English 430: Literature & the Visual Arts

December 17, 2009

A Throw of the Dice…

Filed under: Uncategorized — jeremiahm @ 3:02 am

Johanna Drucker, in her analysis of Mallarmé’s seminal avant-garde poem “un Coupe de Dés,” argues that the poet paradoxically attacks the visual style of the poem in order to get beyond what Mallarmé considered our tendency to get buried under textual form and into something more purer and metaphysical which is Mallarmé’s contention of what poetry attempts or should attempt to do.   To me this is a bit like looking at binary opposites which often appear in poetry but more specifically in prose fiction both in short and longer forms.  Of course when we talk about binary opposition as literary critics we are referring more to thematic elements and not generally to structure, although I’m sure someone can bring in a fair argument that this isn’t always the case.   The point here is that when we look at the opposites of an issue we get a deeper understanding of the big picture than if we look at say one part or another, or even look at the middle of a situation, if such a thing is even possible.

What is nothing more than a sheer stroke of brilliance with Mallarmé’s work is that he is taking the poem out of the staid constrictive lines and stanzas and breaking up visually, not just to present them as a more visceral, aggressive aesthetic (which art should always strive to do anyway) which shakes us out of our comfort zone, but he goes a step beyond by making us consider the implication that textual confinement present, because he is not attacking convention, he is attacking the very method by which poetry is presented.  I am not sure if anything more revolutionary has been presented since someone first thought it might be wise to take pen to paper and attempt to convert oral forms of poetry in order to present it visually.

Mallarmé’s point is that poetry has physical confining limits which are also visual, that all convention; line stanza, punctuation etc., are meant to portray or duplicate–present a facsimile of the oral nature of the poem but overlook the fact that the poem has visual affect as well, which is neglected and which is by that nature confining.

I relate this to when I was a child and was transitioning from books that were primarily picture based with some text at the bottom, to books that had very few illustrations and involved chapters.  Every chapter was anchored to an image, or if I was lucky two that hinted at what that chapter would be about and aided the imagination, giving more life to the characters, etc.  I remember greedily jumping ahead, despite my best efforts of restraining myself from doing so, when I was nearing the end of one chapter (or if the chapter was particularly long, doing this somewhere about the middle or so) to see what the illustration for the next chapter would look like.  I always rewarded myself, before starting the next chapter, by scanning that chapter’s contents for its trove of images.   I think this behaviour to be perfectly natural, and my reason for bringing this up as it relates to my overall point is that we are very much a visual animal and that an image quickly conveys a lot more information than text does (as we have read, studied and argued up to this point on this blog and in our class).  So images are primary and text is a secondary use of that as we must decode the words first in context individual, then in the form of a sentence and finally those thoughts that those sentences convey are then pieced together in our minds as descriptions of a visual image.  The advantage of text is that it can accurately portray abstract thoughts that images cannot clearly define.

So Mallarmé decided it was time to put those two together and we can more easily convey very complex themes and that is the “purity” to which he refers.

When Drucker says it is a paradox that Mallarmé wants to get beyond the textual confines of poetry by manipulating that very element of it, she is only on the surface correct.  What the poet wants to do is not do away with the form but use it to its full potential.  This is where Drucker’s analysis of how text has been changed from its basic visually bland and predictable repetitive format into one of balanced spatial format (such as in newspapers) that is more engaging.  It is natural that poetry should after this take a visual form and attempt to use it in a much more “holistic” way.

My question is, where does the form go from here?  Has poetry done anything new in the past several decades, or have we come to an end of the form?  Does any particular art form truly end?   At the beginning of the semester I snidely wrote on the blackboard, “PRINT IS DEAD.  WELCOME TO THE NEW MEDIA.”  After a semester long immersing myself in the phenomena of printed text, and even writing two long research papers on the subject, I really haven’t found any reason to believe that there is still any innovation today in printed media, but I am more than willing to be proven wrong.


Can anyone tell me “What It Is?”

Filed under: Uncategorized — jeremiahm @ 2:41 am

While obviously a labour of love, Lynda Barry’s What It Is seemed to me paradoxically both painstakingly produced and at the same time, thrown together.  The book appears to defy convention.  Is it a comic?  A scrapbook?  Is it autobiography?  Is it a work book?  Is it a how-to manual?  After reading through the text and images of the 150+ pages, my conclusion is that it is an eclectic and humorous at times emotionally touching and for the writer I’m sure, very cathartic, visually enticing, and daring piece that seems to lose steam about half way through.

Here is my take on the reasons this book was published, which by the way isn’t remotely researched, nor do I present it as truth but mere conjecture and perhaps with a sense perplexity about the reasons why this book was made the way it was: the publisher, Drawn and Quarterly, commissioned the self-styled painter, cartoonist, writer, illustrator, playwright, editor, commentator and teacher Lynda Barry to do a book for them, maybe something autobiographical.  So Barry endeavours to create an artistic presentation (or representation) of self, using collage and her illustrations to anchor the text.  About half-way through her narrative, she stumbles.  Maybe she gets bored with it, maybe she doesn’t feel her life beyond high school is interesting enough, maybe there are parts of the story she just doesn’t want to tell.  Maybe she had only intended to write about her childhood and how she came to be an artist but that wasn’t taking up enough pages.  Who knows?  What does happen is that 1/3 of the book becomes not only an homage to her former writing teacher, but also an instructional workbook on that method.

While some may have found this aspect perhaps useful or creative, I found it neither.  I thought it seemed sloppy and tacked on.  I am not here criticising the method that Barry presents, nor even how she presents it (which at times I admit were very clever) and the the methods appeared useful and rigorous but probably intended for amateurs–either that or there was some metaphysicality involved that I am not really willing to discuss at this point without examining it further.  My problem with this section is that it just didn’t fit with the greater part of the text, I mean the story–which to me was the heart of the book, although it did tie in to what I am choosing to call the “thesis” of the book, but more on that later.  It was as if the author wanted to talk about this teacher that was a great influence on her writing, but found the only way she could present her ideas was through the exercises.

Another reason why I find the book so unbalanced is that it frequently jumps from comic to collage in spurts of say 3 to 5 pages.  The tone is even throughout, and the collages are interesting but get repetitive and boring after a while and I had to keep preventing myself from skipping through them to get back to the “comics” section which I found more interesting and compelling.  The reason I didn’t skip over the collage parts, even after I found them to get repetitive, had as much to do with my obsessive nature of reading every bit of any book I start reading as uit had to do with the fact that the words and images in the collage did pertain directly to the theme of the story, and I would often enough find something very clever in the collage–again just enough to keep me from going hrmm, and skipping ahead.  To me, when these collages stopped adding anything new to the story or theme and began to look as if they were obsessive and just taking up space, I began to feel the book was made to be longer than it should.  Maybe Barry couldn’t bare to cut out any of those collages which she obviously worked so hard on, I couldn’t say.

One thing that the story leads to is this idea that writing is organic and that if there is a story, it need not be thought out ahead of time but just needs to flow out uninterrupted.  Barry, here adapting the method of the aforementioned teacher, uses the metaphor of an image to initiate story.  What she means is a “metal image,” some sort of memory that a story can  evolve from, like imagining a photographic image and being able to rotate it and look at it from different angles, three dimensionally.  This is a fascinating concept, especially for one who has been studying the relationship of image and text for a semester.  The idea that one can start with an image, just a mental image (usually attached to or altogether embodying some kind of memory) and explore that image as if one was inside of it and could expand their view of it in all directions and then create a story about it is something still pretty new and not fully explored ontologically.  As I said it is somewhat metaphysical and I think that if it hasn’t been done yet, art theorists need to delve into this.

So in short, I enjoyed much of the book, particularly the great illustrations and storytelling, the innovative use of collage and idea of images initiating text, Barry’s “thesis” as  I called it.  I didn’t really enjoy the over-long workbook section, was not at all inclined to try it out for more than a moment (and after reading through all of the tedious-looking exercises was even less likely to do so), and although I thought the collages were interesting and put to good use, they became far to repetitive and were extremely overused.  Also, I felt that the story was incomplete.  She leaves us off with an unfinished narrative, somewhere in art school getting very serious about her work but no “happy ending”, or how she got from there, to where she is today.  What about the husband or lover or friend that appears early in the book?  How does she first get published or her work exhibited, etc?  Does she fall in love and get married and have kids, or lots of dogs?  I felt we were left hanging, and that she wasn’t going to give us the inspiration as artists and writers trying to get value from her book (except for the lesson-plan she springs on us towards the end).  The story is incomplete and the book feels like it rails off and dithers.  It ends unceremoniously with a few pages of her notes, showing how she applied the method she just prescribed in writing the book.  Again this is intersting, but it’s not an ending.  As a reader I felt abandoned, and I felt the 150-or so pages could have been put to better use.


December 16, 2009

It is… “What It Is”…

Filed under: Uncategorized — mojde @ 1:15 am

Right Now, Write now” (146)… write about Lynda Barry.

She “has worked as a

  • Painter
  • Cartoonist
  • Writer
  • Illustrator
  • Playwright
  • Editor
  • Teacher
  • and found they are very much alike”, has created and innovated a different form of an artist’s book a book.

Go, keep going! (use another piece of paper if you wish to) “…

This book is a

  • Collage
  • Journal
  • Comic
  • Picture Book
  • Notebook
  • Q and A
  • Instruction
  • Collection
  • Word Book
  • Hybrid
  • Story?
  • Mass produced Artist’s Book
  • or all of them, and… you can call it anything, you can read through it anyway you want, and you can go back and forth and delve into the book. I promise if you read this book several times, each time you would find something new, each time you would find something you haven’t seen or read before. This is not a book you can just glance through and assume you know “What It Is”. This is a book you would read everyday and you would still  not know “What it is”! Do you wish you could? “What do you think it would be like” (85) to know everything?

Start to wrap up!”…

What else can I say? I’m thinking…, but “can/does thinking exist without images” (68)? “Thinking is A Smelter” (68). So…

What else would I say?

OK, conclude“…

It Is…”What It Is”!

Finish!” (147)

December 15, 2009

Artist’s Books

Filed under: Uncategorized — mojde @ 11:45 pm

” It’s easy enough to state that an artist’s book is a book created as an original work of art, rather than a reproduction of a preexisting work” (2) as Johanna Drucker explains in The Century of Artist’s Books, but the definition leads her to the  questions about “originality”, uniqueness, the maker, or whether the artist is the person who has the idea or people who were involved in the other aspects of the productions, and many other questions.  Also she questions about the form of the book.

We’ve been seeing and experiencing Artist’s Books for a few weeks now. We studied Keith Smith and we got our hands on books in Oviatt Library’s archive and Getty Research Institute. We have many old hand-written books and that was basically the main way writers were making their books, but as we see and Drucker states, “the artist’s book has become a developed artform in 20th century” (1). So we see a new form and style of books by Julie Chen, and those of Edward Ruscha; Artists who do books and Artists who make “pieces”.

I totally agree with what Drucker says that “This is a field in which there are underground, informal, or personal networks which allow growth to surface in a new environment, or moment, or through a chance encounter with a work, or an artist”(11).  I think the artist who is making the book is growing in a new environment and the person who is viewing or ‘reading’ the book is growing in a new environment and they both grow and experience in a new moment. “This is also a field in which there are always inventors and numerous mini-genealogies and clusters, but a field which bellies the linear notion of a history with a single point of origin” (11). I would relate what is said here to the handmade books made by students, which I assume it was probably mostly their first experiences, such as myself. However, I would say they were definitely inventors of their kind by creating the forms of books that was probably unimaginable by general understanding of a traditional book form.

I really like what it is…

Filed under: Uncategorized — psr10308 @ 10:10 pm

Reading What It Is: The Formless Thing Which Gives Things Form Inside Outside What is an Image? Do You Wish You Could Write Dramatically Illustrated with More Than Color Pictures by Lynda Barry I found to be an inspirational experience. This book is like a course in creativity. It addresses the idea of insecurities over “talent” and identifies it as stifling to the creative process. Barry’s approach to artistic expression is attractive to me because of its absence of pretentiousness. It seems to identify art as a process of creativity and practice rather than the manifestation of pure talent. The first part of the book describes Barry’s beginning interest in art and the desire to express herself artistically. She discusses the insecurities that discouraged her from artistic expression, and this leads to a period of lapse in her artistic output. The second part of the book represents something like the reclamation of her own artistic integrity or a sense of security with her own expressive artistic form. This is the part of the book that reads like an art and creative writing class. There are several pages that are set up like worksheets designed to develop and strengthen the creative process. She refers to it as the “Adjustable Creativity Book,” a “Writing Kit Complete! Easy-to-use! No Experience Needed!” I appreciate her encouraging sentiments, and I like her welcoming statement, “Welcome to writing the unthinkable!”  This is followed by exercises intended to unlock creative potential that is suppressed by inhibitions.  Also, I like that Barry treats artistic expression as a source of personal enrichment, and that the idea of commercial success is not the focal point in this artistic endeavor that seeks to share with others its inspiration for artistic expression.

The form of What It Is is a unique combination of elements we have encountered in class. It is similar to an art book in look and feel despite the fact that its mass produced. It juxtaposed text and image and it seems to treat visual art and creative writing as inseparable or at least intrinsically relative to one another. There are instances when What It Is looks similar to Blake’s interweaving of nature imagery and written words. It also looks like Blake’s work in that the writing looks handwritten, and the images look like drawings produced by hand. As I try to draw more similarities to other 430 course readings, I’m left struck by the uniqueness of What It Is. I’m not using the word lightly. The saying goes—there’s nothing new under the sun—and the elements of What It Is can be categorized as collage, art, poetry, comic book, etc; nevertheless, it is a one-of-a-kind product of expression. It seems to me to be an exemplary culmination of the concepts and ideas we have covered in our class throughout the semester.  It is a unique example of the possible interplay between visual art and literature.

Here’s “What It Is”

Filed under: Uncategorized — mpoverly @ 7:37 pm

What it is by Linda Berry

What it is, is a fantastic trip to the imagination where Linda Berry takes you easily with her truly festive and messy and perfect images but more importantly with her provoking questions. This book is a guide back to your childhood, an extraordinarily original breathtaking book that has the power to reconnect any willing person to explore and own her own perfect creativity. Berry instructs you on how to get out of your own way and write by getting mostly back to PLAY. Her questions often remind us of ACTION as on page 15 when she asks us “where are images found?” her answer is “Look, Read, See the ACTIONS inside you, the outside images are found by, in, through action between inside and outside” I love that idea because it fits for so many things in life. She pushes you into your pen and then guides you to delicious ideas until you can’t help but have created something if only a giggle.

Her writing technique seems to be a series of questions and then a playful wondering through the imagination with no real plot points or story but rather an engaging place to start. The message: there is no right or wrong or best or worst ways to write. Just do it. Page 47 asks, “where do characters come from?” and she answers with “follow a wondering mind.” The collage takes the reader from birds to houses to numbers and doodles…most importantly the doodles. Some of the collage is done in a lose comic book format and the words are written in what appears to be yellow post its, again assuring the reader of no wrong just wild creativity in an endless series of ‘anything goes’.

Berry reassures us that paper is cheep and that “writing is practicing a physical activity with a state of mind. We need something to practice upon, and an hour of time”(175). I know this book will be an inspiration to me for a long time coming. It is not a book to read from cover to cover, it is a book to savor, to spend time over the many pages while playing with her suggestions from the page and moving on to your own. So enjoy the notes, the rules the steps and the goals and the sheer creativity of What it is, I know I will!

Eye Candy Laced With Acid

Filed under: Uncategorized — corricrystal @ 6:37 pm

In all honesty I have never tried acid (I really haven’t), but I think viewing What It Is, is what an acid trip probably feels like; without the negative side effects. This book is ‘trippy.’ I suddenly feel like a spaced out surfer, or skater when describing Barry’s work, but it seems fitting. I don’t know if this is a children’s book that adults will appreciate, or book for adults that are children at heart. There are fun pictures and references to comic book illustrators, like R. Crumb (113).  There is sooo much eye candy laced with acid, but there are also insightful questions, “What is reflection? How does it differ from thinking? How does it come about?” (98). This book is so visually stimulating that I am feeling slightly overwhelmed. I need to take breaks and go back to it so that I can try to take it all in. It is a highly intricate form of visual art. It is reminiscent of a children’s journal, which only a highly evolved child could create. It is a fascinating collage of words and images. The melding of words and images epitomizes the many discussions we have had throughout the semester. They complement each other brilliantly. I love the lines on page 135, “To be able to stand not knowing long enough to let something alive take shape! Without the two questions so much is possible. To all the kids who quit drawing come back!” It reminds me of Keats’ notion of ‘negative capability.’ In which the greatest creation comes out of being comfortable with the unknown, and uncertainty. We must release the ego and simply write (or draw). The visual equivalent for me is the freedom one feels when riding a bike with no hands. It is scary but liberating.

Offensive or Creative? You Decide . . .

Filed under: Uncategorized — corricrystal @ 5:52 pm

The book is no longer restricted to be the vehicle though which we experience art (through reading); rather, the book itself is now considered art. Being a visual person, this new appreciation  for the book as an art form makes me very happy. Our time at our library, and at the Getty proves that this is indeed a worthwhile genre of art. In The Century of Artists’ Books, Johanna Drucker states that “the artist’s book has to be understood as a highly mutable form, one which cannot be definitively pinned down by formal characteristics” (11).  All of the magnificent work that we observed during both of our field-trips, were in my opinion, works of art.  However, this is a subjective art form, and Marcia from the Getty, proved this when she mentioned the artist who put urine in an envelope, and called it art. To me, this is done for shock value more than any attempt to make art. Just as “Dieter Roth shredded paper, boiled it, and filled animal intestines to make “literary sausages” (13). I don’t consider this art, however someone else might consider it to be brilliantly ironic and creative.

Our opinion of what constitutes art has a lot to do with our sensitivity level. For instance, animal intestine filled paper is offensive to me. I am sensitive when it comes to the treatment of animals, and this affects my sensitivities. As does the urine filled envelope, simply because it seems gross and without purpose. Furthermore, I have mixed emotions concerning Duchamp’s book entitled “Do Touch, with a female breast cast on its cover” (13). I have no issue with the breast cover, it is the title that makes me uncomfortable. Without the title I could view this as a form of ‘book sculpture’ and appreciate it. It is the words that change the meaning. With the title it now becomes a way of objectifying women. It is no longer just about the beautiful female form; rather, how this form is a way in which the male can become erotically stimulated (by touching it as the title directs). In essence the female only has value because of its relationship to man. Hmm . . . I think I might have just made Gloria Steinem proud with that last rant. Other viewers, including many women, might love this particular ‘book sculpture’ . They might find it to be rather ‘tongue and cheek’, and completely harmless. Ultimately, it is “the desire to make a voice heard, or a vision available, [that] fuels, artist’s books” (7). Whether or not a viewer likes the message is another story.

A Great Century of Art

Filed under: Uncategorized — mpoverly @ 5:15 pm

Johanna Drucker in The Century of Artists’ Books does not want to define just yet what an artists book is but rather to explore what it is not. I think this is a good thing because to fully define a thing automatically limits it and as we have just seen in our class a book takes many shapes and sizes, styles and intentions. So if “the artist book is created as an original work of art”(2). And it incorporates sister arts like painting, sculpture and writing it stands to reason that the book form would be an excellent choice for the artist…after all “the book is a highly malleable, versatile form of expression” (9)
What is of particular interest to me is how the artists continually find new outlets in order to express themselves. Once society can get them into a box of defined elements the artist will push that limitation every time. As artists do not necessarily create for monetary reward (big secret!) but because of an artistic drive to express or as Drucker says “the desire to make a voice heard, or a vision available, fuels artist’s books”(7). How exciting then that this unique genre, the artist book, has avoided a definition for so long!
So why would the artist choose the book format? As we have discussed in class the book is (I think this is how Dr. Hatfield put it) “a folded compact space to keep stuff.” So it stands to reason that this work of art can go with the artist to various places and situations for inspiration which I think would make it all the more desirable as a format. It also makes it a more easily accessed form to enjoy as the viewer.
Drucker also believes that this “artist book” must have a reason for choosing the book format to express its purpose, “some conviction, some soul, some reason to be and to be a book in order to succeed” (10-11). I wonder what “succeed” means here if in fact the artist is not expecting monetary reward and we don’t have a full definition for it to fall short of doing something. I suppose what I am getting at is that to me a book a place for a dialogue to ensue between the artist and the reader. The kind of book the reader picks up is up to the reader. Certainly if it is ‘good’ it will find an audience.
What I love most is that this thing called the “artist book” has turned the standardized way we look at a book and its purpose on its ear. That there is no “founding father “who beget whole traditions through their influence…”for this art form, is exciting (11). Even more so because the sky is the limit on what can be done with this medium, again as we saw in class from one simple exercise to make a book proved.
It is important to note that Drucker qualifies the artist book as something that is not merely a vehicle for reproduction (9). She goes on to discuss the importance of the entire concept as it fits into the form of the book. How the concept is all inclusive of the many elements that give it “book-ness”. I suppose that is why it will always lean in my opinion in the direction of art!

December 13, 2009

The Writers’ Head on the Page

Filed under: Uncategorized — elizjurgen @ 11:57 pm

I had to leaf through Lynda Barry’s “What It Is” a second time after reading it. In fact, I hesistate to use the word “read” to describe my experience, for I found each page seemed to take me on a journey not only through the text but around the edges, through the images, and into my own thoughts and feelings as I tried to decide what it meant to me.

Reading “What It Is” was like seeing the contents of my own head spilled out on the page. It made me want to put it down and go create my own version, and also to do a writing “workshop” of my own using the topics from her pages.  I found this much more inspiring, making me itch to put pen to paper, than a text-only book on inspiration such as Julia Cameron’s “The Artists Way.” Barry’s work is an example of the power of image to stimulate and motivate us in a way that text-only works do not. I especially enjoyed the “messiness” of the pages, even though they had a clear layout – within the handwriting, the lettering changes, within the typed text there are often strike-outs and handwritten notes. The collages of sticky-notes, the doodles and colored drawings, all mirror what the workspace of a writer, artist, or illustrator is likely to look like. Her book captures perfectly the reality that inspiration and creation are not linear activities, that they can be guided somewhat but that they also need to squirt out in messy, colorful, and tangential array.

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