I am fascinated by the first few chapters this book which I mentioned in my last post, Writing on the Wall, by Tom Standage. While my curiosity was first piqued by the article on commonplace books on the author's website (the discussion of which I will run across further in the book, no doubt), I find this book is, not surprisingly, about the history of writing, communication and the book itself as well as the relationships to the social media culture today. As many of the long-time readers of this blog will know, I am fascinated by the book and by the written word, as the running thread that connects us to our history, but also the book as physical object and container. Much of my work is based on the rhythms set up by words on a page, the pattern evoking a conjured past and homage to the written word.
My commonplace book pages are now making up for lost time, as I have been filling them of late with passages from various books, including this one. I read today about the role of writing in the Greco-Roman world, about how letters (as in correspondence) were copied by scribes and were shared freely and widely...they were the social media of the day. Before the codex, the book form as we know it today, writing was done on scrolls and eventually papyrus. There was a very limited circulation, not surprisingly, because everything had to be copied by hand. The scribes were often slaves, but held a very special knowledge and their work was highly valued.
I'm curious to find out more about the changing role of the scribe in history. Often when I spend time making my "pseudo-writing" of my drawings, creating the pattern of a written text, I think of myself as a scribe copying some lost text, passing the knowledge along, saving it for the unknowable future.
Another link I found fascinating was the description of these early texts and the early books as a river of text. The Romans didn't use punctuation, paragraphs or spaces between words (something we take for granted, no doubt), so early "published" books, even in scroll form, were described as a river of text and required a fair amount of practice in order to make sense of the writing. I love that metaphor of the river. It strikes home with me as I have been making drawings that echo the flow of water. For me, the current of the river represents a layered understanding....it is the Missouri River that I see every day from my window, but it is also the ongoing flow of history, the written word carried by the current down through the ages.
The Art of Wonder, Suite 2 no.1
The Art of Wonder, Suite 2 no.2
The Art of Wonder, Suite 2 no.3
The pieces above are the first pieces from the second suite of drawings from the Art of Wonder series. Maybe you can see the flow of the river that forms the underlying pattern....oh, and there in no.3....the dots create the pattern and rhythm of words on a page. It shows up all the time in my work.
I am intrigued with the social media nature of earlier history and the parallels drawn with our own culture. Yet, I do worry that in this digital age we rely less and less on the written word to document our lives. What is it we are leaving behind that will give the future historians the full picture of the lives we lived in the early decades of the 21st century? As amazing as it is, the digital world is entirely too intangible....much is lost. Plato expressed essentially the same thing in his distrust of the written word over the oral communication that was then prevalent. He thought people would forget how to remember and too much would be lost. There are always gains as well as losses.
I'll be listing the drawings, including the ones above, from the second suite of drawings in the Art of Wonder in my Etsy shop in the next couple of days...stay tuned!