This week it seemed like it was all about typography. I do think typography has a design aspect and it does stem from pictographs and other representational images, but taking it as far as describing alphabets and the evolution of characters seems out of place here for me. Some things struck me as interesting, as in how in some ancient writing systems there was no standard direction for reading and writing, like when the Greeks adopted the boustrophedon writing style for a time and the direction switched every line from right to left to left to right. Can you imagine what a headache that would be if you lost your place on the page or in your reading? You’d almost have to start all over again just to know which way to interpret the symbols. The fact that the ancestors of our written language today didn’t leave any space between words if also surprising. That would make reading so much slower as for each word you’d have to figure out where it stopped and the next one started as you went along, rather than just taking in one cluster of letters as a group to be interpreted subconsciously like we do today.
I think that the simplest and most smartly designed written language that we have read about so far is the Korean Hangul language. I wonder if it is still in use today. It is so straightforward and simple, it seems like it would be easy to learn. Definitely no problems with spelling either! I have always been interested in Egyptology, so to learn more about the Egyptian hieroglyphs was interesting to me. How interesting that they spelled Cleopatra with a “K”; She is from Egypt, so we have been spelling it wrong all along. Why hasn’t anyone bothered trying to correct this yet? She is arguably the most widely known person in Egyptian history, maybe even more so than King Ramses II or King Tut.
One thing I do like in textbooks that try to be as thorough as possible are the unsolved mysteries that are presented, such as the Phaistos Disk on page 19 of our textbook. It makes me feel like maybe one day I can uncover the meaning and solve one of these mysteries.
It’s also interesting that the Chinese were making printed pages and copies of text quickly and much less painstakingly up to hundreds of years before Western Civilization ever figured out that trick. But we also had a lot better luck with moveable type than they did, so I guess we’re even.
The illuminated manuscripts in chapter 4 look so pretty to the eyes, but they also make me feel like if I touch them I’m going to get a disease or die of the black plague. It feels like they are made in such different reality than ours today, like these pages were made to be worshiped, revered, and feared, like life was dim and every struggle was like carving your way through a stone.
Seeing these pages, though, reminded me of when I went through Sleeping Beauty’s Castle on my last visit to Disneyland. The walk-though exhibit is curated by hand-drawn manuscript pages that tell you the story of Sleeping Beauty and are made to seem like a book that is turning its pages as you go along in the exhibit.
I remember being very impressed by these pages, and I felt they really set the storybook mood. Looking back at them now after reading Chapter 4, I have to admit how simplified and Disney-fied they look compared to the intricate designs shown in our textbook, but this is also an example of how a past art form inspired a current art project. To a novice or to the general public, I think they do a good job of illustrating the idea of an illuminated manuscript in an accessible format.
I’ll see you again next week! : )