Alexander's Pattern Language series was/is a great accomplishment. It made the mysteries of good architectural design accessible to everyone. It attempted to liberate home- and town-building from the arrogant priesthood of professional architects and exposed the bankrupt values behind so much of contemporary building. It offered a deeply human alternative much more in tune with the way we really live. Not surprisingly it did very little to change professional practices. [..]
The art history illustrations are lovely (by comparison, most of Alexander's own paintings and drawings look rather second-rate), but the half-baked metaphysical ramblings, dressed up as pseudo-science, are very tedious, overly intellectual, and hardly new. The 2500-year-old Buddhist canon and many other spiritual traditions, like Sufism, Taoism, the Hindu Upanishads or Native American and Aboriginal religious cosmologies, have all expressed this vision far more eloquently and effectively. Alexander gives these venerable traditions barely a nod of acknowledgment, except as visual evidence supporting his own vague and untestable theories - since they make no claims to Scientific Truth, as Alexander does relentlessly, he just ignores or co-opts their immense contributions.
Give Alexander credit for his emphasis on personal feeling, but educating our feeling to make ever more accurate side-by-side discriminations between "degrees of life" can take us only so far as an aesthetic method. Being an artist is more a matter of life-long discipline and *practice* - above all, learning how to cultivate the right state of mind - natural and open, free from fixed concepts, beyond even the most refined intellectual judgments of good and bad, beautiful and ugly. It's not something to rattle on about for page after repetitive page, it's something to do - to discover how to do through doing, through direct experience. In my own work, books like John Daido Loori's Zen and Creativity and Chogyam Trungpa's Dharma Art, or Suzuki Roshi's Not Always So have been much more helpful and to the point. 3:34 PM