Art, Origami and Education
Art and Origami
Defining art in words
the pursuit of truth; the subjective world of imagery and feeling; the exploration of individual reaction to reveal unique qualities of experience; a final statement standing for all time; giving permanence to an instant, and so on. Apart from the increase in the number of words now needed to define art the emphasis is on the subjective world of the artist rather than on art as a craft or means of representation.
In the latest edition of the Encyclopaedia (1994) a short definition is given as:-
'The use of skills or imagination in the creation of aesthetic objects, environments or experiences that can be shared with others. Fine arts are more concerned with purely aesthetic ends, or in short with the beautiful.'
The great Oxford Dictionary 2nd edition defines art as:-
'Having to do with skill, particularly to subjects of taste, as poetry, music, dancing, drama and the like. Skill displaying itself in the perfection of workmanship, the perfection of execution as an objective in itself. The skilful production of the beautiful in visible forms'. (This later meaning was not used before 1880 according to the dictionary.)
We have so far seen that art may be concerned with skill or craft, with representation or the creation of aesthetic objects, and possibly with the beautiful.
Philosophers from the Greeks onwards have struggled with the meaning of art. The only thing that seems certain is that they disagree with each other. Professor Collingwood  is an authoritative voice in the philosophy of art. We learn from him that art proper is not a craft, it cannot be concerned with representation, magic, or amusement. It is not concerned with beauty as a special attribute. A work of art is said to be a total activity which the person enjoying it apprehends by the use of his imagination. After a long discussion on the meaning of imagination we learn that 'every utterance and every gesture that each of us makes is a work of art'.
Looking at these attempts to define art in words I see nothing that would rule out Origami as an art. Certainly it is a skill or craft, it may well express something of the subjective world of imagery and feeling. It may convey concepts of order, it can represent natural bodies and it can involve the creation of aesthetic objects or even the beautiful. But I am doubtful whether a work of art can be defined in words that are clumsy things at the best. I do not find myself any clearer about how to recognise a work of art when I see it than I was before I studied these definitions. Perhaps the key is to look at the works of art that appear in art galleries.
Defining art by art exhibits
In 1913 Malevich placed a black square on a white ground claiming 'art no longer cares to serve the state and religion; it no longer wishes to illustrate the history of manners, it wants nothing to do with the object as such' In 1917 Marcel Duchamp exhibited a bottle rack as an example of ready made art. He assigned aesthetic value to purely functional objects by a simple mental choice rather than through the exercise of manual skill. Thus art was removed from the task of representation. From these rejections of previous ideas sprang such movements as Minimalism & Conceptual art. Thus we have the abstract severity of Frank Stella's 'Aluminium paint on wood', 'Canvas and Wood' by Barry Flanagan which is precisely a canvas sheet supported by three sticks of wood. 'Away from the flock' by Damien Hurst that consists of a dead sheep suspended in preservative in a glass tank and 'Sae Collé sur toile' by Antoni Tàpies, a paper bag stuck on to painted canvas. Perhaps the best statement of the modern view of art comes from Judd who re-iterating Duchamp said 'if someone says it's art, it's art'!.
What has this little excursion into modern ideas shown us? The old ideas of skill, perception and representation are simply one way of looking at art, they need not be the only way of defining the role of an artist and of art. The modern ideas of Constructivism, Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism and Conceptual art  have liberated our thinking about the meaning of art. I am not saying modern art is good or bad I am simply concerned with the ideas involved.
What does this mean for Origami? If we go by the definitions of art in words or the images of modern art there is nothing to stop an artist using Origami as a medium for expression, or Origami artefacts as an aesthetic declaration. Where Paper-folding meets the needs of an Artist there is no reason why it should not be used.
But it is still true that Origami does not seem to be adopted by artists as a medium of expression. I want now to look more closely at Origami and see if there are inherent constraints that would inhibit its use as a medium for artistic expression.
Origami and its constraints
Further limitations result from the paper. I have only the two surfaces and textures that I start with. The characteristics of the paper, its thinness and flexibility, are all fixed. The process of folding means that I am limited to straight line construction and to connected polygons.
In the purest form of Origami I have only the one entity that gets smaller as my folding progresses. Origami is also an indirect medium with a possibly mechanical and mathematical feel about the process. Compare these constraints with say those of oil on canvas. There is no limit to textures or colours. The medium is direct with as many separate entities as you wish and one step is largely independent of the next.
Folding means straight lines and linked polygons, this type of structure is fundamental to Origami and is therefore well worth further analysis.
The Linked polygon structure of Origami
Look at the second drawing now we have a fold line at 'F' that cuts one angle and one side. Thus the total angle count will be increased by 3, and indeed we have two triangles giving 6 angles. If we make a mountain fold a long the 'F' line we superimpose the larger triangle on the smaller and vice versa if we use a valley fold. A reverse fold (outside) gives us the equivalent of both a mountain and a valley fold. The total angle count stays at 6.This diagram illustrates that pure Origami proceeds by dependent linked polygons and hence imposes a very serious constraint on the artist compared with traditional media.
However the above analysis does suggest a way of analysing models with the possibility of a powerful way of building a data base.
These are the 6 diagrams for folding my simple swan. Look at the third diagram, under the drawing it shows that the folded or raw edges outline two polygons. In the angle analysis this is shown as 3 connected to 3 (by the arrow). The total angles in the drawing is 6 and 2 folds have been completed. After the 5th fold we have 17 angles in total from 5 polygons. The beak has in fact two triangles. I have only drawn the front of the model here but in fact since all the folds are valley or mountain the polygons will be different for the back. In this series of diagrams it will be seen that we have a way of classifying both the sequence of folds as well as of the final model.
Counting the number of angles in each polygon and in the total model suggests a further way of analysing the structures of folding. The following table shows the basic moves of Origami and the number of folds that have to be manipulated to make them. The resulting flat polygon then gives the number of angles in the final shape. Using these basic moves it is then possible to show the number of folds involved and the angles in the final shape for a number of classic bases.
Type of fold No. of folds No. of Angles manipulated to make in final shape
* as an example a Bird Base consists of 6 reverse folds plus 3 valley folds ( Flaps in upright position) = 27.
Applying these ideas to a more complex model I give below the polygram analysis of a dog by Alice Gray. Below the drawing I show the connections between the polygons thus the nose is a triangle = 3 angles connected to the muzzle with 4 angles.
Such a diagram gives a very good picture of the complexities of the final flat shape but would be difficult to handle in a computer. By giving up the connecting links it is possible to simplify the analysis. The simplest statement is 17 areas and 66 angles. This can be improved considerable by using a frequency distribution of the polygons:-
No. of angles. 3 4 5 6
Thus there are 7 triangles in the dog fold. The dog fold could easily be recorded as 7 6 3 1 the number of angles being assumed as 3 upwards. Another more complex possibility is to use the highest angle count path through the model.
This short review of the possibilities of polygon analysis makes clear that an index of models using say a frequency distribution is feasible. However with a shape such as an envelope it may be necessary to develop a simple index of the actual folds.. A linkage to these ideas and my Origami Instruction language  is an interesting possibility. Much work needs to be done.
Extending the repertoire of Origami
By putting the diagram in the form of a Radar map it is possible to draw on a profile of preferred practice. The centre of the diagram represents the purest form of Origami. For example no cutting or no decoration. The end of the line outwards gives the more extreme use of the action. Thus if the length of the paper is increased a great deal we arrive at ribbon. I do not accept cutting and decoration as Origami, to my mind they are alien to the beauty and spirit of our art.
The most important way of extending the scope of Origami while remaining true to its spirit is by 3D. In its simplest and purest form the 3D shapes follow the fold lines this is typical of geometric folding. I am less persuaded about the use of wet folding in my view we are moving towards papier-mâché. I believe the inducement of curves as a consequence of folds is a method truly in the spirit of Origami and should be encouraged.
Ribbon folding has enjoyed something of vogue in the West recently but to me we are moving towards knitting or macramé. Multi- piece folding that does not depend on gluing for assembly is, I suppose, a legitimate technique, but in excess where hundreds of pieces are used to create a model or picture, it seems to be a long way from the heart of our art.
We need to ask whether the increase in richness available by the more legitimate methods overcomes the inherent constraints on an artist's freedom of expression.
I think it is important to note that the enrichment methods still preserve the straight line structure of connected polygons. We are still dependent on paper with its 2 colours and textures. The achievement of a work of art is still an indirect process. It seems to me therefore unlikely that an artist would select Origami as a medium for expression ahead of the more powerful, direct and flexible traditional methods. Of course on occasions it may be that a folded artefact will be exactly what the artist wants, either in its own right or as a selected and designated object.
Artists and Paper-folders
Artists in the main will be in box A with a strong interest in Art but very little in Origami (if they have ever heard of it). Box D are the dedicated Paper folders with little interest in Art. These folk are very strong in the West. The technical folders are mainly in this group for example, Rohm, Elias, Hume, Montroll. They may well have an interest in display but the challenge of Origami as a cognitive business is likely to be dominate. I must stress here that I have selected a few people merely to illustrate my ideas. The fact that I have not mentioned someone does not mean they do not possess the attributes in the highest possible measure.
The special group B has very few members in the West, I suspect that in Japan we would find a great many. These are people who are artists as well as paper folders. Eric Kenneway  was both an artist and a paper folder. He attempted to draw in Origami using the 2 colour contrasts and the raw or folded edges. As far as I know his work is unique. Perhaps most striking of all is the work of Jean-Claude Correia  here is an artist who understands art and Paper-folding and brings them together in a dramatic way. I must also mention Paulo Barreto who is an artist through and through but also a great folder, his abstract patterns will compare easily with any of the more established artists. Others I should mention are Vincent Floderer and David Brill. David is particularly interesting in the he has exhibited paintings at the Royal Academy in England and is also a brilliant creative folder. His artistic sensibility is clearly demonstrated in his final models but he has never used Origami in Art proper. Paul Jackson is an artist and designer who has combined his great skills in Paper-folding with art, he has opened up the world of abstract shapes for many people with his teaching of curve induced folding.
In Japan I must pay homage to the great master Akira Yoshizawa who combines immense skill as a folder with extraordinary aesthetic sensibility.
What kind of people are folders?
The cognitive dimension was concerned with puzzles, mathematics, etc. the artistic dimension with design, art, music and so on. Men showed a bias towards the cognitive rather than the artistic with women on average scoring highly on the artistic and less on the cognitive. Of course many folders score highly on both dimensions. It will be seen that this result lines up quite well with my previous diagram of folders and artists. Japan seems to have a remarkable number of folders who have a high cognitive drive as well as deep artistic sensibility.
Origami as a performance art
So we need to look at the performance as well as the final result if we are to truly examine Origami art. The sequence of hand movements when folding can be choreographed to form a miniature ballet. Obviously an eloquent series of moves is required to give full scope to the potential artistry. The little theatre performances of Marieke de Hoop and the superb artistry of master Akira Yoshizawa come closest to what I have in mind.
Origami as a Total art
The Great Art of Origami
Art and Education
'The systematic instruction, schooling or training given to the young in preparation for the work of life, (and by extension to adults)
What then, if any, is the connection between art and education? Some remarkable work recently published suggests that the much maligned ideas of beauty may have a place. Dr. Rauscher and Professor Shaw  of the University of California found that student brainwaves when they played chess strongly resembled musical patterns. The students were then asked to undertake tasks involving abstract reasoning after listening to some early Mozart music. Students who listened to the music consistently turned in a higher performance on the tasks than students who did not. The test seemed to show that some music can assist with the exercise of higher order brain functions including chess, mathematics and learning a language. The sense of beauty in the music of Mozart may well have be due in part to the fact that the patterns are related to the brain's activity when dealing with the higher order functions. If this is true for music then surely it must also be true for that most developed and important of our senses that of sight. The work of Gustav Flechner  tended to support the idea that certain visual relationships are attractive to us in particular the so called golden section or ratio. The Greeks and later many artists and architects used such ratios in their work to invoke mental responses. The architect Corbusier is a recent and famous example.
I think it is likely that the strong visual attraction in the connected polygons of Origami may be due to underlying relationships that are found attractive in that they echo brain patterns. The use of Origami by advertisers is an interesting commentary on these ideas. It is also likely that hand movements themselves can evoke a similar reaction. Thus it is possible that the connection between beauty (Mozart's music) and cognitive ability may well be found in Paper-folding. Much work needs to be done in this area, particularly in studying the attractiveness or otherwise of joined polygon structures.
Origami and Education
The use of the hands in this way is important in development of the brains' perceptions . We learn about the world by touch and its co-ordination with seeing and the other senses. There is immense scope for creativity in Origami. It is little wonder that Froebel and his disciples included Paper-folding in their gifts [30,32]. These ideas were taken up in both Europe and Japan in the Kindergartens. It is a tragedy that it has largely fallen into disuse in Europe at least.
To get the final model children must follow directions more or less exactly, an excellent introduction to discipline. Origami is appealing and highly motivating in its own right, yet on the back of folding can be carried a wide range of associated learning, language , diagrams, geometry, mathematical ideas, animals and birds, countries and so on. Folding is a simple direct but immensely rich activity. Paper is cheap and easy to obtain, no other tools or expensive kits are needed. Origami offers a non threatening way of developing social skills. There are no ethnic or language barriers.
A great deal of work needs to be done to encourage teachers to again make use of Paper-folding. I hope future COET's will address this problem.
1 Art Treasures of the World Hamlyn 1968