What Makes Some Rugs More Beautiful Than Others?
The range of colors and designs available in area rugs is almost endless. Whether your style is traditional, modern, Bohemian, minimalist, French country, Swedish modern or a unique mixture of styles, there is a carpet to fit your taste. You might prefer the formality of the vase carpets or pictorial rugs that tell a story. You might also like rustic carpets with their tribal qualities. However, sometimes, you see a rug that just catches your eye and takes your breath away. You can’t explain it, it just does. So, what separates breathtaking beautiful rugs from just a nice one?
Humans and Artistic Beauty
About 40,000 years ago, humans began making marks on cave walls. Some were symbolic and meant to convey meaning, while others appear to have been simply aesthetic. At that point, humans evolved beyond other animals and the concept of art was born. When you consider the history of rugs, their earliest purpose was utilitarian. A carpet / floor covering provided a way to keep out the cold and damp of the earth or to stop the drafts. Yet, when you look at rugs as art, especially those rugs that are masterpieces, such as the works of Ustad Mohtasham or Haji Jalili, it becomes apparent that Oriental rugs are much more than a floor covering to keep out the cold.
Our exploration of what makes one carpet more beautiful than another requires an exploration of aesthetics in the world of art. Carpet weaving is an art medium the same as painting, sculpture or pottery. As with each of these mediums, it has its advantages and limitations. When you look at a beautiful work of art, you feel a rush of emotions. You may feel awe, fascination, admiration or gratitude. It stirs something in you, and you may even touch something that seems to transcend the human experience.
Understandably, you might have these experiences when viewing an intricate rug made of silk with fine details that took years to produce. However, people also get that same reaction when viewing a primitive series of lines painted on a cave wall with dust from a colorful rock. Besides, one carpet may be more beautiful to one person than to another. However, within this range of personal aesthetic judgments are certain works of art with for which there seems to be a consensus that they are magnificent and transcendent.
Beautiful Rugs – But What Is Beautiful?
Answering the question of what makes a certain carpet stand out as more beautiful than another touches the question of what defines beauty. When something is beautiful, it is something that you feel, but you might not be able to place exactly what makes it that way. You just know it when you see it.
Formal art schools and training are meant to enhance the ability of the student to produce pieces that are more likely to touch the soul, compared to those produced by an untrained street and folk artist. Students at carpet weaving workshops and schools learn from those who can tap into the emotions of the viewer and create pieces that stand out from the others. Yet, certain students will be better at doing this than others, even with the same training and instructors. They just seem to have a raw talent that allows them to create stunningly beautiful designs.
Scientists and artists have tried to unlock the “formula” for creating visually appealing pieces for decades, but one could argue that they are no closer now than they were when they began. When it comes to creating a piece that is “ephemeral,” it seems to be hitting the right combination of color, texture and design. Yet, when it comes to defining those qualities, that is where the waters get muddy.
Into the Lab To Study Beauty
In a recent study by a Manhattan College psychology professor, an experiment was conducted that tried to define how simple shapes interact with the brain to create “beauty.” In this experiment, the participants were presented with a series of four different polygons. They were asked to rate them on a scale of one to seven, according to their level of ugliness or beauty.
The shapes were ones that you would not normally encounter in the real world. One was a random contour, another had mirror-image symmetry, and another had translational symmetry which is where one component can be slid into another. An example of translational symmetry is a honeycomb or repeating geometric pattern where one part of the pattern can be substituted for another. The final shape had rotational symmetry where the shape was turned around a point in either a clockwise or counterclockwise position.
What the experimenter found is that the participants spent more time looking at the polygon that was symmetrical than at any other shape. They preferred the mirror-image shape over all of the others. The experimenter went on to say that this has an evolutionary basis that has to do with choosing the perfect mate based on the symmetry of the body, but there we go back to the cave paintings again.
In addition to preferring symmetry, the participants also seemed to prefer the symmetrical shapes when presented vertically, rather than horizontally or at an angle. When it comes to rugs and carpets, this would make it seem like producing a breathtaking design would be as simple as creating a vertical carpet with a symmetrical design. One can certainly find examples of extraordinary beautiful rugs that use this principle.
One of the most common examples is medallion carpets that use both horizontal and vertical symmetry executed with precision. It also explains why one almost never sees a design that is oriented horizontally or placed at an angle. Many people think this would not be possible on a vertical weaving loom, but it would be possible, you just never see it. For some reason, it just would not seem right aesthetically.
Beauty And The Human Element
Although one can find examples where the symmetry principle is used to produce extraordinary fine rugs, one can also find breathtaking examples of tribal rugs that do not follow the formal rules of color combinations or symmetry. Yet, we find ourselves just as captivated by them. We find ourselves drawn to the whimsical charm and qualities of rustic carpets that are imperfectly executed, that have “flaws” in them or that are simplistic in their motifs. We love those that seem to have a child-like innocence and simplicity. So why are these beautiful rugs just as breathtaking as the formal schooled designs of the carpet production centers?
The answer to this lies in empathy. When we look at these “imperfect” carpets, we see the human who created it. It is a reflection of the elements that connect all of humanity. It is about connecting the humanity of the artist with the humanity of the viewer. We know that human hands touched every fiber of the carpet. We know that human hands picked the plants for the colors and raised the sheep that produced the wool. We see the human behind every element of the design.
The beauty of a great carpet is that you can connect with an artist who no longer walks the earth, but that you know they existed because you can touch and feel their work. You can stand on the same threads where those of past stood and touch some part of their material world. You can come to understand them a little more through the colors and designs that they chose. In doing so, we can come to understand ourselves a little more as well. We are back to why millions of visitors every year visit those simple cave paintings in France. It is the same reason why we must have a carpet produced during the Safavid Dynasty in our collection. It is about human connections and having something that transcends our place in time and history.
Afterthoughts On Beautiful Rugs and Carpets
Now, we have examined two different approaches to unlocking what makes some beautiful rugs stand out and take your breath away more than others do. We explored the scientific approach and the human approach, so which is right? The answer is that both are correct, and neither are correct, at least not all of the time. Some people are drawn to rugs that have perfectly executed symmetry and that have a “schooled” appearance, while others prefer the imperfection and connection that they feel with a primitive tribal carpet. There is no right or wrong answer, and everyone is different. After all, these differences are the real beauty of what makes us human.
As you browse around and appreciate these beautiful carpets as the great works of art that they truly are, you will undoubtedly find more than a few that make you stop and pause. Our goal is to bring you the finest and best carpets in the world. We at Nazmiyal have amassed a collection that includes examples from exquisite antique rugs to more abstract vintage rugs from the mid-20h century. Search our rugs online until you find the one that makes you catch your breath and touches that special place within. You will just know it when you see it.