June Jarvis – Book of Kells



What is the Book of Kells is it a design or is it art? Many people have been debating on this. This debate has gone on for centuries. Whether men create works for functional purposes only or for self-gratification as well. But I go explain what is the Book of Kells we must first we must ask ourselves what is art? What is design? I believe art is what makes people react in a certain way and feel the emotions off of that work of art. A good example of art is a painting.  In most cases paints conveys ones emotions in hopes others could relate to that as well.  Design is when something has a function or a purpose without causing emotional reaction.  A good example of design is a beverage bottle. A bottle that can be used depending on its size and holder of that bottle has the choice of fill it with water or juice.

We now have a clear view of what is art and design. But that does not answer the question if the Book of Kells is an art or design. First what is the Book of Kells contains the four Gospels of the Christian scriptures written in black, red, purple, and yellow ink in an insular majuscule script, preceded by prefaces, summaries, and concordances of Gospel passages. It is sometimes known as the Book of Columba) 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 monksca. 800 or slightly earlier. The text of the Gospels is largely drawn from the Vulgate, although it also includes several passages drawn from the earlier versions of the Bible known as the Vetus Latina. It is a masterwork of Western calligraphy and represents the pinnacle of Insular illumination. It is also widely regarded as Ireland’s finest national treasure. Based on that I what makes it a design. The Book of Kells had meaning and purpose to lead others to the right direction using the gospel to set an example for others to follow. The colors, design, typography that was used to create it this was what makes it attractive and has the rich spiritual feel to it.

But at the same time I cannot deny that fact that it is art. The supreme achievement of Irish Celtic art and one of the world’s pre-emnient examples illuminated codices; the Book of Kells is a manuscript deluxe, written and richly adorned for the use in the conduct of public worship. 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 beasts, together with Celtic knots and interlacing patterns in vibrant colors, enliven the manuscript’s pages. Many of these minor decorative elements are imbued with Christian symbolism and so further emphasize the themes of the major illustrations. Even though it severs it purpose as a design there is still the stronger emotion that supports the fact the Book of Kells is a work art. Many years ago and maybe even now the hundreds or thousands of people have placed their lives to follow this book. The many years that this book has existed one cannot say that many have worshiped this book in hopes that God will fulfill their hopes and dreams.

In conclusion, I personally believe that art and design goes hand in hand. Usually one is not good without the other. With a work of art viewers could feel the familiarity of the emotions. But why have emotions if it cannot really seen by views or have any great meaning for that work. That is where design comes in; it gives that emotion meaning and attraction it needs to be recognized. The design is what explains what that work of art is all about. The same could be said about the Book of Kells, I believe that the Book of Kells is both art and design because it induces emotional responses from its audience, and was created with a specific function. The responses from the many detailed drawings within the book are respect, love for the images of Christianity. The purpose of the Book of Kells was to spread knowledge, gain support for the Christian society and introduce others to a new religion



One comment

  1. June,

    Best and definitive summary of your paper comes early on – “A good example of design is a beverage bottle. A bottle that can be used depending on its size and holder of that bottle has the choice of fill it with water or juice. ”
    this is exactly the point. We built something with a purpose and then fill it with what is necessary. Good point. The bottle is the format of the book and the liquid is – the art or whatever.
    Good writing and good rhetoric.

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