Notebook, 1993-



The Tangram, the basis of a very old Chinese game, consists of a perfect square divided into seven shapes or tangs: two small triangles, one medium-size triangle, two large triangles, a square, and a rhombus (an oblique-angled equilateral parallelogram). These may be arranged in any way to make any kind of image, design, or pattern. The value of this game, aside from that of good entertainment, is the way it trains the eye to appreciate the special virtues of working within limitations. Paul Rand, the noted designer, in an essay titled "Design and the Play Instinct," [From Education of Vision, Vision & Value Series, ed. G. Kepes (NY: George Braziller, 1965) p. 159.] seems to agree about art games and limited means. "Further," he says, "[the tangram] helps to sharpen the powers of observation through the discovery of resemblances between geometric and natural forms. It helps the student to abstract: to see the triangle, for example, as a face, a tree, an eye, a nose, depending on the context in which the pieces are arranged. Such observation is essential in the study of visual symbols."

The Tangram, like all games, has rules:

(1) All the shapes must be used

(2) There should be no overlapping.

(3) The shapes may touch or stand free of one another.

(4) All spaces and extensions must be exactly as intended before the pieces are glued to a ground.

[Tangram: The Ancient Chinese Shapes Game by Joost Elffers [Penquin Books, 1976].

[Harlan, Calvin. Vision & Invention, An Introduction to Art Fundamentals. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1986.]



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