Laura Sherman – Book of Kells

Book of Kells:  “The Magazine of Its Time”

Over time the most well designed church or coliseum, become works of “art.” It is time that makes even the most useful object, like a tool used for carving, a marvelous sculpture that should remain behind glass and never be used again because it is now viewed as “art,” as oppose to being seen as the design that it really is. The Book of Kells is also closely related to objects that we utilize on a day-to-day bases. In this paper I will point out reasons why the Book of Kells is design first and art second, only to the fact that it has been around for hundreds of years. For the Book of Kells, being that it was a manuscript, and it held the purpose to convert people to Christianity leads me to believe that the Book of Kells is a well-crafted object of design.

Take a second and think about your favorite magazine. Why is it your favorite? Could it be because of the stories that you read in it every month? Well what about the pictures that are shown through out the entire magazine. Much like the way magazines use photos and images to draw in the reader, the Book of Kells drew in readers of its time, with recognizable characters and fancy text. Without the images in the Book of Kells it would have just been fancy writings on the page. The way that we are drawn in by the covers of magazines, whether it is a photo of a beautiful model, handsome man, or a celebrity that we recognize, we all have an impulse that commands us to grab that magazine and open it. That is what the photos are designed to do. Much like how the imagery and illustrations in the Book of Kells were also designed to do, grab the reader and coax them into reading more. The Book of Kells seems to be the magazine of its time. Magazines today influence us by telling us what is the best thing to wear, or what the best diet out there is. Journalists are taught to write in a compelling way that influences the reader to feel a certain way while reading their story. They are taught to bend the truth. This is what the words in the stories are designed to do. In relation, the Book of Kells was worded to influence the people of its time to convert them to Christianity. That is what they designed the text to do. Moreover, both the images and the text in the Book of Kells had a purpose, much like images and text in a magazine, there by making the Book of Kells more like design then art.

Some may confuse a well-designed antique as being a beautiful work of art just because it is old, but the fact of the mater is, it is still a design because it has a purpose, and someone designed it to perform a specific task. Time is a factor that comes into play when figuring out whether the Book of Kells is art or design. When we see artifacts in a museum, whether it is an intricate vase or plate, or a sword that the samurais used to use, we view it as being art because it is old and it is in a museum. Meanwhile, that vase or plate was designed with the intention to hold flowers or eat off of. Much like the samurai sword that was designed to kill a person in combat with one blow, the Book of Kells was strictly designed with the idea that it would convert people to Christianity. Even though it was designed with that idea in mind, some people still see it a being art because of the intricate drawings and the fact that is over a hundred years old. That fact does not make them right or wrong, it is simply how we are wired to think. If something is in a museum because it was made a long time ago, it is classified as being a piece of art. The truth is though, even if it is the oldest object on earth and on display in a museum, that should not mean that it gets classified as art, when in reality it is more then art, it has purpose and with purpose comes design. Being that the Book of Kells is on display in the Trinity College Library, attracting people with its elegant images and vibrant colors, shows that it was never meant to be a piece of art work in the first place. The Book of Kells is still being viewed as a manuscript, and like any manuscript, it serves a purpose. Unfortunately, when people go over to look at the Book of Kells all they see is fancy lettering and pretty images, so they classify it as being art because it is old and on display no longer serving its purpose. That is just it, the Book of Kells did serve a purpose, and even though it is no longer, it was still created with the idea that people would read this manuscript and be influenced to believe in a new religion.

The Book of Kells served a purpose. It was created to influence the people of its time. Most importantly it was designed with the intention of converting people to Christianity. With those three characteristics, the Book of Kells could be classified as being more design then art. Even though the images that are depicted on each page prove to be most elegant and carefully drawn out, those images still mean something, and they are there to draw the reader in. Much like the images draw the reader in, the text was designed to influence the reader to believe in something other then what they thought was the only truth. It is true that the Book of Kells holds the most intricate images and illustrations of its time, the only reason why those images and illustrations are there is to attract the reader and lore them into turning the page to see what lies on the next one, there by proving that the Book of Kells is most closely related to design rather than art.



One comment

  1. Laura,

    Good stuff and good writing style. The purpose of the class is to help young designers realize their value. This paper helps do just that. For almost all of your education young designers feel like they are second rate to art – or at least that is what I have come up with after 25 years of teaching. When I see or hear this kind of thought it helps prove that my beliefs have logic to them. Good work and well crafted.

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