Monday, August 28, 2006

visual literacy

I've just read that "so important was [Sir John] Tenniel's work for the first of the Alice books (Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, 1865) that his protest at the poor printing of the first edition caused the book to be cancelled altogether."* This attests to Tenniel's understanding of the significance images have in affecting how text is perceived (not to mentioned how text can also alter the meanings in an image). Why are images often treated as trivial additions to an already 'complete text'? Why are picture books relegated only to young audiences?

In some ways, young readers are the few who can actually read images. As we learned how to read as children, text slowly took precedence over images until the pictures disappeared altogether. We continued to learn how to read verbally, but being able to read visually was dismissed (or just cut out of the budget) until we are left mostly visually illiterate. Because verbal language takes precedence in our education over visual language, a large part of the population will never learn how to read visually. One of the reasons the visual language was dismissed was because this is one type of literacy that can be learned on one's own, with no formal education, and this is why it's often assumed to be easy, simple, or needs an inherent talent. Not true - it still has to be learned, whether through formal education or through continued practice and exercise unaided.

Images that accompany text aren't just for children. It's a valid form of literacy that's been overlooked for too long.

*Jerome McGann, "The Socialization of Texts." The Book History Reader. New York: Routledge, 2001. p. 44

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Triumphant Return of the Scroll

I used to think of scrolls as a quaint relic of the distant past, resurrected occasionally now for special occasions like a wedding ceremonies or graduations. When my drawings became more scroll-like, I looked to ancient Chinese and Japanese artwork for instruction and inspiration, but then I noticed that I was using scrolls everyday. When the codex surpassed the scroll as the ideal structure for reading materials, I doubt that anyone expected the scroll to make its triumphant return a thousand (plus) years later, but here we are, in an extraordinary technological era, and it is because of this very digital technology that the scroll has revived. When I make a call on my cell phone, I scroll down the list of names and numbers; when I play music on my iPod, I scroll (in a circle!) to find an artist or playlist; on the highway, scrolling signs will tell me if there’s heavy construction or an unexpected spill; when I put the TV volume on mute, closed-captioning automatically comes on, scrolling down with dialogue. That’s a lot, but there’s more; when I watch the news, I expect to see a ticker along the bottom of the screen, listing sports scores, stocks rising and falling, or news that’s just more interesting; there are video games called ‘side-scrollers’ that, yes, scroll from left to right as you play; and of course, you’ll have to scroll down to see all of my blogs on this page.

Some of the reasons for these scrolls are obvious – you can’t expect a highway worker to flip pages of a giant book telling you how many more miles you’ll be stuck in traffic. And scrolling around a circular pad on my iPod is just plain cool. But there are reasons why certain books and/or works of art should be created as a scroll rather than individual sheets of paper, or binding those sheets into a codex. I’ve been thinking more about it within the parameters of my own artwork, but let me preface the following by stating that these reasons were born out of irritation while flipping through the pages of a newly published book depicting an ancient Chinese scroll painting, where pages arbitrarily dissected images and entirely changed the viewing mode of the painting, creating a different experience than what I think was intended. Anyways, here are some of my reasons for making scrolls:

1.) Using a scroll removes any framing device, leaving the viewer to form his/her own, or to learn to see without frames
2.) The movement of viewing smoothly from one side to another can reinforce the narrative qualities of a series of images
3.) The scroll is better suited to represent life – a continuous line (or series of lines). This is why timelines are usually presented as single, long lines. Time doesn’t create chapters, WE do.
4.) It generates a more continuous flow – Kerouac knew this when he wrote his first draft of On The Road

So, because the codex surpassed the scroll in its popularity and use, the scroll form has been overlooked as a useful format for a reading and viewing structure…until now. Although the codex serves its purpose, specifically to aid in indexical reading and ease of retrieval, scrolls serve a different purpose, and it seems that its usefulness has returned due to its integration with digital technology. However, I’d like to suggest that the scroll structure can be equally as valuable in physical form, and that maybe the best way to read your next book might not be flipping pages.

Friday, August 18, 2006

stay focused

Hey check it out - Lucky Creature Attacks is on the front page at the Quimby's Bookstore website. If you'd rather buy it in person at Prairie Lights, look for it in the Magazines/Zines section.

There will NOT be a closing reception for the Graduate printmakers show at the Drewelowe this week, so don't come on Friday night and expect to party.

I'm just finishing up the last page of my new comic, Art School Chronicles: Year 2. It's actually not the last page, but the next-to-last. (I know how I want it to end, but I'm not exactly sure how to get there - funny how some comics realize themselves in unexpected ways). This one has much better illustrations than the first Art School Chronicles, and the story flows better, too. But that's probably because I'm not doing it in 24 hours this time. It's all about my first year here at University of Iowa, and I'm rushing a bit now to get it done before the fall semester starts (Monday). I just know that if I try to remember last year while while starting on this year, everything will just become a muddled mess.

I'm nearing the end of Keith Smith's Structure of the Visual Book. It's my 2nd time reading it, and this time it seems a lot drier than before - more of a mathmatical, analytical approach to bookmaking. I think because it was all so brand new to me the first time, I tended to try his approaches more and experiment with book art in a more random way. But now I have a sense of what I want to do more specifically in my own work, so his style of experimenting just doesn't get me as excited anymore. I'm glad that I can stay focused for a change.

Peas out.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

1st show of the fall

Graduate printmakers are having the 1st show of the fall semester at the Eve Drewelowe Gallery (at the University of Iowa), August 21-25. There might be a closing reception on the 25th, but I'm not positive about it. This show will include both current and incoming grad students, so stop by and take a look at what we're up to this year.

We printmakers are on a roll - we're also having a group exhibit, "Revolution No. 10", at the Center for Faith and Life at Luther College (in Decorah, IA) from August 30th - October 13th.

And speaking of October 13th, go ahead and put it on your calendar for Iowa City's Downtown Artwalk, where Cody Gieselman and I are cooking up something fabulous to occur in the Arts Iowa CIty Gallery space. We'll see you there, and bring your passports!

Friday, August 11, 2006

new and maybe improved

This is the new location where news from the Bittersweetness and Light site will be... hopefully it'll be easier for me to post, and easier for you to navigate. So, here's the latest:

The Zine Machine has lots of new stuff for the month of August - a new Uptown Girl, Slugbunny, and a new Daily Comics. Go take a look! In other zine news, I will have a table (and doing a short reading) at the Madison Zine Fest this year, so come by and say hi if you're there. Cody Gieselman will also be there, and we'll bring Zine Machine stuff too. Come see us!

The beautiful Lucky Creature Attacks compilation is now being sold at Prairie Lights bookstore here in Iowa City, and Quimby's Bookstore in Chicago. Or, if that's too far for you to hike, just order one at the Lucky Creature website, and pick up a new cd while you're there.

now reading: Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
a recent issue of Broken Pencil
and The Structure of the Visual Book by Keith Smith

now listening to: Of Montreal (still can't get them out of my mind after Tuesday's concert at the Englert)