lots of words about thinking visually
Seattle’s Squirrelman has to move out of his amazing tree house, but he’s been given an RV: update here
My friend Layn just pointed me to this French woman’s website, which is total magic: Le Jardin de Miss Clara
A quick pencil sketch and a bit of rambling on Douglas Coupland…
Zulu Romeo Foxtrot.
Coupland writes that these three words are the most beautiful words he can think of.
‘What font do you think in?’, he asks. Granta’s 101st bumper edition came in the post a few days ago and I’ve so far only managed to read Coupland’s essay on visual thinking. I thought he’d chosen a slightly odd topic, seeing as he’s a writer, not an artist.
Turns out he has worked as a visual artist and designer, and he carries that ethos very much into his work with text. He says it’s a genetic thing, and that scientists claim one person in five thinks ‘visually’; he guesses this might explain the four-to-one ration of PC users to Mac users. Coupland describes a eureka moment he once had, when he discovered, ‘Words were not simply what they connoted: they were art objects and art supplies in themselves.
I guess I sort of take this for granted. Words are beautiful to look at, not just vehicles for information, and of course, the Chinese and medieval gospel scribes have always known this. Coupland points a finger at the ‘non-visual thinkers’, those in the literary world who think that words ‘are merely little freight containers of meaning, devoid of any importance on their own.’ He particularly scorns a French convention of ‘standardised unemotional text-only book covers’. ‘This inflexibility makes sense to a non-visual thinker, but to visual thinkers such dogma is depressing and sad, like forcing ballerinas to wear suits of armour.’
Actually, I quite like some of these ‘standardized’ books, because I might spot one loitering somewhere by itself, and the paper is yellowing and the font looks old fashioned now. But I read his article right after taking a friend’s advice to sort out my blog bookmarks on Google Reader, and the relevance of Coupland’s words really whacked me. I only check my LiveJournal ‘Friends’ page in the morning, and maybe two or three other blogs, so I’m very aware there’s so much I’m missing. But when I view the blogs all together in Google Reader, suddenly everyone’s individual entries looked uniform and unappealing, like trying to read the nutritional facts on a cereal box; I could hardly focus on the blogs’ content.
Funny thing is, I’ve gotten used to my ‘Friends’ page, which does pretty much the same thing. Weird. I like to add images with hand lettering to blog entries, because there’s nothing worse trying to scroll through endless uniform text on screen (like you’re doing now if you’re still reading). Perhaps I would feel a bit patronised if all of a sudden I could start adding stroke-able textures to my blog. Could you imagine all the horrors that would spring up, people doing 3-D ‘craquelure’ Photoshop effects to their blog headings, hairy porn photos, blegh. Then again, ‘Pat the Bunny’ would be kind of funny on screen. Yeah, I’d probably like it. But Google Reader goes the other direction, and makes me feel totally packaged and blanded down. I guess that is why I think books are made to last. Someone once said to me, if we had only ever had computers and a designer came up with a book right now, people would think it was the most amazing invention.
Coupland says he thinks in Helvetica. I think I suit the font to the occasion, but if something’s long and tedious, I might think it in Arial, or different newspaper headline fonts if it’s dramatic. But usually I just think in pictures or talk to myself, sometimes inaudibly.