Click on photos to enlarge.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Let There Be Light...

The nearly hypnotic lava lamp from the 1970s.
Ask yourself, "Where would art be without light?" The "duh" answer would be, "in the dark." Wouldn't we all. Though we seldom think about it, even those who deal with lights daily in producing art, but the two are really quite "joined at the hip," with light being the most important of all art elements. Genesis 1: 3 in the Bible tells us "And God said, Let there be light: and there was light." The next verse goes on to say He fully approved of what he saw. Light, then, is electromagnetic radiation striking the eyes, leading to the stimulation of the optic nerve, which leads to the brain...whether God's or our own. Of course God's own light, and our most common source of light, is the sun (thermonuclear light). As the history of light developed (below) man discovered thermal light (the torch and/or bonfire) followed by the much more portable and far less dangerous lamp. Everything since then, oil, kerosene, gas, electric, etc. has just been a matter of refinements involving economy, safety, intensity, and convenience.

Copyright, Jim Lane
Light: God made it, man dimmed it and spread it.
A 19th-century oil lamp.
Starting with the highly decorated Hebrew clay lamp (above, right), man, in his ingenuity and eternal search for physical beauty, has, for centuries, been designing light, both insofar as its use and effects, as well as in its manner of delivery. Starting with olive oil, which is not at all very flammable, then various other animal and vegetable oil derivatives, such "artificial" artificial lighting has enhanced mankind's existence in virtually every way possible. Starting with items such as the Victorian oil lamp (left) followed by various incarnations fueled by natural gas (below), leading eventually to the illogical mixture of electrical heat, wax, and water of the 1970s lava lamp (top) there has long been a design element associated with such devices intended to enhance their beauty and practicality.

Gas Lamp, Chancery Lane, London
During the 19th-century, designers had as much fun 
designing outdoor lamppost as the lights themselves.
During the latter half of the 19th-century, outdoor gas lighting came to major cities around the world. Designers had a high old time striving to outdo each other, not just with their lights, but the lampposts as well (right). However, it's only been since the advent of the 20th-century and the mod-ern use of electricity for lighting that the creative juices of light fixture designers have really been unleashed. Today, with the right ingenuity and he right amount of money, virt-ually anything is possible as to scale, intensity, movement, color, sequence, source, and control. With the advent of lasers and computer control-led pyrotechnics, never before has light itself been such a popular and exciting art form. Even antique styles involving gas, and oils can now be updated to the convenience and economy of electricity as seen no where else better than our own White House East Room chandeliers (below).

Tastes change; sometimes for the better, sometimes not
The north portico lantern is one of the
oldest White House light fixtures.
During the 1902 renovation of the White House interior, President Theodore Roos-evelt and the architects McKim, Mead & White commissioned the noted New York firm, Edward F. Caldwell & Co. to provide lighting fixtures. In the East Room were hung three massive electric chandeliers made of cut glass and gilded brass by Christoph Palme & Co., Parchen, Bohemia (Austria-Hungary). However, only a year later the chandeliers were taken down and the diameter of the lower portion reduced in size. They were shortened and modified again during the Truman Renovation (1948-1952). Each chandelier currently consists of about 6000 pieces of glass weighing about 1200 lbs. (the East Room ceiling was renovated too). As many a collector has discovered, antiques are fun to look at but far less so to live with.

Even "cut" glass today very likely isn't.
It's only a light fixture, if it looks the same
hanging from the ceiling, why worry about
close inspection.
Many artist/designers today choose
fiber optics as their medium of choice
for interior lighting.

In shopping for designer lights and lamps today, a little "bling" goes a long way, especially insofar as the wallet is concerned. The ones pictured below emphasize simplicity over expensive hardware and crystal. Designers have now come to realize that Lucite can be molded and polished to look like cut glass with little loss in the way of appearance but with a great deal of loss in cost and weight. Although most buyers don't realize it, there is a great deal of difference in the quality of light rendered by the various sources of lights today far more than in the past. Still they boil down to warm light and cool light as illustrated in the "eyes" (below) The upper set is not only lighter but cooler than the "warm" set below them. As a general rule, most thermal light sources are "warm" while florescent and LED lights, cool to the touch, are also cool as to color value too.

Cool eyes (top) and warm eyes (bottom). light "color" makes far more differences to painters and photographers than to most buyers of lighting devices.
Aspers Casino at Westfield Stratford City in east London. One of the most spectacular
single unity of lighting I encountered in researching this post.


No comments:

Post a Comment