James La Chase
The Book of Kells
What do the words art and design mean to you? To me they mean a transformation that transcends through time. By this
I mean when something is created it was to serve a purpose. That is the core of design. Art on the other hand is meant
to evoke an emotional response. The Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript, is an excellent example of how art and
design can be mingled.
When it was first created in circa 800 by Celtic monks I believe it was for a purpose. It is stated “The book had a
sacramental rather than educational purpose.” In my point of view I think the purpose was to share their teachings with
the population. At the time only 10% of the population could read and write. This gospel allowed the other 90% to get the
same message. This wasn’t your typical bible that is just paragraph upon paragraph. It created a user friendly medium
where those who couldn’t read could understand through image. The illustrations and detail surpass that of any other
Gospel books in both lavishness and elaboration. The artwork is traditional Christian iconography with a touch of motifs
of Insular Art. For those who couldn’t understand the teachings there were depictions of humans, animals and mythical
beasts. There are many forms of symbolism strewn throughout with emphasis of the major illustrations. “The
workmanship is so fine that some of the details can only be clearly seen with a magnifying glass.” It was created for a
reason and that was purely design.
As time went on and the world became educated and the concept of design shifted into art. The Book of Kells went
from teaching the population into a beautiful piece of work that people can appreciate. This is in regards to present time.
It no longer served a purpose because the time period has evolved into a higher level of understanding. The Book of
Kells is not the lead source of information that it once was. There are no nobles reading the stories or peasants depicting
images. Perhaps there is a group of individuals that follow this age old tradition but for today’s world it is viewed as a
work of art that affects each person in a different way.
I find that when comparing subject matter sometimes it doesn’t always have a correct answer. Sometimes the
beauty is all in the eye of the beholder. The Book of Kells is exactly that. Some may view it as strictly one thing over the
other. I however see it as a design that evolved into a form of art.
Wikipedia. Book of Kells. 9 Sept. 2012. 10 Oct. 2012 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/book_of_kells#purpose>. Snell, Melissa. The Book of Kells. . 10 Oct. 2012 <http://historymedren.about.com/od/bookofkell1/p/book_of_kells.htm>.