TRANS Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 17. Nr. Februar 2010

Sektion 1.12. Asien und deutsche sowie österreichische Kunst und Literatur um die Jahrhundertwende: Einflüsse und Bedeutung
Sektionsleiter | Section Chairs: Chin SangBum (Comperative Study of the World Literature in Korea) und Doo Haeng-Sook (Universität Sogang, Seoul)

Dokumentation | Documentation | Documentation

Orientalism as an Encounter with the East and West toward Modern

Oh Zhang-Huan (Pukyong National University, Korea) [BIO]



In the late 19th, the influence of ‘Orientalism’ in the western arts was evaluated as a great meaning related to ‘modernity’. As known in general, a great interest on the Oriental arts had been taken by the avant-gardes in art ‘toward Modern’ including architecture. Moreover in the beginning of 20th, F. L. Wright in architecture who had close ties with the Orient (especially Far East). From this study, answers to the quests below will be given. Oriental arts, especially Japanese arts helped the Western artists become self-conscious about their conventional style, and made them begin to an experiment, that is, the artistic Orientalism including Japanese prints was one of instances which gave a lesson in elimination of the insignificant, especially valuable to the West who pursued an expression of new art departed from the western classical tradition. Especially, the ‘Organic’ architectural thought of F. L. Wright is not only a matter of the Western but of the Oriental, namely, the reason that his thoughts and works were accomplished by the relation and connection between two other worlds. As a result, this study is a try to reveal what's the role and meaning of Orientalism through philosophical exchanges in the realm of arts. Orientalism influenced ultimately to the formation of modernity toward ‘Abstraction’. Ultimately, the investigation to perceive through unifying both the philosophical elements of the East and the West is indispensable.


I. Introduction

“East is East, West is West, and never the twain shall meet.”


“Orientals lived in their world; ‘we’ lived in ours.
The vision and material reality propped
each other up, kept each other going.
A certain freedom of intercourse
was always the Westerner’s privilege.”


The Discourses of Orientalism

Orientalism generally expresses and represents that part culturally and even ideologically as a mode of discourse which is a style of thought based upon an ontological and epistemological distinction made between ‘the Orient’ and (most of the time) ‘the Occident’, that is to say, a way of coming to terms with the Orient that is based on the Orient's special place in European Western experience. Their egos never absorbed the Orient, nor totally identified the Orient with documentary and textual knowledge of it. Moreover, the Orient was almost exclusively a scholarly, or at least a classical. Orientalism was a kind of intellectual authority over the Orient within Western culture.

As an example among these many cases, it shows how exactly wrong (and how totally opposite to the truth) was the grandly menacing idea expressed by Michelet, that “the Orient advances, invincible, fatal to the gods of light by the charm of its dreams, by the magic of its chiaroscuro.(1) However, on the one hand, Orientalism acquired the Orient as literally and as widely as possible, by A. Dow; “The Orientals rarely represent shadows; they seem to regard them as of slight interest ― mere fleeting effects or accidents. They prefer to model by line rather than by shading. They recognize notan as a vital and distinct element of the art of painting.”(2)

On the other, the Western reproduced it materially in the West, for the West. And more significantly, the Orient which they discovered, a few artist and architect though in late 19th and early 20th century, was closer to modernity than any other civilization in Europe. “In the Japanese print shading had been eliminated; there was no, what the Italians call chiaroscuro in anything they did. It was only the form, clear form, and in the print you saw the elimination of everything that was insignificant.”(3) “Their art was nearer to the earth and a more indigenous product of native conditions of life and work, therefore more nearly modern as I saw it, than any European civilization alive or dead.”(4)
The tendencies of 18th century thought were complex. In the theory of art there took place that great turnabout, the victory of subjectivism; while in the practice of art there occurred a different turnabout ― actually, two different turnabouts; both almost simultaneously, in the second half of the century. One was the reversion from the baroque back to antiquity, to a new classicism. The second turnabout in 18th century art was to romanticism.

In fact, the notion of a ‘Modern’ was in turn rooted in developments of the late 18th century, in particular the emphasis on the idea of progress. These brought with them a greater discrimination of the past and a relativist view of tradition in which various periods could be seen as holding equal value. In which Orientalism at that time, for example ‘Japonism’ in the 19th century, has been evaluated as a significant meaning, especially as one of assistants on the search for a ‘New Arts’ in western artists. And a few architects were the most successful of extracting ‘modern style’ from. Ultimately, these searches made a Modern’s appearance through the influence of Orientalism.

“Kipling said, among other things with a grain of truth in the saying, ‘East is East, West is West, and never the twain shall meet.’ I am sure they should not meet, not yet because, except for a few culture-hunters (and exploiters?) like myself, the West has no tolerant comprehension whatever to give to the East ― from first to last.”(5)

In case of F. L. Wright, he has been seen as both the natural heir to the nineteenth-century search for a new, genuinely American architecture, and also as a transitional figure linking the Arts and Crafts Movement with the birth of modernism. Actually, in the most of studies on Wright’s architectural theories and works, the connection with Orientalism (Japanese culture) is the most important and continuous issue more than anything else.

However, while these perceptions have helped to place Wright in a wider perspective, they foil to do him justice as a creative individual in his own right. On the other hand, the tendency to treat Wright as all entirely self-made genius, oblivious to all external influences except nature itself, has only served to raise him to the status of some kind of higher being. Such an opinion is wrong attitude that could not make his ‘Organic’ architectural thoughts, theories, and work as an example of the practical use, that is, more mistaken than the former case. The truth, of course, would lie somewhere between these extremes. Ultimately, this study is to reveal that Wright's ‘organic’ thought had been not greatly influenced by Japanese architects, as his accounts. Basically, this study starts with the question that what in the world these limitations are derived from, so the answer would be taken by a philosophical perception related to his idea through both Eastern’s and Western’s.

“Hidden in the mind of every man is his philosophy, - which may or may not be also his Religion. ... Most men are unaware that they have it, though they think by it and act upon it. Educated men are often at pains to conceal it. The artist of high quality is usually one who cannot conceal it, whose irrepressible impulse is to tell it, to tell it even when he disguises it…”                                           

Hegel's Aesthetics.

This is primarily sympathized with Hegel’s idea that art is never comprehended without its philosophical background. Namely, this study would start to get out of the biological inference on the organic thought and the attitude of the mystic, ultimately reveal its content of monistic ideas influenced by both Oriental philosophy and the relation to the Western’s. The questions we here must pose are what and how Wright learned from Japan, and how he integrated, transformed and remade what he observed. Until the present study, these difficult issues had not been seriously addressed.

Above all, this study would observe Wright's thoughts and works, which have been invested almost in the respect of the West, in the respect of the Oriental, and next seeing into them in the respect of the union of the East and the West, finally taking deep philosophical apprehension of his 'Organic' thoughts through interpreting the more based on his insistences. For this purpose, three premises should be brought up.

1. Fundamental Problem on Translations of the Term, ‘Organic’

Wright’s designs are still defined as the romanticism in architecture in spite of the fact that his design is never contrary to the geometric system. Interestingly, when his term ‘organic’ is combined with an object as a phenomenon, it becomes to a biological and a similar to the nature-forms. This study would represent the ‘Organic’ is not on the created-Nature, but on the self-Nature related to the philosophy.

2. Limitations of the Existent Comparative Studies

As other mistakes in general, though there are many researches on Wright’s works, too often offering us meticulously documented research oddly devoid of insight, and rarely inquire into how Wright was inspired, and inevitably concludes that Wright was ‘influenced’ by a particular precedent or that he fits comfortably into a preconceived theory or stylistic category. This study is to recognize these limitations and to observe both the form and the idea through the investigation of his thoughts.

3. The Need of Relationship-Study between Philosophical Influences

Wright’s account shows the necessity of the relationship-study between the Eastern and the Western thoughts in a synthetic view of both all. Furthermore, in the relation to these necessities, the influence of Lao-tze’s thoughts, which is the core of Wright’s ‘organic’ thoughts, has been in fact little treated up to present studies. Above all, this study would observe Wright's thoughts and works, which have been invested almost in the respect of the West, in the respect of the Oriental, and next seeing into them in the respect of the union of the East and the West, finally taking deep philosophical apprehension of his ‘Organic’ thoughts through interpreting the more based on his insistences. For this purpose, three premises above should be brought up.

“Gurdjieff wanted East to meet West, just as boy meets girl, and he wanted that union of thought and feeling between the Orient and the Western world that could save the world and give us peace. We have never approached that because of our stupidity. We look down upon anything with yellow skin, which is tragic.”(6)                    

“Lao-tse is the great philosopher. He revealed the reality of the nature and the life of a building. Lao-tse declared that the reality of a building consists in the space within - the space to be lived in - not the walls and the roof. … That is also the secret strength of organic architecture and where I come in as an architect. My philosophy concerning a building is that of Lao-tse. The some principles apply to you, as to me, in everything. Just as a building is a space within to be lived in, a man is a space within, in which a philosophy lives.”(7)

“Everyone engaged in creative work is subject to persecution by the odious comparison. Odious comparisons dog the footsteps of all creation wherever the poetic principle is involved because the inferior mind learns only by comparisons; comparisons, usually equivocal, made by selfish interests each for the other.... But the superior mind learns by analyses: the study of Nature.”(8) “Reality is spirit - the essence brooding just behind all aspect. Seize it! … That is what it means to be an artist - to seize this essence brooding everywhere in everything, just behind aspect.”(9)

“To cut ambiguity short : there never was exterior influence upon my work, either foreign or native, other than that of Lieber Meister[Sullivan], Dankmar Adler and John Roebling, Whitman and Emerson, and the great poets worldwide. My work is original not only in fact but in spiritual fiber. … My mother taught me, in my childhood as described, the kindergarten ‘gifts’ of Frederick Froebel - a true philosopher.”(10)

This study, with the question why these arguments on his architecture have never been ceased, would observe why Wright commented several philosophers including Lao-tze when taking about his organic thoughts, and especially what is influence of Froebel and what is the role in his career, and finally what is the relationship between the Eastern and the Western thoughts.

Through Wright’s insistences, the philosophical objects would be summed up as follows. Four philosophical objects based on Wright's accounts would be investigated in this study. One is oriental Influence, Taoism underlying Japanese culture, which was close relation with him and have discussed as a main issue. Another is the western Influences, especially, Froebel’s educational thoughts, American Transcendentalism and Unitarianism. This study would search to reveal why Wright commented several philosophers including Lao-tze when talking about his organic thoughts, and especially what's Froebel’s influence and what's its role in his architectural career.


II. The Meeting between the East and the West

Orientalism in the 19th and Wright’s Design

The Beginning of Searches for ‘New’ Paradigm

Especially, Japanese influence was great in fact, one of the first artists in Europe to respond to this influx of Japanese artifacts was actually an American. The young James M. Whistler had developed an interest in things Japanese, later appeared in several of his early paintings. And, just as A. Beardsley, who rose to immediate fame all over Europe with his sophisticated black-and-white illustration that owe so much to Japanese prints, H. Toulouse-Lautrec applied a similar economy of means to the new art of the poster.

In finding forms to fit the emerging aspirations towards a modern architecture, the architects searched new materials and ornaments for new forms. Belgian architect Victor Horta that made an immediate hit had learned from Japan to discard symmetry and to relish that effect of swerving curves from Eastern art. Such a pattern was evidently revealed from the work by Vincent van Gogh repeated Ando Hiroshige’s print, and it could well have inspired some of the apparently Japanese-influenced work of later designers such as Charles R. Mackintosh and Edward W. Godwin.

Boston Orientalism

Being due in the impact of the 1876 Philadelphia Exposition, the American Aesthetic Movement derived essentially from a blending of the ideas of John Ruskin and Ralph Waldo Emerson, and focused on the importance of giving every individual access to the highest possible levels of man-made beauty. Beauty was treated as essentially a spiritual quality, furthermore up to as almost a religious one, which combined with general interest in the oriental art. According to Thomas C. Mendenhall, the Japanese exhibit at the Philadelphia Exposition came as a revelation to most people. Later, Edward S. Morse, a decade after the Exposition, recalled how “…the charming onslaught of that unrivalled display completed the victory. It was then that the Japanese craze took firm hold of us.”(11) After all, some of the early efforts to combine Japanese and American architectural forms involved juxtapositions of distinct styles rather than genuine syntheses, as exemplified in the Arthur Knapp house by Ralph Adams Cram for example.

At that time in Boston, orientalists played an important part in conveying Far Eastern thought to America. In particular, Morse’s Book, Japanese Homes seems to be the most detailed source of information on Japanese domestic architecture available to Wright prior to his first visit to Japan. And Okakura was in the task of educating the West on the principles underlying oriental art, that is, his book, The Book of Tea, explained Taoism underlying oriental art. This book had close ties with Wright’s ‘Organic’ thought including Paul Carus’s book, Lao-tze’s Tao-Teh-King. (老子道德經)

In the relation between Wright and Far East culture, the 1893 World's Fair was to prove a watershed in Wright's personal relationship especially with Japan. Amongst the many works published to coincide with the World's Fair, was Ernest Fenollosa's East and West, in which he convinced that both the West and the Far East could each gain what they lacked from a mutual exchange of complementary values. The Far Eastern thoughts are conveyed through the World’s Parliament of Religions, and Wright's own uncle, the Unitarian minister Jenkin Lloyd Jones was closely involved in the Parliament of Religions. In fact Chicagoans had been receiving a fairly regular supply of information on Far Eastern ideas for several years prior to the World's Fair, via locally-based philosophical journals such as the Open Court and the Monist.

Disputes on ‘Originality’ and Wright’s Counterargument

In fact, these questions of the origin of Wright's design are caused by the comments of R. Spencer, who is a his friend knowing of his design approach in direct, as follows, “If not to nature at first hand, then to those marvelous interpreters of nature, the Orientals and the Japanese.”(12) However, in front of that account, Spencer explained as follows, “Unhampered by the traditions of the schools… What is its philosophy? How has it been developed? If I were making a plea for the kindergarten idea in education … He is one of very few in our profession who have enjoyed that training. As a child in Boston he was given by his mother the benefit of the Froebel system of training the eyes to see, the brain to think and the hands to do … Nature, … is the source to which he has always gone for inspiration. If not to nature at first hand, then…”(13)

In brief, Spencer commented firstly Froebelian thought and its system, secondly Nature, and finally the Oriental and the Japanese as the interpreters of nature. But taking advantage of this, Japanese influences are still regarded as a main topic of discusses on Wright. On these critics, Wright himself insisted as follows. “My conscience troubles me - Do not say that I deny my love for Japanese art has influenced me - I admit that it has but claim to have digested it - Do not accuse me of trying to ‘adapt Japanese forms’ however, that is a false accusation and against my very religion.”(14) But these questions on the origin of his design hadn't come to an end.

The Influences of the East

Formal Similarity and Japanese Lessons

Wright explained Japanese Homes in his Autobiography, as follows, “The sliding paper shoji(障子) that enclose the interior room spaces. All slide back into a recess in the walls and they are removable too.”(15) “In this sense I was working toward the elimination of the wall as a wall to reach the function of a screen, as a means of opening up space ...”(16) In Wright’s works, the several positive characteristics of the Japanese dwelling apparently became central elements, notably its 'elimination' of many familiar features of the more typical American home of the time, and perhaps most importantly the idea of the dwelling as a single large space 'screened' according to need.

Indeed, after having been familiar with Morse’s Japanese Homes and Their Surroundings, Wright had a direct experience of a real Japanese building, Ho-o-den at Chicago Exposition. And there would seem to have been little external evidence of its influence until the Goodrich house of 1896. Just as Japanese prints had influenced to the European artists, so Japanese Architecture seemed to be an object of the formal study in his early career. Furthermore, these positive characteristics of the Japanese dwelling have been discussed as an instance that includes the idea of planning according to a simple geometric unit, which was later to be exemplified in Wright’s Usonian Houses. On a stereotyped comparison, Wright himself explained as follows, “... strangely enough, I found this ancient Japanese dwelling to be a perfect example of the modem standardizing I had myself been working with. The floor mats ... are all three feet by six feet. The size and shape of all the houses are determined by the mats.”(17)

However, Wright already had experienced these stereotyped geometric unit patterns through Froebelian kindergarten training from 1876’s Philadelphia Exposition, prior to Morse’s book of 1886. Wright said as follows, “Kindergarten training, as I have shown, proved an unforeseen asset : for one thing, because later all my planning was devised on a properly proportional unit system. … So from the very first this system of ‘fabrication’ was applied to planning even in minor buildings. Later, I found technological advantages when this system was applied to heights.”(28)

Oriental Culture as a ‘Abstract’: Zen (禪) and Taoism

Fenollosa considered the term, ‘Beauty’, as a pure formal idea, and held that the aesthetic appeal of these purely formal ideas was due to their peculiar quality of organic ‘wholeness’, which derived from the mutual interdependence of each contributing part. And these thoughts appeared in Dow’s Composition. Dow's interlocking line-ideas could make Wright find the basis for his first genuinely 'organic' plans, and the inspiration for the overlapping spaces which came to characterize his mature work.

Okakura described Lao-tze’s ‘Tao (道)’ in terms of an apparently Hegelian transcendent spirit manifesting itself in ever-changing material forms, having declared, “It is the spirit of Cosmic Change, - the eternal growth which returns upon itself to produce new forms... It folds and unfolds as do the clouds.”(19) And Okakura described Lao-tze’s Tao as the ‘Great Transition’, by which he meant the constant state of change which characterized life. This was apparently the origin of Wright's similar phrase ‘the Great In-between’.(20)

Interestingly Wright also had interpreted Lao-tze’s philosophy in terms of a similar ‘unfolding spirit’, and it seems to have provided him with a philosophical interpretation for the transitional spaces produced by the interlocking forms which became such a feature of his mature work. Wright himself evidently knew these philosophical thoughts, and explained it just as follows.

“Some five hundred years before the life of Jesus, the Chinese philosopher, Lao-tze preached the sense of Individuality as a reflex of the organic unity of the Cosmos: the true source of human power, the all pervasive ‘state-of-becoming’! Our own democratic ideal of the social state seems originally conceived as some such unity. … This ideal of Nature lies at the core of organic democracy, and architecture organic.”(21)

“Many people have wondered about an Oriental quality they see in my work. I suppose it is true that when we speak of organic architecture, we are speaking of something that is more Oriental than Western. The answer is: my work is, in that deeper philosophical sense, Oriental. These ideals have not been common to the whole people of the Orient; but there was Laotse, for instance. Our society has never known the deeper Taoist mind.”(22)

Wright's most explicit acknowledgement of a direct link between his work and Far Eastern thought centered on the celebrated Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu, and in particular focused on his famous statement that the essence of a house lay in the void which it enclosed rather than in its material form.

The function of ‘the non-existent (無-實存)(23)

“Thirty spokes unite in one nave and on that which is non-existent (on the hole in the nave) depends the wheel's utility.
Clay is molded into a vessel and on that which is non-existent (on its hollowness) depend the vessel’s utility.
By cutting out doors and windows we build a house and on that which is non-existent (on the empty space) depends the house's utility.”

But, Wright himself insisted paradoxically, as follows, “Strange to say, I knew nothing about Laotze when I was in Japan. But now, I found this dictum of that great philosopher ...  in which he declared the reality of the building was not the roof and walls but was the space within to be lived in - and I'd been building it - without knowing anything ...  of the existence of this philosophy, at all. It was my aim - you could see it in Unity Temple, it began in the Larkin Building.”(24) “Who put that thought into buildings? Who put that thought into buildings? [neither] Laotse nor anyone had consciously built it.”(25)

In fact, there were also several translations of Lao-tzu's Tao- Te-Ching available in America at this time, that is, Carus's Tao-Teh-King having appeared in serial form as early as 1896 in his Chicago-based journal the Open Court. More importantly, Carus had anticipated Okakura's spatial interpretation of Lao-tzu's concept of void, and indeed might even have influenced it.

However in fact, whether Wright derived it from Carus or from Okakura, who, as we have seen, both translated Lao-tzu's concept of void in terms of empty, or vacant space, Wright himself interpreted Lao-tzu's void as implying the positive entity space, as opposed to the negation, or non-being, which it is traditionally taken to mean. And whilst it was perfectly valid for Wright, as an artist, to have interpreted Lao-tze in his own terms, this actually serves to highlight a fundamental difference between Wright's work and traditional Japanese architecture, there having been no real notion of space as a definite object.

However, if Wright's concept of space was his own in essence, it would bring into the more fundamental question where to get such a idea and how to produce the ‘organic' concept what he insisted. Later, this study would focus on Froebel. As Wright himself had suggested, it should be actually served to highlight his confession that his organic work is, speaking of something that is more Oriental than Western, in that deeper philosophical sense, Oriental, which is, Taoism says these thought. On the approaches to Taoism, the most important is those to NATURE. Because that, by Taoism, the thought of imagination on the definition of Nature in the Age of Religion was reversed into the thought of cognition, that is, the thought that who made all creation into that what caused everything to exist.

In brief, the principles of Tao as the origin of everything are as follows.

“Out of Tao, One is born. Out of One, Two. Out of Two, Three. Out of Three, the created universe. The created universe carries the Yin (陰) at its back and the Yang (陽) in front. Through the union of the pervading principles it reaches harmony.”(26) (道生一, 一生二, 二生三, 三生萬物, 萬物負陰而抱陽, 沖氣以爲和)
“Being great implies reaching out in space, Reaching out in space implies far-reaching, Far-reaching implies reversion to the original point.”(27) (大曰逝, 逝曰遠, 遠曰反)

On this Tao, Paul Carus explained as follows, “The term 道 (tao) is a remarkable word. … The expression Tao, meaning ‘word’ and ‘logical thought’ at the same time, presents a close analogy to the Neo-Platonic term logos. The Buddhists use the word Tao as a synonym of 明 (ming), … and the Christians employ it in the version of the New Testament for the term logos, ‘word’,”(28) continued to said, “Still another striking parallelism is found in the Zoroastrian creed.”(29) In fact, the Zoroastrian creed had been applied to Froebel’s educational thought and its system which Wright insisted as the origin.

We should remember here, Okaura's metaphorical expression, “Tao, it is the spirit of Cosmic Change, - the eternal growth which returns upon itself to produce new forms. It folds and unfolds as do the clouds,”(30) and consider that might played an important part for Wright. Because these philosophical contents would be never the metaphysical, it could be interpreted into a visible substance, namely, if Wright considered space as a substance, it's possible that the space would become a substance capable to be transitive and to be substitute and to seize for Wright.

Wright’s Perception of the Eastern Thought and Art

“The civilizations of India, Persia, China and Japan are all based on the same central source of cultural inspiration, chiefly Buddhist ... But it is not so much the principles of this faith which underlie organic architecture, as the faith of Laotse - the Chinese philosopher - his annals preserved in Tibet. But I became conscious of these only after I had found and built it for myself …”(31)

Wright himself appreciated Taoist thought in basic, if he understood Lao-tze's concept of the ideal space, finally reformed it into a substantial space as his own, which could be, only in its conversion of thinking, considered as his originality. And, it could be considerable that Wright himself might try to make and use Froebel Gifts as an architectural tool for the composition of space. We here have some questions of the existent interpretation of Japanese print which Wright agreed its debt and clung to, even though he denied the influence of Japanese buildings. The role of the Japanese Prints is, of course, defined a lesson in abstraction such as Froebel blocks in common. However it is the fact that these discussions are not capable to explain a philosophical meaning related to his idea of the organic space as we invested formerly. Wright had explained as follows in his lecture of 1954.

“It was the great gospel of simplification that came over, the elimination of all that was insignificant. And I had already been made ready for it by Froebel's idea of the kindergarten, you know. ... Well, now came manifestation of that very gospel. In the Japanese print shading had been eliminated; there was no, what the Italians call chiaroscuro in anything they did. ... As a substitute they had devised what they called notan (濃淡), a gradation of sky, and at the top of the print would always be that notan, which was the gradation of the sky coming down. ... and while it was a mere convention, it gave you everything that sky could ever give you, and you had sunrise, you had mid-day, you had evening, you had night. It was just as simple as that. Now that was a tremendous confirmation of the Froebelian kindergarten training I had received. So it struck home. ... So in these prints you will see the manifestation of this law of Froebel which declared in its way, in its time, war against the overdoing of the shade and the shadow in the thing that didn't really matter. In other words, realism, I guess you'd call it, wouldn't you? They were anti-realism, the Japanese print. Just as Froebel, was anti-realism in training the young mind to see.”(32)

As Wright's remark on his interpretation of the Japanese print, the more profound concept should be attended more than the abstract geometrical conception. Namely, we already know through the philosophical investigation, Wright comprehended space not just as the vacant or not-being, but as the positive entity to be transited into a substance. And it is the same mean of the constant state of change which characterized life, which is commented by Okakura when explaining as follow, “The Tao might be spoken of as the Great Transition. Subjectively it is the Mood of the Universe.”(33) That is, Wright himself saw his ideal image, ‘The Great In-between’ by way of a visible expression of Japanese prints closely associated with Froebel.

It should be here discussed and focused most importantly that Wright explained it just same as Froebel. Furthermore, it seems to be sufficient to produce counter-evidence that the lesson of Japanese prints has the more profound philosophical content beyond a general comprehension, and even that Froebel's influence also not remain only as the formative influence. In fact, the insistences of his originality accomplished by and for himself through Froebel’s educational training have not been entirely accepted because of Japanese influence. However, if his insistence could be acceptable and if it is a unquestionable true that his original thoughts are found and accomplished for himself, properly here should be raised several questions. The question is how he apprehended the Far Eastern thoughts and then what make the conversion of his thought possible. On this question, Wright himself said that his originality of ‘Organic’ architecture is derived from Froebel, from which he made the space as a reality for himself.

Western Philosophy as a Principle of Design

Religious Background of Unitarian Home

“Back to the Froebel kindergarten-table, Presented by my teacher-mother with the Froebel ‘gift’, then actually as a child I began to be an architect; unless long before, when I chose my ancestors with the greatest care.”(34) “In Unity Church there, you see the Unitarianism of my forefathers found expression in a building by one of the offspring. The idea, ‘Unitarian’, was unity, Unitarians believed in the unity of all things. Well, I tried to build a building here that expressed that over-all sense of unity.”(35)

Unitarianism is a religious doctrine which teaches that God exists only in the One, in marked contrast to that of the Trinity: the union of God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Ghost. And these Unitarians are in fact transcendentalists; even Emerson was a unitary pastor. Interestingly, these thought are similar to Zen.

Froebelian Thoughts as a Counterargument

Froebel’s influence lies in the core of Wright’s originality as in his many accounts. In fact, Froebel system was the other important object from which several studies sided with Wright tried to reveal the origin. However, a lot of studies have not investigated the philosophical relationship between the Eastern and the Western. The absence of study on Froebel thought is discussed even in the realm of education, for example, as follows,

“Most assessments of Froebel is work that have appeared in the mid-twentieth century have been marked by a selective approach. Writers, on the whole, have chosen to omit, belittle, or give cursory treatment to his philosophy.”(36) “For the purposes and background of the present study, it is felt that a fuller understanding of Froebel's metaphysical philosophy is imperative. For example, a most important aspect of Froebel's metaphysical philosophy so far overlooked in the English speaking world is his spherical law.

  1. The eternal exists in the center point, where God as potential development, not yet unfolded, rests. Creation is a uniform spherical emanation in all directions of the Original Force, x or God, which strives to fill, penetrate, animate and rule.
  2. The three invisible axis of the sphere, marked with + and -, are dialectic polar opposites. Through their mediation in the center, a higher harmony or unity becomes manifest.
  3. When the eternal comes forth out of the center, individual spheres are created around x. Macrocosm becomes microcosm. Each individual sphere has its own center point. When the individual spheres, in which polarity is also evident, have completed their development, they return to their origin, x.”(37)

Froebel did not intend his patterns merely to have aesthetic appeal. He conceived them as the instrument of a system of education based upon a pantheistic concept of nature. The aim of this was two-fold, intellectual and spiritual; an understanding of Natural Law would simultaneously develop the powers of reason and convey a sense of the harmony and order of God. Froebel said as follows, “The child is first taught to take the cube out of the box, undivided, in order to inculcate alike the sense of order and the idea of completeness”(38)

What Froebel did venture was a pronouncement that the kindergarten was based on his selection of four main natural laws that, together with a series of sub-laws, that is, (1) Law of Unity (2) Law of Opposites (3) Law of Development (4) Law of Connections, came to be known as Froebel's Laws, copiously demonstrated throughout kindergarten play. Although these laws reflect the thinking of the German Naturphilosophie movement of his time and adumbrate the four principal natural forces currently selected in the ongoing search for a grand unified theory, they have until now been regarded as the product of an educator's philosophy rather than a scientist's analysis.

Interestingly, Froebel indicated, “In his Hamburg lectures of 1849 he furnishes the following systematic presentation of all development, in which (-) designates fixed or constant, and (+) fluid or variable elements, and (±) the connection of the two”(39) And Froebel instructed as follow, “The educator, the teacher, should make the external internal, and the internal external, and indicate the necessary unity of both; he should consider the finite in the light of the infinite, and the infinite in the light of the finite, and harmonize both in life; he should see and perceive the divine essence in whatever is human, trace the nature of man to God, and seek to exhibit both within one another in life.”(40)

Froebel began his writing of the title, ‘universal law’ in The Education of Man (Die Menschenerziehung) as follows, “In all things there lives and reigns an eternal law. … This all-controlling law is necessarily bused on an all-pervading, energetic, living, self-conscious, and hence eternal Unity. … This Unity is God.(Im Anfang war die Einheit, und die Einheit war in Gott und Gott war Einheit)”(41) And indicated, “Thus, the diversity and multiplicity in nature do not warrant the inference of multiplicity in the ultimate cause - a multiplicity of gods - nor does the unity of God warrant the inference of finality in nature; but, in both cases, the inference lies conversely from the diversity in nature to the oneness of its ultimate causes and from the unity of God to an eternally progressing diversity in natural developments.”(42)

Actually we know that Froebel’s thought is very similar to the Tao’s law, ‘Out of Tao, the created universe.’ These facts make it sufficient to understand why Wright considered Froebel as ‘a true philosopher’ and why he paradoxically insisted his own originality as “For a long time, I thought I had ‘discovered’ it, only to find after all that this idea of the interior space being the reality of the building was ancient and Oriental.”(43) In a word, in Wright’s account, “A sense of what is God. By that simple but direct aspiration you will see the only God you will ever see. Your own idea! Now, that is what organic architecture sees. That innate faith in the self-God is the core of it” in Wright, Meech ed., Truth against the World: Frank Lloyd Wright speak for an Organic Architecture, the self-God means the self-conscious Being by Froebel’s. The self-God would be Okakura’s ‘Great Transition’ as a constant state of change which characterized life and it would be Wright's similar phrase ‘the great In-between’. That is essentially the same developmental formula Wright proclaimed for organic architecture, which thought rightly makes his organic spatial thought. That is, Wright’s theory of space, “The continual becoming: invisible fountain from which all rhythms flow to which they must pass. Beyond time or infinity”(44) is the core of his thought of ‘organic space’

Froebel made these ideas permeate into its educational system tools, Gifts, thoroughly. That is to say, the system of Froebel Gifts has a sequence of the circulation structures of ‘folding and unfolding’, so called, (a) from three-dimensional form to two-dimensional plane (b) from plane to one-dimensional linear (c) from linear to point, and reversely, (d) from point to linear (e) from linear to plane (f) from plane to form. Through these facts, a hypothesis would be actually possible, that is, the hypothesis that Wright could compose of the space as a reality is possible, because that Froebel’s thought and the principle of its training system is, as we investigated, very similar to Taoism. Furthermore, Froebel read the Zoroastrian creed which’ is found a striking parallelism, and finally his interests were broadened by a study of Eastern religion.

And this analysis could make it a persuadable fact that Wright himself derived his original thought of the space as a substance through Froebel educational training. In a word, his insistence is undoubtedly true. Namely, for Wright, the meaning of Froebel Gift is beyond a general perception, it was not a simple wood block for the composition or for the training of the abstract through its geometrical system, but the philosophical entity for Wright's ‘organic’ thought and space. In a word, it’s a visible spirit capable to be seized.

American Transcendentalism and Oriental Thoughts

American transcendentalism, it also has been considered as the very similar to Taoism, even as the same thing, just as A. Christy and Lin Yu Tang's suggestion. “Probably the best approach to Laotse's philosophy is through Emerson in his important essay on ‘Circles’, which is fundamentally Taoist.”(45) About Sullivan's thoughts that might be one of the most important influences on Wright's ‘Organic’ idea, a closer source for The Autobiography was Rousseau's Emile via Froebel's Education of Man. And, although Viollet-le-Duc furnished Sullivan with a stylistic basis for his ornamental design, it was Emanuel Swedenborg, the 18th century Swedish mystic, philosopher, and scientist, who produced the foundations of its ideological structure.

Here Menocal pointed as follow, “According to Swedenborg, love and wisdom are God's most important attributes, emanate from Him, and sustain the universe. He also believed that universal rationality, or wisdom, comes into harmony with the masculine principle of the cosmos, and emotion, or love, with the feminine. Since to Swedenborg the realms of the physical and spiritual were part of a transcendent totality, he posited that correspondences of wisdom-love, reason-emotion, and masculine-feminine existed between the two spheres.”(46)

The fact that Sullivan's idea also has an influence from that of Froebel makes us apprehend that several facts on Wright discussed before, namely, it could be considered that he was a transcendentalist such as Emerson, in more bigger categories, his thoughts would be akin to the principle of Taoism.


III. Conclusion

This study could reach the conclusion that two hypotheses based on and coincided with Wright's insistence are logically possible as follows.

One is that Wright might be perplexed with the first acquaintance with Taoism, especially Lao-tze's spatial thought, because that he already well appreciated that mutual meaning called shape and space through Froebel in which he was trained, as well as the idea and its principle behind Gifts. So he paradoxically insisted that Lao-tze's thought of space was his own originated for himself.

The other hypothesis, as having the opposite sequence of the former, make it possible that Wright himself, after coming across the principle of Tao through Okaura's book and Carus's, might apprehend not only the fact that Froebel education also has a similar idea and principle to the oriental thought but also that Froebel's system expresses these mystic and abstract contents as a concrete and visible substance of Gift. In other words, Wright would see into the object, Gifts entirely newly, as opposed to the substance, or being, which it is traditionally taken to mean. That is to say, it's the possibility of interpretation that space become a substance capable to be transitive and substitute, as an object to seize. But both all could be of course possible to interpret by the existence of Box containing the space (non-being) agreed to Gift (being) in size, furthermore, as Okaura's expression, “It is the spirit of Cosmic Change, - the eternal growth which returns upon itself to produce new forms. It folds and unfolds as do the clouds,” by the existence of a marvelous exemplification as a visible expression of interpretation of Tao.

As a result, Taoism in the East and Froebelian thoughts, Transcendentalism including Unitarianism in the West all would persuade Wright to appreciate that as a common idea in those cardinal points. So, in these reasons, Wright might paradoxically comment those various sources of philosophical influence in insisting his originality related to his ‘Organic’ thoughts. In a word, whether influences of Japan are something valuable, there is no doubt that his invariable insistences on his originality are in fact true.

Yet even today Wright's architectural works could be said not to approach his theoretical contents and its expressional principles, because of the relation with Japanese culture as the great influence of ‘abstraction’ in the 20th century. These limitations are caused by restricting within only Japan or the West. That is, as his wish, the approach of his thoughts and works should be started from the perception that his own architecture should have been made through the unification of the East and the West.

Furthermore, it would be a short way that the investigation of the spiritual base, that is, the more profound philosophical concept which is the core of Wright's thoughts, before the comparative study of the conception as a visible formative phenomenon which varies intricately. And furthermore it should be needed to investigate his architectural ideas and theories thoroughly, so to analyze and systematize his architectural method, finally to use them.



1 E. Said, Orientalism, p.73, <H. Baudet, Paradise on Earth: Some Thoughts on European Images of Non-European Man, trans., Elizabeth Wentholt, 1965, p.xⅲ>.
2 A. Dow, Composition, Boston: J. M. Bowles, 1899, p.113.
3 F. L. Wright, B. Pfeiffer Ed., Frank Lloyd Wright: His Living Voice Selected and with Commentary, Fresno, 1987. p.32-33.
4 F. L. Wright, An Autobiography, Horizon Press, 1977, p.173.
5F. L. Wright, B. Pfeiffer Ed., Op. cit., p.571.
6Ibid., p.44.
7F. L. Wright, P. J. Meech Ed., Truth against the World: Frank Lloyd Wright speak for an Organic Architecture, Wiley, 1987, p.272.
8F. L. Wright, A Testament, New York: Horizon Press, 1957, p.15.
9F. L. Wright, An Autobiography, p.181.
10F. L. Wright, A Testament, p.205-207.
11Edward S. Morse, Japanese Homes and Their Surroundings, Rutland, VT, and Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1972, Preface, p.xxxvii..
12Rovert C. Spencer, Jr., “The Work of Frank Lloyd Wright,” Architectural Review (Boston) 7, no.6 (June, 1900): p.69.
13Ibid., p.69.
14‘Ten Letters from Frank Lloyd Wright to Charles Ashbee’, Architectural History: Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain 13 (1970), p.69.
15F. L. Wright, An Autobiography, p.196-197.
16Ibid., p.193.
17Ibid., p.196.
18F. L. Wright, A Testament, p.220.
19K. Okakura, The Book of Tea, Heibonsha, 1983, p.20.
20F. L. Wright, When Democracy Builds, Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1945, pp.21.
21F. L. Wright, The Living City, New York: Mentor, 1963, p.48.
22F. L. Wright, “The Philosophy and the Deed,” The Natural House, 1954. Pitman and Sons, 1971, pp.218-220.
23P. Carus, 老子道德經 Lao-Tze's Tao-The-King, Chicago: The Open Court Publishing Co. pp.101-2.
24Neil Levine, “Frank Lloyd Wright's Own Houses and His Changing Concept of Representation,” The Nature of Frank Lloyd Wright, Bolon, Nelson, and Seidel Ed., p.66.
25F. L. Wright, An Autobiography, p.221.
26Laotst, 林語堂 trans., 老子的智慧 Wisdom of Laotse, 正中書局, vol.2., p.13.
27Ibid., vol.1., p.391.
28P. Carus, Op. cit., p.9-10.
29Ibid., p.10.
30K. Okakura, Op. cit., p.20.
31F. L. Wright, “The Philosophy and the Deed,” The Natural House, pp.218-220.
32F. L. Wright, B. Pfeiffer Ed., p.32-33.
33K. Okakura, Op. cit., p.20.
34F. L. Wright, A Testament, p.100.
35F. L. Wright, The Future of Architecture, 1953, reprinted ed., (New York, and Scarborough, Ontario: Meridian, 1970), p.23.
36Leeb-Lunberg, Kristina A.M., Friedrich Froebel's Mathematics for the Kindergarten: Philosophy, Program, and Implementation in the United States, New York University, Ph.D., 1972, p.17.
37Ibid., p.19, 30.
38Richard MacCormac, “Froebel's Kindergarten Gifts and the Early Work of Frank Lloyd Wright.” Environment and Planning B1, 1974, p.31.
39Friedrich W. A. Froebel, Die Menschenerziehung [The Education of Man] trans. NY: D. Appleton and Company, 1887, ‘Development of the senses; law of connection of contrasts’, p.45.
40Ibid., ‘Law of spiritual development’, p.15-16.
41Ibid., ‘Universal law; Unity; God.’ p.1-2.
42Ibid., “Method of education; law of inverse inference; misunderstanding.” p.6.
43F. L. Wright, The Natural House, p.220.
44F. L. Wright, When Democracy Builds, p.349.
45Lin Yu Tang, Op. cit., pp.13-14.
46 N. Menocal, Architecture as Nature: The Transcendentalist Idea of Louis Sullivan, Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1981, p.24.

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