seven. ten.
December 1, 2002 06:09 PM

There's a concept in Noh theatre that can be reduced to "inside seven, outside ten" and "inside ten, outside seven" (to really generally paraphrase Noh-treatise-writer Zeami).

The idea Zeami talks about is that an experienced Noh performer's external expression will be subtle, as if he felt ten (or, if he were in Spinal Tap, eleven) but expressed seven. By contrast, the young performer who hasn't established the internal performance should compensate by expressing externally more than he feels. It's not quite as as simple as that, of course; Zeami takes hundreds more words of conviction and detail to say this.

What is important to me, though, is not merely the message to the actor, but the application of this concept to art in general. I've been thinking about it in relation to graphic design, particularly design for the web, where the design doesn't stand by itself.

Good design follows and helps shape the function and content of a site (form follows function, yes, but function can also follow form). So, for a site about words and content, good graphics will subtly express the content - will underline a theme. But - it doesn't necessarily follow that the elaborate, page-filling images created by some [typically quite young, which is also Zeami-appropriate] designers are bad design. Rather, in those cases, the images are speaking the themes of their sites when the content isn't there.

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