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Re: esthetics


John Montgomery, offering another cautionary tale for our consideration,
said:

<< I have a lot of dislikes but I tolerate most of them. I am not fond of
some
 of the very ruffled forms and streaky colors do not agree with me very well
 but I can go along with things like that and grow them myself and perhaps
 even come to like them but they do not fundamentally change the flower
... It is still recognizable as an iris.....  I suppose that in my mind I
have some informal golden rule of  what a great iris should be. The
difficulty lies more in articulating that  rule than it is to define it by
exclusion....  By the way, what I least like about the Space Agers is the
name. But then  here, most of the exaggerated appendages seem to be quite
minimal. They are  okay.... Cheers and the best of good wishes to all
hybridizers who strive for simple elegance on sturdy plants.

John has, I believe, articulated a very real aesthetic question. He is
talking about potential directions in hybridizing which he feels will produce
blooms which will violate the essential nature of the flower, that formal
quality which a philosopher would call its "quiddity"-- the special
attributes that make the thing Itself. In this case, that which makes the
flower an iris, or defines its abstract "irisness". John makes an impassioned
plea for what he perceives to be an imperiled quiddity. He should do so; this
is a noble position.

The difficulty does exist in articulating what the quiddity of Iris is, and
thus what contributes to it, detracts from it, or, possibly, redefines it.
Opinions will surely vary, and I am confident that  there will always be a
lot of them. It is interesting that someone else--I think it was Harry
Randall--defined this in terms of the trinitarian form of the flower. Now,
thinking momentarily of the flower alone, and putting aside questions of
garden-worthiness, politics,  or the exegencies of commerce, I think the
selection process on the part of the hybridizer is a personal one and
fundamentally an aesthetic one. In graduate school I was given an exam
consisting of one question: "With the passage of time do artistic forms
become simpler, or more complex? Discuss." There are many answers. It is
patent, however, that although what is selected, or created, ultimately
reflects a sensibility, aesthetic excellence tends to transcend definitions,
 announce itself uniquely, and do so on its own terms. These terms often
involve identification and celebration of a quiddity.

Having made myself obscure, I now want to say something sophomoric about this
business of garden-worthiness of newer hybrids and about the criteria judges
use to evaluate them. The American Iris Society is a floral society and these
types of societies have, since their inception in the seventeenth century,
had a particular range of concerns which are not necessarily those of the
general gardener. Floral societies have traditionally supported pushing the
limits of hybridization of the cherished flower and and growing extravagant
show quality blooms for exhibition, hence the focus on the Newest, often
assumed to be the Best. The question of whether a new and bizzare auricula
primula-or a fantastic dinnerplate dahlia- or a purple particolored
rose--each reflecting the most extreme manipulation of the potential of the
gene pool, is a good garden subject, either from the standpoints of being a
handsome plant when not in bloom and looking good with other stuff, or from
ease of culture, has  traditionally not been the major focus of these
societies. As the iris evolves, we are presented with highly rarified plants
which may or may not have increased garden-worthiness. As irisarians, we must
do our own selection and choose what seems to meet our needs, whether for
exhibition blooms, or garden plants, and celebrate those few which may meet
both criteria. Whether the AIS system gives adequate attention to the issue
of garden-worthiness in its awards process is one which we have considered in
the past, and Tom invites us to discuss it anew. It may well be that the real
issue is that the articulated focus and concerns of many irisarians are
changing, and that the Society should give additional attention to those
aspects of its mission statement which involve supporting horticulture in the
broadest sense of the word. 

Of course, to do so it may need all the genetic material it can muster.

Anner Whitehead, Richmond, VA (speaking)
Henry Hall  henryanner@aol.com


 
 





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