Victoria Cooper Art 85 10/02/12

The Book of Kells: Art and/or Design  Maybe both?


Art and Design have been consider the same, different, and interlocked. This paper discusses the definition of art and design. What are their roles, how they complement each other, and why it’s essential for their intertwined relationship? Which goes in depth of the physical and philosophical levels what is art and design. Then reflects upon its use in the Middle Age’s gospel book, the Book of Kells. And lastly, how art and design have made it more effective.

Throughout history, art and design have played a crucial role in the development of society’s knowledge.  Art allows individual’s to express a certain emotional take on beauty using their craftsmanship. While design broadens art’s individualism, allowing the overall audience to comprehend the general ideal express by the piece. Design is essential for the advancement of society throughout history. Aiding the growth of new ideals and spreading them worldwide through design’s main purpose of expressing one’s use and function. The book of Kells during the Middle Ages allowed the ideals of Christianity to spread throughout Europe from the refinement of art by design.  Art and design are very important to the growth and advancement of society.

Art and design are important elements of life’s progression. The Webster dictionary defines art as “ the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects” (Webster Dictionary), unlike the definition of design,  “to devise for a specific function or end”(Webster Dictionary). One could make an educated assumption that art is the beginning and design is the end. That art and design are similar in the portrayal of visual imagery but art is the whole object before it is refined by design. Charles Batteux had a similar view,

“In 1746, Charles Batteux summarized the emerging view by proposing that the fine arts share a common principle in that they all imitate beautiful nature. The fine arts “are music, poetry, painting, drama, and the art of gesture or dance.” The fine arts are to be distinguished from the mechanical arts (practical skills like farming and engineering) and from a third group, the arts that combine beauty and practical function (e.g., eloquence and architecture). Because the purpose of fine art is pleasure rather than utility, art should not represent nature “as it ordinarily is.” Genius should modify nature into a “beautiful whole, more perfect than nature itself”(  Gracyk).

Batteux’s viewpoint on art is the nature form of personal pleasure that it does not have a function, which means in other terms that art cannot convey any ideals or knowledge but personal expression of beauty. That without the “third group” also known as design there is no way of expressing functions and purposes such as farming. Batteux’s philosophical view on the arts prove that without design, art has no function or purpose but only evokes emotions, the combination of the two allow the spread of new knowledge and ideals.

The Book of Kells, a historically impactful artifact, is a great example of how art is refined by design. “ The Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript Gospel book in Latin, containing the four Gospels of the New Testament together with various prefatory texts and tables. It was created by Celtic monks ca. 800 or slightly earlier”(36, Wikipedians). A religious book created by Celtic monks to spread Christianity. The only issue of the Middle Ages was a lack of communication and education of the majority society. Leading to the majority of the book to be filled with imagery.

“the illustrations and ornamentation of the Book of Kells surpass that of other Insular Gospel books in extravagance and complexity. The decoration combines traditional Christian iconography with the ornate swirling motifs typical of Insular art. Figures of humans, animals, and mythical beats, together with Celtic knots and interlacing patterns in vibrant colours, enliven the manuscript’s pages. Many of these minor decorative elements are imbued with Christian symbolism and so further emphasis the themes of the major illustrations”(36, Wikipedians).

The monks’ combination of Christian symbolism with Insular art, with the refinement of the design element of Celtic knots, aided the learning of Christian ideals.  Imagery played a crucial role over the writing due to the majority of illiteracy which is supported by,

“ Ironically, these beautiful, carefully lettered half-uncials convey a text that is careless and contains misspellings and missreadings. Even so, the Book of Kells is the culmination of Celtic illumination. Its noble design has generous margins and huge initial letters. For more full-page illustrations than in any other Celtic manuscript are executed with a remarkable density and complexity of form: over 2,100 ornate capitals make every page a visual delight. Here and there through the course of its 339 leaves, a sentence blooms into a full page of illumination” (55, Meggs).

The above passage proves how the monks cared more about the visual aspects of the Book of Kells rather then the punctuation of the written passages. The monks also incorporated artist designs into the font to emphasis the imagery of the passages. The book of Kells during the Middle Ages lead to the vast spreading of Christianity throughout Europe due to the refinement of art by design.

The society’s progression to modernism begins with the spread of new knowledge and ideals. Art and design aid the germination of new ideals and knowledge. Art is the personal emotional take on beauty while design develops a function for an object. When art is refined by design, it creates a great vehicle for the spreading and acknowledgement of new ideas. The Book of Kells from the Middle Age period used art and design to spread Christianity throughout Europe during a time that lack communication still was able to spread a religion. The key for a more refined future lies within the art and design.


ArtAbout Our Definitions: All Forms of a Word (noun, Verb, Etc.) Are Now Displayed on One Page.”Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 02 Oct. 2012. <;.

 ”DesignAbout Our Definitions: All Forms of a Word (noun, Verb, Etc.) Are Now Displayed on One Page.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 02 Oct. 2012. <;.

Gracyk, Theodore. “PHILOSOPHY OF ART HUME AND KANT: Summary and Comparison.” N.p., 15 Feb. 2006. Web. 1 Oct. 2012. <;

 Meggs, Philip B. A History of Graphic Design. 3rd ed. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1992. Print.

 Wikipedians, ed. “Ireland-Related Featured Articles.” (n.d.): n. pag. Google Ebooks. Web. 1 Oct. 2012. <;.


One comment

  1. Victoria,

    Best paper in class to date. Very strong writing, exposition and references. Clear points and good backup info.
    “Art and design are very important to the growth and advancement of society.

    Art and design are important elements of life’s progression. ”

    Exceptional points and a good belief good stuff. Others need to read this to understand how to structure a paper.

    Very good work.

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