Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Elemental Style

How do you illustrate language wars? In the May 14th issue of The New Yorker, Joan Acocella writes about the tension between prescriptive and descriptive language guides. Prescriptive manuals tell you what you ought to do to be correct, descriptive guides try to articulate current and past usage without necessarily judging correctness. Sam Winston, one of our favorite book artists, gave it a shot.

He typographically shredded two famous prescriptive guides, Strunk and White's Elements of Style and Henry Watson Fowler's A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, and set them into a vortex of devolving forms. The letters dangle and words break apart as the texts churn together.  The text is from Wikipedia entries and add to the tension. They are crowd sourced (similar to descriptive guides) while their subjects are prescriptive. Which is falling apart? It is your call.

We recently acquired a copy of Sam Winston's illustration as a letterpress broadside. It changes out of the context of the magazine. The illustration becomes a more self-conscious work of art and you pay more attention to the swirling texts. The slipcase elevates it even more, but then you realize these are just a couple of Wikipedia entries, and it is hard to take it quite so seriously.

We haven't got it cataloged quite yet, but you can see it by asking for Sam Winston's New Yorker.

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