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Future of the book



The current discussion of the future of the book in the electronic age
brought to mind two other inventions that brought an "end" to certain arts:
the invention of printing and the invention of photography. Ironically,
rather than ending manuscripts and painting, they actually seem to liberate
them into something else, something they might never have become without
these technological advances.

Printing did not displace all books--more books of hours were done in
manuscript than in print, mainly because they called for calendars that
included local saints and various liturgical usages, and partly because they
were considered luxury items. But more importantly, scribes were freed of the
necessity of tedious, accurate transcriptions. Letters became more playful,
imaginative, and in 1599 the word "calligraphy" appears in print (La
 Calligraphie ou Belle ecriture by Guillaume le Gangneur. This is a manual on
writing Greek, but the term was quickly  adopted for all "belle ecriture.")
Before then it was just called "writing." Is it coincidence that the current
revival of calligraphy in the West has roughly corresponded with the
widespread availability of computers?

In the 1840s an artist declared, after seeing a photograph, that "from today
painting is dead." Within 40 years of the invention of photography, painting
was perhaps more creative than it had been in 200 years (impressionism, the
first really new school of painting since the baroque era). Again, painters
were no longer required to "acurately" represent nature, but were free to
express their feelings about what they saw. Ironically, by the end of the
19th century some photographers were making "painterly" photographs (Julia
Margaret Cameron springs to mind, as does some of Steichen's gravure and gum
bichromate prints). In short, dear friends, if history teaches us anything,
it is that technology not only liberates us from drugery, it frequently
inspires us to higher plateaus of creation.

R. Williams


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