J.Mathieson – First Paper – The Book of Kells – Art or Design?


First Paper – The Book of Kells – Art or Design?

Throughout history art and design have existed parallel to one another, occasionally crossing paths in certain instances. It is argued that design is when something is created for the intended purpose of functionality. For example, a cereal bowl can be classified as design because it was created to hold cereal, and perhaps some milk as well. Art is stated to be when something is created with the intended purpose of evoking an emotional response. For example, a painting can be classified as art because it was created to evoke an emotional response – whether that response is positive, negative, happy, sad, scared, hate, love, etc., is the choice of the artist. However, there are instances where art and design combine together to create something that not only has a specific function, but also evokes an emotional response. For example, an ornate carved Japanese wooden trunk is created to store and transport other objects, and at the same time evokes responses of amazement, intrigue, and respect out of the sheer beauty of the intricately carved imagery on the sides of the trunk. Another example of both art and design is the Book of Kells, which is an illuminated manuscript Gospel book written in Latin by Celtic monks, containing the four Gospels of the New Testament together with various prefatory texts and tables (Wikipedia contributors). The Book of Kells is both art and design because it was created with an intended function, and also to evoke an emotional response from its readers.

As stated above, art can be defined as something that is created with the intent to evoke an emotional response from its viewer. According to the Oxford University Press dictionary, art is “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power” (“Oxford Dictionaries”). In Leo Tolstoy’s essay “What is Art?”, he explains that art can be when the spectators or audience of an artwork experience the same feelings the author felt when creating it (Van Camp). Tolstoy also states that “to evoke in oneself a feeling one has once experienced, and having evoked it in oneself, then, by means of movements, lines, colors, sounds, or forms expressed in words, so to transmit that feeling that others may experience the same feeling – this is the activity of art” (Van Camp). Tolstoy also defines art as“a human activity consisting in this, that one man consciously, by means of certain external signs, hands on to others feelings he has lived through, and that other people are infected by these feelings and also experience them” (Van Camp). Therefore, “art must create a specific emotional link between artist and audience, one that ‘affects’ the viewer, and real art requires the capacity to unite people via communication (clearness and genuineness are therefore crucial values)” (Wikipedia contributors). The Book of Kells can be defined as art because it contains many lavish, detailed, and intricate drawings of religious figures and symbolic borders (Wikipedia contributors). These were specifically put into the book in order to convince its viewers of the greatness of Christianity, and to evoke respect, acceptance, want, and love for the new religion (Wikipedia contributors). The creators drew the pictures with such detail, care, and focus so that it created an emotional bond with the viewers, as described by Tolstoy, that the viewers felt that Christianity must be so powerful and great if these amazing pictures were the result of it.

Design can be described as something that is created with a specific purpose or function. The Oxford University Press dictionary states that design is to “do or plan something with a specific purpose in mind” (“Oxford Dictionaries”). Design is also defined as “a specification of an object, manifested by an agent, intended to accomplish goals, in a particular environment, using a set of primitive components, satisfying a set of requirements, and subject to constraints” (Wikipedia contributors). It is also explained that designing frequently “necessitates considering the aesthetic, functional, economic and sociopolitical dimensions of both the design object and design process, and it may involve considerable research, thought, modeling, interactive adjustment, and re-design” (Wikipedia contributors). The Book of Kells can be defined as design because it was created with the purpose of spreading the word about Christianity, and portraying it in a positive way to the readers and viewers of the book (Wikipedia contributors). Drawings in the book were not only aesthetically pleasing and evoked emotional responses, but they also helped to explain Christianity to those people who were unable to read at the time (Wikipedia contributors). The book was also created with the purpose of gaining more support for the new religion, and for people to reject the Catholic Church and embrace Christianity (Wikipedia contributors).

In conclusion, the Book of Kells is both art and design because it evokes emotional responses from its audience, and was created with a specific function. The responses evoked from the detailed drawings within the book are respect, acceptance, want, and love for the images of Christianity. The purpose of theBook of Kells was to spread the word about and gain more support for Christianity, and for people to reject the Catholic Church and embrace the new religion. In this case, I believe that both art and design were necessary in the Book of Kells in order for it to have such an enormous impact on the growth of Christianity.

Works Cited

“Oxford Dictionaries.” Art. Oxford University Press, 2012. Web. 1 Oct 2012.
<http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/art&gt;.
“Oxford Dictionaries.” Design. Oxford University Press, 2012. Web. 1 Oct 2012.
<http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/design?q=design&gt;.
Van Camp, Julie. “”What is Art?” (excerpts) by Leo Tolstoy.” California State University
Long Beach. N.p., 23 Nov 2006. Web. 30 Sept 2012.
<http://www.csulb.edu/~jvancamp/361r14.html&gt;.
Wikipedia contributors. “Book of Kells.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia,
The Free Encyclopedia, <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Kells&gt;.
Wikipedia contributors. “Design.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The
Free Encyclopedia, <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Design&gt;.
Wikipedia contributors. “What is Art?.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia,
The Free Encyclopedia, <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/What_Is_Art?&gt;.

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One comment

  1. Excellent piece. Well thought out and written. Tolstoy yikes… like Trotsky
    Russians expressing an emotion – really?
    Very good work JM as always. Good references as well. We will discuss but I think slowly (very slowly) the class is getting the idea.


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