Words–No, Letters–Rethought

Previous forms of communication carried through the oral and written—because they were limited to human ability—were extremely precious. Each hand-copied manuscript was elaborate and decorated deliberately, to enhance the experience of reading something that had been born through a laborious, yet meditative practice of the monks. Space was used generously, with massively illuminated letters and Carpet Pages wholly dedicated to the appreciation of hand-drawn, authentic, detail, and the mastery of ink and pen. Following the invention of the codex, the shift from previous forms of (auditory) reading with scrolls to silent reading, further gave value to the meditative process of reading.

When the printing press took the stage, the flood of possibilities for production and for new and varying audiences, gave way to what we call the “information revolution.” What the newly-invented printing press entailed was still considered excessive, but it was not the fascination of industrial labor which swept the printing press up in its fame. The information revolution began because the printing press not only allowed for ease of (or simply, “easier”) production, but provided for a type of reproduction that was coveted just decades before. The presentation of information became less ornamented during the transition from handwritten to type, but the precision of typeface, the experience from various arrangements of type, and the clarity of layout, became the new standard for progression. It was not until later, with the implementation of new techniques, that visuals began to seep back into the perfected blocks of text, promising to provide engagement and awe as the Carpet Page and illuminated manuscripts once did.

Prints from the letterpress, set to air-dry. Maryland Institute College of Art. Photograph by Alvina Yau.

Prints from the letterpress, set to air-dry. Maryland Institute College of Art. 

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