Thursday, 30 July 2015

Viewpoints 2: classification decisions

I was a little concerned with the subject matter of yesterday's post because I had just located, purchased and downloaded a PhD thesis I had been looking for for quite a while. It is David Richard Castriota's
Continuity and Innovation in Celtic and Mediterranean Ornament. A Grammatical-syntactic Analysis of the Processes of
Reception and Transformation in the Decorative Arts of Antiquity, 1981 thesis submitted to Columbia University, published by University Microfilms International and available through ProQuest.

With my study of Coriosolite dies I had decided, in 1985, to break up the design motifs into design elements and I was not sure how Castriota dealt with motifs in his thesis. It turns out that I did not need to be concerned as in his abstract he says:

"The extension of the concept of grammar in language to the study of the visual medium of ornament must span a large formal gap. Consequently this approach requires relatively objective and consistent bases or criteria if it is to prove useful. The more familiar art historical concept of the motif is a valid one, but it is a flexible term which applies to many art forms of varied configuration, type and complexity. As such the term "motif" is not sufficiently specific or precise to enable a consistent basis for formal analysis on the analogy of grammar. In addition, many ornamental forms characterized as motifs are clearly made up of smaller components. Therefore it is necessary to utilize a more graphic and geometrical method of pattern recognition to distinguish and characterize the fundamental formal components of ornament."
Once I had obtained my elements from the motifs my interests were, first, to use changes in the designs to determine a more focused chronology than was possible before using the usual sort of coin classification system which looks only at a few features and second, to reconstitute meaning from the motifs and elements. Apart from identifying specific design elements and trying to establish their original meanings, I had no interest in classifying the elements any further. Castriota, however, must do so in order to fulfill his goals which was how Celtic art developed and evolved. So he explains (also part of the abstract):

"The study of the Celtic transformations of Southern ornament requires a more objective and consistent means of formal analysis. Patterns are intelligible as groupings of basic two-dimensional components or elements. These may be arranged with an areally discrete structure as proximate, tangent, or conterminous forms, and also as a really continuous series, connected by juncture. These arrangements may be characterized more precisely on the analogy of the syntactic structure of words in language, as paratactic and hypotactic connections. Larger aggregates of elements consist of serial arrangements, as strings , and more elaborate structures, perimetral and complex aggregates, and still more elaborate closed string aggregates, network strings, and valenced mass compositions."
A classification system is not an anatomy of related groups of objects but a system applied to a group of objects for a specific application and the value of any classification system is dependent on how well the system is able to meet the goals of said system. Classifications, then, are to a degree subjective because the researcher determines the qualities that are taken into consideration.

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