot," p. 4.
21Ibid., p. 1.

22 bid., passim.

reveals thot he accomplished this control of light and

shade through the use of only sixteen electrified candles

divided among the four candelabra, nine spotlights, and

three sections of x-rays. The entire production utilized

an additional nineteen spotlights and three sections of

footlights. There were no backlights, no cones of light

superimposed one over another, and no instruments mounted

in front of the proscenium.23 Furthermore, there seems to

have been little need for them. The effect normally

achieved through backlighting was accomplished by the large

off-white, center mass framed in the beam of the white

spotlight. The white mass certainly had the capability of

reflecting the white light with great efficiency, thus it

could give off reflected light in a quantity sufficient

to serve as a foil to the red canopy located directly in

front of it. Optically, this condition would tend to

thrust the red unit towards the audience. Moreover, any

character located in front of it would have been projected

forward in the same manner. In considering Jones' depar-

tures from traditional lighting practice, it might be

noted that he ignored today's standard practice of

insuring visibility by superimposing one cone of light

over another thereby increasing the amount of light hitting

a particular mass. He also ignored the practice of



mounting lighting instruments so that their beams strike

stage masses at forty-five degree vertical and horizontal

angles, the angles most propitious for viewing three-

dimensional masses.24 Although, for Macbeth, Jones illumi-

nated the downstage areas exclusively from the first pipe

and tormentor positions, years later, according to Kook,

he went along with the idea of mounting instruments in

front of the proscenium in order to get forty-five degree

vertical and horizontal angles on the masses in the down-

stage areas.25 It is significant, also, that the criti-

cisms which were leveled against the production fail to

include a single one concerning visibility.26 Apparently

visibility was adequate.

The total effect. -- Jones' design for the banquet

scene of Macbeth is a model one in many respects. Certain-

ly it serves to reveal an imaginative interpretation of

the script. Moreover, it has the capacity to serve the

needs of the scene, even though subject to the limitations

of the proscenium arch stage. Perhaps most significant,

however, is the fact that it develops this potential

through a most complicated appearing scenic style, while

retaining extreme simplicity in its use of mass, color,



26Black, pp. 106-118.


and light. In this r -- .: t, Jones -- -lilies the od rn

artists' enjr -is t in cr at 'cts with a minium of

r ens.


rTe I "

Wi'" "

psa and, as

c rt




within the fr

moments in th

vith r ir-

t'.- rine of

ilen. For

!.e of :n'k

of ar" 1

of "ch isho

hile thes

ha e exce t .

comes near r;e



1 T

r go ,

* '. tL
:1. th

j t\ 'y o

t. 1 are
S e emotional

- i. the "

; to

street se

a tri'i, an

f this -

f thios fi .

the time in

it includes

e .vorce c

e coronation

t e chr

.' e of e .r Is

l a ,a

Sa court christi i ,.

t! are dramatic

s who c" e in contact

ich he as div:c-in

his life ith ..n:a

Sexecution of the

:aL'. ine, the downfall

SY Anne, the .snfall


t .-

Sof LI- beth.

i-teresti.; scenes,

r. for w;

dra ical intensil,

bani. se

" tharine a

cnuse of t

events is fi

in its last

-r,: -ret




fromec th. rover, only two ch racters,

ls are devo .i in s",. ificant detail.

e rift's e odicic na'.. the se of

Stly difficult to follow, or exa ple,

>rofession -1 7ruction (19i.
ter rli on a .ro.icler aud int-ar nations

few of them




Plate 7
Robert Edmond Jones, Henry VIII Act II, Scene 1,
"Buckingham's Farewell," 1944


from Holinshed's Chronicals of 7npland, 'cotlanc. and

Ireland to :.lrin the situations of the various scenes.

'r "e-- ork critics enj the E-lendor of the cal

.. '.ntion and the -o.. .. t-- actl.. ut questii

whether the te-ir' play of s '-re, Fletcher ssi-

bly ot' rs merited the effort.27

In designing settii s for the Jro, .-tion Je

realized t',-t it needed the exploitation of its exc .I i1a

festive elements. Ii..e every scri t b" t to

life upon the st' needs to have a fetiv ele s it

a possess < I z.. t r-- not onl offer

o jrtunities for such i= ha' r the nature of '

I1 demands t cir exploitation. n.. ,i, as P' )te 7

indicates, in his execution of the de i J- Jones t o e

prosc .'" arch of the ea'. "rank tre ted it as

a 'u ro-', i' frme : nis

kaleidosco .'c hist could .o. t t' '.i h int ,

the : j of arch he 1 e f-arm

an t ortte blue, red, a since,

occasion "1y, th eld o s e as

this eniu- e. serve to A.. th r

erchitectur t other scenic units. "" the

S s tkinson, aoar, r nos, Joh ,
Robert rland, 'il akins, ,ouis o r r,
ard .:oeho atts Le ork ._tre critics'
Svi- l p(p'. Tork 1946 pp. 271-273.

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