Almonte – Book of Kells

Adrian Almonte

Professor Aievoli

Art 85

Monday, September 24th

Books of Kells: Art or Design


            Art and Design, two phenomena’s that is stumbling everyone’s mind when it comes to discussing the Book of Kells. To even decide which it is, we must take into consideration on what exactly is art and design. Art is a form of communication, which can be an idea, or an experience created through an artist. On the other hand, design is a plan that has a specific purpose. According to Hume and Kant in the” Philosophy of Art,” each philosopher has their own perspective on beauty and art. Each philosopher has clearly made a statement and a decision to this question, “Art or Design?”. I have come to a conclusion that the Book of Kells is ultimately, art and design.

The Book of Kells is a Celtic Irish art and/or design manuscript that contains the four gospels of Christianity from the late 8th century to early 9th century. The book of Kells was a very intricate and complex book in its time. The book contained illuminated, very detailed, and abstracts paintings that were combined to make something that was never heard of or seen before. Multiple celtic monks from a monastery in Ireland produced the Book of Kells. The purpose of the book was to help educate the people of Ireland and inspire them to learn about the catholic religion. The illuminations, displayed in the Book of Kells, were not just beautifications that left the viewers in amazement; they helped cause curiosity in the readings. Once leaving the viewers in amazement, there ideas of religion were being communicated. Everything in the book had a purpose, which caught the reader’s attention through their use of design and artistry. It is difficult to believe that the pictures conveyed the intricacies of Christianity, but in actuality these illustrations emphasized the essential elements of Christian faith.

In order for the book to be known what is it today, design needed to be the first stage. The book is a visual dialogue between the viewers and the artist. Even the simplest idea of how one is to go about the book is a concept, and a concept is a design. “However immediate any of our experiences seem to be, there are no uninterrupted experiences. The world comes to us as a complex “manifold” of sensations,” (Outline of Kant’s Theory). Kant believes that design and concepts come from a persons feelings and ultimately how they interpret them through nature. “Through the joint activities of imagination and understanding, we actively interpret “matter” of sensations in term of stable objects with predictable behaviors,”(Outline of Kant’s Theory) At that time Paganism was very big, so the monks thought of a way that would appeal to pagan believers as well, in beliefs of converting them to Christianity. This is why there is very abstract people, angels, and monsters in the book to draw more converters.

The artwork depicted the principles of art (balance, emphasis, unity, rhythm, movement, proportion, variety and harmony) and the elements of art (line, color, value, space, shape, texture and movement), which are the standards of art that Hume and Kant spoke about in “The Philosophy of Art.” Hume stated that good art, “attains critical approval across the barriers of culture and time.” (Gracyk) The Book of Kells definitely surpasses the definition of “good art” because even till this day it creates controversy among many. In order to judge whether it was art or good art, Hume created five factors. Art work must contain a strong sense, united delicate sentiment, improved by practice, perfected by comparison, and clear of all prejudice.

Kant also describes art by its beauty through its purpose. Kant says, “what is distinctive about art is that purposiveness is accompanied by some specific purpose.  With fine art, that purpose is the communication of ideas.” (Gracyk)  The Book of Kells obviously started from a design and its specific purpose was to create works of art and educated its viewer. The Book of Kells‘s artwork had a “spirit” which attracted the viewer, with its shapes and characters. Kant describes this “spirit” as there imagination. The “spirit” cannot be described with words, it can only imagined in ones mind. When looking at the Book of Kells you are drawn into its intricate details of artwork, which causes one to use their imagination. Kant states that that art evokes your soul and spirit and the Book of Kells does just that.  Beautiful pieces of artwork and a design purpose to educate the viewer.

In terms of the factors stated before, I believe that Hume and Kant would disagree to agree that the Book of Kells contains all that was need in order for it to be considered a good form of art and design. It’s design because the book has a purpose and uses different concepts upon that purpose. The purpose of the Book of Kells was to inform society the four gospels of Christianity. Also its purpose was to get new converts, such as pagans and some of the concepts used in the Book of Kells were very pagan like. The Book of Kells is also art, because of the colors, detail, and how the design is brought to life. That simple concept was transformed into this beautiful piece of work thus why I think art and design go both hand in hand.


Works Cited


–         Gracyk, Thomas. “Philosophy of Art: Hume and Kant: Summary and Comparison.” 2002. Web. Sept 2009.









One comment

  1. Adrian,

    Good work with some minor issues. Glad you re-wrote and also with how deep you started going. Started is the key word here. However it is the right direction. Good quality, good content and written well. Lots to discuss and I am glad you are “starting” to do it.

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