Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Cloud Lift

We live in a world full of details, swim in an ocean of small things. We define ourselves as either one of those types of people who is detail oriented or is better at managing "the big picture". Architectural detail seesaws its way through history giving us at various times the Temples of Khajuraho in India, dripping with erotic ornamentation, not a square inch of surface left unadorned, and at another time the sleek but numbing vacuity of mid century unadorned modern.

I'm thinking now, though, of one detail, the cloud lift. The Cloud Lift probably originated in China and shows up extensively in Chinese furniture like this lamp table.
That little upward curve in the lower rail is a cloud lift.California bungalow masters Greene and Greene built a significant career and a durable legacy on the shoulders of this humble detail using it, seemingly, at every opportunity. As ubiquitous as the cloud lift may be in the homes of Green and Greene it never seems over used. The simplicity of the cloud lift is stunning. It's as if you took a straight line and just nudged it over a little bit. A little curve in the road.
If the cloud lift was a sound it would barely squeak... if a musical passage it would be a whole tone interval played "pianissimo".

What's the point? You might ask that about any level of ornament but I'm especially curious about this subtle and pervasive little piece. The simple answer is that it takes a plain straight line and makes it prettier or more interesting. I think, though, that there is more going on than meets the eye. A detail, even one as gentle as the cloud lift, engages the attention in a way that demands that we notice where we are. It plucks an aesthetic/emotional string and sets up a resonance between us, internally, and the space around us. If we've forgotten, it reminds us that we actually have an internal life and that we have a say in what we hold in there with our attention. That might seem obvious but I notice how often I walk around with my sphere of attention hovering around my ears like a swarm of mosquitos, oblivious to much of what is appearing before me. How I manage my attention has everything to do with my experience and with how connected I feel to the world around me. So I thank the humble cloud lift for goosing my consciousness out of its self absorption.

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