Tuesday, September 11, 2007

More Vocabulary Tests

This discussion continues to be usefully provocative.

Jaleen Grove writes,
I don't actually interpret the classic definitions of illustration like this at all. I would suggest that "illuminating" is not equivalent to embellishing, nor is explicating text equivalent to being subservient to it. I think these are value judgments that have been imposed on the literal meanings by people who had stakes in not letting illustrators get the upperhand socially or economically in the 19th and 20th Centuries.
I would agree, to some extent. But my original point has to do with the limitations of the term in contemporary usage, with all the associations that are now part of its meaning. I don't think there is an Edenic meaning to be recovered. Moreover, I would distinguish between the term as a specific noun (an illustration) and its meaning more broadly as a field of activity or a discipline. I think it's mostly a workmanlike term in the first case, and a poor one in the second.

Grove continues:
The Word and Light are inextricably linked, not one above the other - the first use God makes of the Word is to define light. Therefore, the illumination of manuscripts was just as holy as the scripture. Think of the frescos in the nave of the church - they are all illumination, and not even a line of text - they were accompanied by oral tradition. From this point of view, written texts were the embellishment to the images - remember, pictoral media precedes the written. It is simply impossible to separate the two into hierarchies, no?
Wow. This argument is intelligently and gamely made! Alas, I'm not buying it as culturally descriptive in a secular society. The authority and prestige of the written word exceed that of the image. Pictures may be sexier and more emotive, but these were exactly the grounds on which Plato booted the artist out the ideal Republic. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word calls the shots. (I will return to this notion in an upcoming post on cartooning.)

Anyway, my observations concerning the shortcomings of the term are meant to set up some sustained looking at images, in part to test its applicability.

Bob Flynn writes,
Yeah, I understand what you're getting at. For me, it would boil down to whatever this new word would be...and what new pretenses it might carry. I'm probably more cautious after having done similar thinking about comics and graphic novels and seeing a similar thought path. "Graphic novel" was made popular by the publishing industry to get comics into bookstores, so the motivation is different. But the idea was to get people to take comics more seriously because the subject matter was more mature or something, even though I'm not sure that was WIll Eisner's intent when he coined it. Now "graphic novel" is a very wishy-washy term...very hard to define, except for its hierarchical superiority over the comic book.
Good comparison. As a term, comics suffers a related problem--tonal associations with humor for a word meant to describe a structural form. People have indeed been struggling with that one for a long time. I do not find graphic novel objectionable particularly. It's useful and handy. Does seem to suggest a certain scale or length, an unnecessary inference.

Images: Write What you see in a Book, (John of Patmos receives instructions from an angel [Revelation 1:9-11]) illuminated manuscript illustration, the Cloisters Apocalypse, 14th century French production; A Third of the Sea Became Blood...a Third of the Ships Were Destroyed, (The second angel blows his trumpet after the opening of the seventh seal [Revelation 8:9]) the Cloisters Apocalypse.

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