Book of Kells
In history there are objects that are classified as being design, as they are able to carryout the purpose that they were intended for. Like a chair can be viewed as a piece design, as it fulfills it purpose of allowing a person to sit on it. However there are also chairs like the Wassily chair, that was created during the Bauhaus movement, that is seen as not only as design but as a piece of art as well. In some works, art and design coexist together, as it not only serves a purpose but also evokes an emotional response from the viewer. An example of this is seen in one of the most famous illuminated manuscripts in history, the Book of Kells. According to the New Catholic Encyclopedia, The Book of Kells is a vellum Gospel book created around 775 to 800 A.D and is considered one of the greatest achievements of European decorative art for its profusely and brilliantly decorated pages (Mitford 138-139). Though the book is considered a work of art, it was the design of the book that was the main focus. The Book of Kells was created with the purpose of converting pagans and spreading Christianity to the masses. In order to do this the Book of Kells utilized design to awe and shock the public. Now the question is whether the Book of Kells is a work of art for it’s immense beauty or a masterpiece of design for executing it’s purpose of spreading Christianity using design elements. I will be using the concepts of art and design to prove that the Book of Kells was created as piece a design but through it’s purpose of spreading Christianity with vivid images it also became a work of art.
The Book of Kells was created in Celtic monasteries by monks and contains the four Gospels of the New Testament (Dunn 1910). The Book of Kells features closely coiled spirals connected with each other by a number of curves and terminating in what is known as a “trumpet pattern” (Dunn 1910). Zoomorphic figures as well as colored representations of fanciful beings, or of men, animals, birds, horses, dogs, and grotesque, gargoyle-like human figures are all depicted in intricate details in the book (Dunn 1910). It is these elements in the design of the book of Kells that make people see it solely as a work of art. 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”). This type of work done in the illuminated manuscript hadn’t been seen before and was able to effectively shock its audience. This shock value was able to use its beautiful imagery to convert the pagan viewer into a Christian. Under the definition of art, the Book of Kells can be seen as a piece of art instead of design as it carried an “emotional power.” The Russian writer Leo Tolstoy further defines art in his essay “What is Art?” Tolstoy defines art as being able “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). The monks creating the manuscript were able to convey their own feelings of Christianity effectively through the art, that others were able to experience it as well, and if it were truly effective the viewer would have converted religions. The Book of Kells was able to fulfill its design purpose through art, but that does not solely make it a work of art.
The monks did not create the Book of Kells just because they wanted to create beautiful art depicting scenes from the New Testament. The book was created with a goal in mind. It was meant to be a form of propaganda for Christianity. To show the pagans something that had never seen before and instills a feeling of awe and shock within them. This would then cause the pagans to reform to Christianity. According to the Oxford University Press Dictionary, design is “do or plan something with a specific purpose in mind” (“Oxford Dictionaries”). It can also be defined as “intended to accomplish goals, in a particular environment, using a set of primitive components, satisfying a set of requirements (Wikipedia Contributors). The Book of Kells complies with the definition of design as it was created with a purpose in mind. It used its imagery to not only convey the awe of Christianity to the pagans, but it also used images in case the viewer couldn’t read Latin (Wikipedia Contributors). The images design were able to convey the monk’s intended purpose, whether of not the audience was able to read or not (Wikipedia Contributors).
The Book of Kells was designed to use art as a form of propaganda for the Christian religion. It fulfilled its intended design by accomplishing its purpose, but in order to do this the monks used gorgeous imagery that can make the viewer simply see the book as a work of art. It is important however not to simply see the book as art, but to look at in the context of the time period it was created. In order to fully understand the book one must understand why it was created. The monks did not create it for art’s sake but rather designed it for a goal. The Book of Kells is a design masterpiece of its time by using art to fulfill its design’s purpose.
Dunn, Joseph. “Book of Kells.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 8. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 30 Sept. 2012 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08614b.htm>.
“Oxford Dictionaries.” Art. Oxford University Press, 2012. Web. 1 Oct 2012. <http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/art>.
“Oxford Dictionaries.” Design. Oxford University Press, 2012. Web. 1 Oct 2012. <http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/design?q=design>.
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>.
Wikipedia contributors. “Book of Kells.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Kells>.
Wikipedia contributors. “Design.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Design>.
Wikipedia contributors. “What is Art?.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/What_Is_Art?>.