Place, Space and Design Book Club Berlin | In Praise of Shadows

There’s an interesting book club in Berlin that focuses on art, design and architecture. The book club is fairly recent and the members are from various different backgrounds: architects, various designers, illustrators, art history and some who do not seem to have a connection to the design nor art world but have a native sensitivity to the philosophy of aesthetics.

Last week, we looked at a book that is dear to me, In Praise of Shadows by Junishirō Tanizaki. For those that follow my work with The Dark Art, you’re probably aware of how this particular essay has influenced my views on this topic.

In Praise of Shadows has been a reference for The Dark Art. Many of the important issues from the darkness debate revolve around concepts that are close interpretations of this book: the concept of aesthetics and beauty being born from shadow and mystery; the importance of balance in one’s life and how the inner self extends to the built environment, where shadow is a fundamental counter balance to light; and finally the concept of refuge and safety that we feel when comforted by shadow and how these feelings are the perfect ingredients for deep thought and inner creativity.

To my surprise, the book club did not feel this to be a great book. The club compared Junishiro’s essay to ramblings of an old man that strayed from one topic to another. This is not to say that they did not find the book interesting but simply that for each new topic or shadow reference, there was a 50% hit and miss chance it being inspirational.

To a certain extent, the book club is right and to another extent, they are not. Within Junichiro’s ramblings are visionary elements of design and aesthetics that go beyond anything else that was written at the time. In Praise of shadows is an ode to mindfulness where beauty becomes a core element of life and an appreciation of beauty is found hidden within the understated nuances of shadow.

So, to help cherry pick the ramblings, here are my favourite quotes:

“The quality that we call beauty, however, must always grow from the realities of life…”

“…we Orientals tend to seek our satisfactions in whatever surroundings we happened to find ourselves, to content ourselves with things as they are… If light is scarce then light is scarce; we will immerse ourselves in the darkness and there discover its own particular beauty.”

Consumerism and Excess
“The progressive Westerner is determined always to better his lot. From candle to oil lamp, oil lamp to gaslight, gaslight to electric light – his quest for a brighter light never ceases, he spares no pains to eradicate even the minutest shadow.”

“A room should be brighter in Winter, but dimmer in Summer… But people will light the lights, then switch on an electric fan to combat the heat. The very thought annoys me.”

Place, Space and Design Book Club Berlin

In Praise of Shadows

The Dark Art

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