Viskoc – Book of Kells

Samantha Viskoc

Art 85 Paper 1

The Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript, which contains the New Testaments four Gospels and other texts.  There is an argument over what is considered art and what is considered design and this particular book is one that can easily be argued over.  An educated designer who knows the technical definition would say it is design.  Design serves a purpose and the designs in this piece have a purpose to display the meaning of the Gospel in pictures.  Anybody else, who has a mild appreciation for design, would probably call it art.  Art evokes emotion.  It is something that people see as beautiful and want to display whether or not it has a purpose.  I believe the Book of Kells could be argued as art or design, but in this paper I will prove that the Book of Kells is more strongly art.

When people talk about art and design it is always design is a form of art, but why can’t art be a form of design?  I think all art has design elements and all design has art elements.  I think they are parallels and cannot be categorized into one another.  Design is creating for a purpose, it solves a problem, it is a blueprint for architecture or a illustration in a text book, but even though it serves a purpose, the building could be beautiful, and the illustration could be beautiful, and evokes emotion in people, giving it elements of art.  Art evokes emotions in people, it is a painting made to sell strictly because it is a painting, not because it is for a textbook or poster or manual.  But isn’t that a purpose? Isn’t the act of painting with the intent to sell and have someone display it creating for a purpose? Even though it is a landscape of a lake and mountains and it is beautiful, the creator (rather than artist or designer) has the notion in their mind that this has to sell and must be created so that he/she could easily sell it. So although this is more considered art, and the creator in this case would be an artist, it could be argued that in the back of the creators mind he is designing for a purpose.

So in proving that art and design can be parallel, and the person who made those types of pieces should be referred to as the creator, it can be proven that the Book of Kells can be separated into one of those categories, but in the back of the creators mind, if it was design, there is elements of an artist, and if its art, there is elements of design.  I believe it is art.

There are many ways to argue the Book of Kells is design.  People often say that since it is in a book and showing pictures explaining the words, then that makes it design.  But is the author also drawing the pictures? He couldn’t be, it is the Gospel, which has existed forever, the person who wrote the Book of Kells was just putting the Gospel down in writing, not writing it himself.  So I will make the assumption that someone different than the scribe was the one turning this simple writing into an illuminated manuscript. It would make the argument for design more solid, that he wrote, and then drew simultaneously to get his point across.  But if was not done that way, and the author hired someone, an ARTIST to create the masterpieces seen in that book, it would be art.  People read the book for the information they need, and turn to the art for a break from the words, for its beauty, and to admire.  When the artist was creating he might have had the purpose in mind, but ultimately he was creating beauty.

The Book of Kells is a masterpiece no matter where it falls in the world of creation.  It was designed to be art, and its art serves a design purpose.  I believe of the two options, it is more likely art that serves a design purpose and not just beautiful design.



One comment

  1. Sam,

    Good stuff overall. Good attempt and formulating a written thesis. I believe the need for the images was more than a break from reading it was because many couldn’t read – not unlike today. The images were also meant to shock and awe the viewer. Lots to discuss also I always need a bibliography and at least three sources in a discussion. We will get better as the semester proceeds.

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