Step 0 | Question: What is beauty?
What is beauty? How can it be defined?
It would be obscure question which does not have a clear answer. A topic in my first art theory class in the semester was just about this. The first chapter in Cynthia Freeland’s book, Art Theory: A Very Short Introduction was used there and it also reffered to aesthetic judgement of Kant. It is never simple subject for me since there would be enormous space to argue.
But a couple months later, I happened to think what is called “style” might have its own clear answer.
This idea made me feel a little bit better.
Step 1 | Dutch style aquarium has appeared as unknown territory
Work by Takashi Amano, the founder of the style “Nature aquarium”
When I got an assignment of exploring unknown territory for design, I never thought about such thing. As I need to meet a professional inspiring me to go in his/her context, I was simply looking for someone who I can reach to in the present Netherlands. In my mind, a specific genre of aquarium, Dutch style aquarium, came earlier than an idea of who to choose.
It is because making an aquarium was my hobby which I got interested in a few years ago in Japan. This aquarium is specifically called “Nature aquarium” in which you can create an “aquascape” resembling nature landscape by putting growing aquatic plants, stones, wood and little creatures like tropical fishes or shrimps in your tank.
Unfortunately I had to leave mine there when I moved to Amsterdam but I still also had a little expectation that I can see a different type of aquarium. I had already heard the word of “Dutch style aquarium” even in Japan. Now is it time to explore it here, in the Netherlands?
Step 2 | The Answer from Dutch style aquarium
A work from category of Dutch aquascape in AGA contest 2015
There are two kinds of major styles of aquascaping. One is called Nature aquarium in which I had been interested since before, and the other is called Dutch style aquarium, the oldest style becoming popular during the 1930’s in the Netherlands. The former has become the global mainstream since being established in Japan in early 1990’s, but actually it came after the latter.
To know more about Dutch style I tried to meet one of judges for a category of Dutch aquascape in an international aquascaping contest. Unfortunately it was not realized. Instead, I still could get a lot of information on the internet.
Though its most simple feature to say would be that it does not suggest a use of hardscape material like stones or wood, the most interesting finding for me was its very detailed rules. It is very much specific.
- well grown and defined grouping plants
- a small space between the groups
- clearly different height between the groups
- more than 3 plant species per foot (foreground / middle / background)
- terracing to convey depth
- rich contrasts (made by color variation, leaf height, texture)
- a focal point (emphasized by a red or large plant / by the effective use of the “Rule of Thirds” / only one focal point in tanks 36” or less)
- more than 70% of the floor planted
- imaginary streets / pathways of plant
You would also find that contest’s judgments are always given from a objective viewpoint of how each works fulfills the criteria like above or not.
In my mind, these were immediately connected to the question, how aesthetics can be judged, which was for the theory discussion before. If it would be the guidelines of aesthetic, could it be applied to even other things?
Then, I decided to try to make “beautiful” compositions by appropriating these criteria for totally different things.
Step 3 | Then, what can the criteria fit?
The first cutout with images from “SimCity” app
It was not easy to choose the objects for the composition.
I think I was too much caught by an idea of choosing a specific motif which needs arrangements as well as aquascapes do. What came in my mind was, for example, still life painting, architectures or city planning, and then I actually tried to make some 3D collages with these motives.
After some struggles, however, my idea eventually reached to autonomous graphic compositions without any motif. It would be interesting to use things without any restriction than to focus on a specific objects, since it has more expandability. What is more, I could not imagine the result and it simply made me curious.
How much universal could these criteria become? I wanted to make some studies to examine it.
Step 4 | Interpretation of aquascape language
To go on this experiment, I deliberately applied some points below choosing from many to my practices.
- Contrast by colors
the use of color highlights
black and white, green and red, positive and negative…
- Contrast by textures
fluffy, flat, glossy, mat…
photo prints showing deferent textures
- Contrast by shapes
curvy and strait, circles and angles
same shapes but in different size and height
- Focal point
A focal point provided by the use of above techniques
Application of the rule of thirds
- Imaginary pathways
Emphasis of the perspective
In addition to these rules, I found that aquariums are something in-between 3D and 2D. I mean it is actually three dimensional but its layouts are always considered from a fixed viewpoint. Traditionally tanks show only one front side and the others are totally covered. Also, photography always has an important role to show it. I put a camera based on which I started each layouts.
Step 5 | A result
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During the experiment I’ve already found that the goal of this project would not be to make an finished image but to try a lot of compositions as studies. What kind of results can I get from it? Is it “beautiful”? These kinds of things are not completed in short time but would be just a starting point of pursuits.
Does it still continue?