Last year I received a massive tome on contemporary book arts as a most marvelous present, and I am still working my way through it….. Book Art Object (David Jury, Editor, Berkeley, CA: CODEX Foundation 2008, published in conjunction with the 2007 Codex Book Fair and Symposium). Available through Oak Knoll Press, I believe.
This book is a treasury of contemporary artist books, of the “cleaner” variety, mostly published through small fine arts presses. The main section of the book is hundreds of pages of visual examples from each participant in the symposium. Check out Julie Chen’s “View” from her Flying Fish Press, or Barbara Tetenbaum’s work from Triangular Press, or from Un Anno Un Libro: “Atlas, Liber Imaginum Diversarum” by Till Verclas. Fortunately, this book is geared for you and me: information on typeface, paper, and production, as well as tiny informative blurbs satisfy our need to know. And the photographs are wonderful examples of how to present the book arts in reproduction. Recently, I decided to finally READ one of the articles in the front of the book (previously I was merely devouring the pictures at the back). These texts are direct transcipts from lectures at the Symposium, and for the most part, run what you would expect: overly verbose but perhaps interesting analysis of books arts being alive and well in
UK, and then alive and well in Germany, and so on. But one really stands out. Robert Bringhurst’s essay “Spiritual Geometry: the Book as a Work of Art,” seemed to be the first time I have read about classicism meeting romanticism. It is a surprising and brilliant article, in which he starts by asking us to imagine that art history and natural history are the same field.
The author of this article, brings the reader through a journey of enlightenment through his argument, which flows from classical geometry, to natural patterns, to music, to cathedral design, and into letterforms, language, and book design. Twice he quotes the Persian calligrapher Yaqut al Musta-simi from over 7 centuries ago: “Script is spiritual geometry made visible by a material instrument.” As he can write so much better than I, let me just collect some quotes:
“A lot of people insist that art and language are the property of human beings alone. But for me the study of letterforms, and the study of art and literature in general, leads to a discovery that we as human beings have a lot in common with other species on the planet. (79)”
“The truth is, typography is not usually that good. But spiritual geometry is what typography could be…(81)”
“Organic geometry flexes; spiritual geometry breathes. That is to say, spiritual geometry is not only pliant but resonant. If geometry can have these capacities, if it can behave like a living thing, is it in the same kind of danger? Can it be wounded or injured, for instance?” F. Jeffries