Are we monks or are we zombies?

Alright, this time I will be serious and write something that may be another step in explaining why this blog works the way it does. My goal is to argue if and why my doings might be consider a voice, one of many, in the much fragmeted chorus of contemporary art. In other words, I will focus on the question what kind of people with bigger names are doing something that resembes to some extend our quotes and pictures and those illustrated essays. But first, feel invited to listen to this hit by The Cure and keep it in the background.


Pictures of you; my favorite book. Pictures of your pretty little pages, pictures of your flashy, cluttered plot. Thankfully I am not the only one being so sentimantal about that. Zak Smith, a talented illustrator, and an ex-porn actor by the way, concived a clearly ingenious idea. He took time to produce an album with a title by no means misleading: “Pictures Showing What Happens on Each Page of Thomas Pynchon’s Novel Gravity’s Rainbow.” And it really is what you might have suspected. Here’s an example. Remember the party at Pirate’s place with bananas and stuff? Then you might remember where this comes from (page 5 as you can see):

Do we, Pynchon fans, love Zak Smith for this deed? Yeah, sure we do. But I’ll need more evidence here, let’s move on to the exhibit B.

On one lucky day of my US trip I reached the MASS MoCA gallery, and apart from an enormous set of walls dedicated to Sol LeWitt, there was… but wait, please, have just a glance of Sol’s work before you continue:

*S. Lewitt – Scribbles

Ok, it’s really dazzling to see it ‘alive’ and large. But the point is that after Sol I could get acquainted with the work of Tom Phillips, who simply took a random victorian novel and turned it into a canvas. He literally painted scenes on every page of the physical book, leaving only a few words from the text, scattered, and thus arriving at something closely related to poetry. His choices have never been governed by luck, on the contrary, he has always moved with a healthy amount of creativity and control. In the end those graphics are often related to the message in the text and to give you a clearer idea of what he did here’s an actually example (I’ve also quoted him on the blog not long ago):

See? It doesn’t always have to be just plain letters from left to right. We are, as Zak Smith and Tom Phillips are trying to show, entitled to move beyond the bounderies of the certain generes. We can vote for aestheticization of the text. It is not a modern invention it is however much easier to design with our PCs at hand, with the Internet connected, and with the digital images flowing fluidly all around. Here, at Refined Quotes, we have our quote-painting combo, which is hopefully working well enough. Meanwhile hundreds of facebook pages are communicating by putting senteneces on photos more or less mechanically (that would be the case with obvious memes). The list of examples is endless. In the 19th century Dante Rossetti has often put (again, literally) poems on his paintings. Other great artists also liked to contribute to the limited editions of the greatest texts – Matisse added sketches to Mallarmé’s poems, while Paradise Lost and the Devine Comedy were livened up mastefully by Gustave Doré.

 #Matisse + Mallarmé

That being said, it was a way of proceeding for special occasions as it was uncommonly expensive and took a lot more effort. Now the conditions are suitable to indulge in this type of actions more freely. Not long ago Pitchfork has started to take care of the visual side of their so-called cover stories, in fact they have mastered this approach. A mouth-watering example –>   <link>    (just keep scrolling).

Some other times the relation discussed here is even more than just an additional, fancy ornament. These are cases when both elements are indispensable. Think of the titles of conceptual pieces, think of Mark Tansey whom we had already touched upon here. The names of his works are often fundamental for our reception and interpretation. One of my favorites is this (notice that the rocks are made of… text!- and only the title explains this pun):

*M. Tansey – Derrida Queries de Man

To sum up; they say that zombies fascinate people becasue they are creatures of the in-between, not fully alive, yet not quite dead. Still these stubborn monsters are as attention-grabbing as any of the popular paradoxes. Probably a similar attraction drives those adventurers who wander into the strange universe where the distinction between textual and visual is blurred. It once happened that monk-hand-illustrated books dwelled in that realm, then at the age of typewriters the picturesque road became somewhat less traveled, more troublesome and less tempting. Now, however, having the Internet as a tool we can rekindle the flame in the lighthouse that leads to this mythical territory. (oh, and watch for the copyright vultures lurking on the sides of the track).

If you decide to stay at home and practise laziness remember this: the difference (between then and now) is that even lack of manual skills has ceased to be a valid excuse. For all it takes is the fundamental, modern ability of e-research and a little trick of copy+paste. This is not to say that your work doesn’t need to make sense in the end nor that anyone deprived of creativity can suceed in the field called art. But if you are ready, I will see you there.

After all, the earth is not that old, and was apparently never
so ready as now to give birth to its full potential.

R. Musil –  The Man Without Qualities

Maybe it won’t look quite like this but still it’s worth a try!

 * H. Matisse – Joy of Life

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