Fantastic & Terrifying Beasts

October 13, 2016 § Leave a comment


A Manticore devouring a human leg, also depicted with a hat that may or may not identify the beast as Jewish.

Beasts and monsters like the one you see above were often depicted in medieval manuscripts, mapslike the Hereford Mappa Mundi—and even cathedral sculptures. The most prominent amount of these depictions can be found in medieval bestiaries, which we could say were a more romantic and moralized version of a modern-day encyclopedia of animals with pictures included. Although depicted alongside “real” animals, monsters and other fantastic beasts were often placed in their own category called the Monstrous Races, which were said to live on the periphery of the world in places beyond the known seas and in places such as Africa and the Middle East.   


A gryphon being attacked by its enemy, a horse.

Often the beasts that were included in bestiaries were real-life animals, even if they didn’t always look like the real thing—but what can we say, monks didn’t get out much, and elephants were hard to come by in medieval Europe. At best you would hear a garbled description of an exotic animal from some adventurous traveler, or find some mention or illustration of one in an older text and then copy it. Fantastic and terrifying beasts often accompanied the real animals, with lines of text that would guide a reader to become more knowledgeable about these creatures, especially in spiritual or moral ways, and often in as much detail as the real animals. 


The Scitalis (on top), which is a multicolored dragon that is even hot in the winter. On the bottom is a Amphisbaena, a monster that has another head at the end of its tail.


Our library has a beautiful facsimile of Manuscript Bodley 764, our specific facsimile being called the Book of Beasts, from which these images come, and is often referred to as one of the most beautiful surviving copies of a bestiary. Other strange and fantastic beasts that can be found among its pages include the phoenix, sirens, satyrs, sphinxes, bonnacons—which “emits a smell from its rear end so terrible that it poisons three fields” (11), unicorns, eales, paranders, the charadrius, and more. 

Dieter Roth’s Diaries

September 8, 2016 § Leave a comment

Book: Dieter Roth Diaries by The Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh 


Over a brief 12 weeks working on a digital humanities project in which I analyzed the text in Van Gogh’s letters to his friend, Emile Bernard, I started to grow a larger interest in artist letters and writings. I stumbled upon this book in the stacks about Dieter Roth and his diaries, a book that has caused me to generate my own questions about private/vs/public art and private/vs/public self.

With my Van Gogh project, I was trying to explore what his letters to Emile Bernard could tell us about his work, and if there was any correlation between certain details in the letters and certain details in his paintings (I looked at color more specifically). In the book on Dieter Roth’s diaries, Fiona Bradley discusses the book’s publication and the exhibition it is based off of as a way to “examine the impact they [his diaries] may have on the production, reception and interpretation of his work” (31). I was immediately fascinated because of the interest to explore similar veins in my own research this past summer.



Dieter Roth’s diaries date from 1964 to 1997—the last one is a video diary called A Diary (33). Roth describes himself as being a compulsive diary-keeper, and throughout his life was enamored with the concept of diary-keeping, even collecting other diarists (32). He was very aware that someday someone might read his diaries, and he often wrote them with that very assumption in mind (33). While holding to this assumption, the practice of diary-keeping was complicated by his own feelings of self-consciousness (47). He writes:

I write as if I’m writing for a typesetter/fear of writing incorrectly/I can’t let myself go/as soon as I have the feeling of being observed (e.g. the reader), I want to appear correct (even if it’s only the spelling).” (48)


The fact that he often felt self-conscious about doing something so personal, and worried about how it might appear to others, but simultaneously assumed others would read it, generates some interesting questions:

How can the truest self be revealed through writing if an individual can’t let himself “go”?

What does it mean for that individual’s identity if they are constantly going between a public and private self in the act of diary-keeping?

When the self is revealed through writing and bound in a material form, and it is poetry and art process, drawings and paintings, even material waste, and a document of everyday life down to the most mundane details, but it is also meant to be seen as an art object—although with self-conscious feeling attached to the process of creating it—the boundaries of public and private self and art become so unclear that the boundaries could even be said to be broken all together.

 I believe his diary-keeping and the questions it implies are important to think about for any artist who may want to keep a journal or diary, especially if the keeping of it is even partially meant to document artistic practice and process.

Place or Space

August 19, 2016 § Leave a comment


We are slowly working on filling up our art library’s reference room with themed shelves for our students and faculty to browse. So far we have shelves dedicated to National Hispanic Heritage Month, art and math, books featured on our blog this year, a shelf for coloring books, and more.


Place or Space, a book edited by Markku Hakuri, “tells the story of places, spaces and situations that the writers encountered when reflecting on the potential of art as a provider of social commentary, and as a shaper or a challenger of the visual appearance of our environment.” I picked this one off the shelf in the stacks while gathering books for another themed shelf that will have books related, even if tangentially, to environmental/eco-art.


In the book, Polly Barto, who wrote an essay for it titled “Participatory Art and Its Space,” makes an interesting observance that contemporary installations are more often “taking place outside the restricted environments of art museums” (129). She goes on to discuss museums, galleries, and their levels of accessibility. An interesting discussion that can lead to questions of the exclusivity of art, the nature of audience in nature, museums, and gallery spaces, the accessibility of those spaces for different audiences, and further questions about nature and our participatory interactions with it (what does this mean for audience reactions to and participation with art that is outside?).



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