The Ornamental Urge (Environment Enrichment)

  • Hans Prinzhorn


In discussing the origins of art, philosophers, psychologists, and art historians have often cited a need for ornamentation; it seemed to offer an especially convincing explanation when biological interpretations of life gained increasing popularity during the nineteenth century. We can demonstrate, using basic psychological insights carefully, that the need for ornamentation dominates the daily and, even more, the religious life of primitive peoples far more intensively than that of civilized peoples. We can also name numerous animal phenomena and behavioral traits which, given a little simple anthropomorphosis, can be attributed to this need. Inasmuch as “ornamentation” in animals is limited mostly to the males and develops its full splendor during the mating season, some observers consider the facts sufficient to support an evolutionary interpretation of ornamentation – one that is certainly not altogether incorrect. We must recognize, of course, that the splendid preening of the male animal is closely related to sexuality, and we would certainly not call it “ornamentation.” The animal does not decorate itself. Its splendid ornamentation becomes a part of it without its doing or knowledge. Something happens to it in the course of life of which it is the object. When we see primitives decorate themselves it occurs to us that they do it mainly to resemble animals, whether they use feathers, colorful paints, or masks. But no matter how their behavior may resemble that of animals, the distinction is vast and crucial because it involves the meaning of the word “ornamentation;” viz., an intentional emphasis is given an object, whether it be a man or an inert thing, by an enriching addition. Whether we seek the psychological motivation in personal affection, magical significance, the wish to affect others, etc., visually the meaning will always be the distinction of what is decorated by means of an ornament, although in the context of actual life this meaning will probably always be overshadowed by particular meanings inherent in the occasion, as when people paint themselves for war, funerals, puberty rites, weddings, the exorcism of demons, or simply to distinguish friend from foe.


Environment Enrichment Mating Season Religious Life Colorful Paint Personal Affection 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1972

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hans Prinzhorn

There are no affiliations available

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