Monday, December 28, 2009

Graphis Design Annual

Graphis is a bi-monthly periodical first published in Switzerland in 1944 that ceased in 2005. Since then, Graphis Inc. has continued to publish annuals and monographs for all areas of graphic design. From their inception to the present, they have sought, in their words to present “the best in international visual communications.” In their early days, they not only showed the best examples of design, advertising, photography and illustration, but also presented work of fine artists. Since 1952 have published annual volumes for the best of the year in graphic design, originally called Graphis Annual and now named the Graphis Design Annual. Annuals for photography and posters came in 1966 and 1973 respectively.

In his introduction to Graphis 1960/1961 Leo Lionni highlights the difference in outlook between “Art with a capital A” and commercial art, quoting Mies van der Rohe statement about art: “I don’t want to be interesting - I want to be good.” For Lionni the fine artist must create work that is good, but the graphic designer must also create something interesting. The imagery of Graphis shows how designers achieve work that not only is technically accomplished, but grabs the attention of viewers.

The Main Library owns many editions of the Graphis Annuals. The latest edition, the Graphis Design Annual 2010 is located at the Art, Music and Recreation Center Reference Desk. The layout of this and all the annuals favors the artists’ work over editorial design flourishes. The contents page lists in small type the many sub-categories of design.

These annuals present the work that has won Graphis Gold and Platinum Awards in a variety of areas of graphic design. An opening section called “Commentary” gives several Q & A sections where design studios discuss their creative process. One of these interviews is with Office, a San Francisco-based studio. Here, the designers at Office speak about the genesis for the design of pirate products for the Pirate Store which benefits the nonprofit writing center, 826 Valencia. The pirate store offers such unusual items as “Peg Leg Oil,” “Scurvy Be Gone” and more. Here is the product description for “Blackbeard’s Beard Dye”:
Beards can get bleached by the sun. Beards can turn white from fear; in either case, Blackbeard’s Beard Dye imparts a midnight hue to your whiskers, leaving them shiny, conditioned and bristling with health. Next time you take it on the chin make sure it’s covered with a beard you can be proud of … a Blackbeard beard (p. 14).
This year’s annual also presents the exhibit spaces created for the California Academy of Sciences by another San Francisco firm, Volume Inc.

The work presented in the Graphis Design Annual is arranged by categories like animation, branding, brochures, editorial logos, music CDs, stamps, t-shirts, and many other subcategories. Each award winner is given its own page or pages, with the name of the design agency, its URL, the client name and the category of design at the bottom of the page. “Platinum” award winners are also noted here.

The Credits and Comments section provides background information about the visual work that makes up the Annual. This includes the names of the team who created the work from design firm to art director, print producer, writer, etc. The comments may also describe the requirements of the client and the concept behind the design. The Winners Directory lists all of the firms alphabetically. There is also an index of members of the creative teams, the design firms, and their clients.

The Graphis Annuals are a touchstone to the trends of the year in design. The consistent high caliber of art, combined with wit and sensitivity is a great source of inspiration for designers.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Musicians' Autobiographies: An Annotated Bibliography

An autobiography or memoir at its best provides us with a sense of the author's personality and point of view. It provides an opportunity to learn the background behind the events that the writer has lived through. Although a slim volume, Musicians' Autobiographies: An Annotated Bibliography by John L. Adams, is a unique and useful reference source that helps the reader discover accounts of musicians' lives written in their own words.

Musicians' Autobiographies consists of entries for 757 entries written between 1803 and 1979. Each entry is listed alphabetically by last name and includes bibliographic information and a brief annotation. The most useful feature of this book is the subject index at its conclusion. This index groups together the autobiographies by the subjects' role in music. For the letter "c" alone, there are entries for categories like "choral conductors," "clarinetists," "composers," "conductors," and "critics, music." Under the subject of "singers" there are subdivisions by genre - classical, popular, jazz, folk - and by nationality. There are subject categories including for women and African-American musicians.

For the subject of "medium (i.e., clairvoyante)" we are given a citation for the book Unfinished Symphonies; Voices From The Beyond written by Rosemary Brown who claims to have transcribed music transmitted to her by the great master composers from beyond the grave. The category "folksong collectors" leads us to Git Along, Little Dogies: Songs and Songmakers of the American West, a memoir John I. White who both sang and collected cowboy songs for performance on radio and record and for sheet music. And if one needs an autobiography written by a Native American ceremonial singer this book will lead you to Navajo Blessingway Singer: The Autobiography of Frank Mitchell.

There is an additional index by book title, as well as a chronological index.

An obvious shortcoming of this book is that it only lists books published as recently as 1979. While there are a good number of entries here for jazz, classical, and folk musicians, it is considerably thinner in the realm of rock and pop music. We will have to find another method to unearth the explosion of confessional autobiographies written by musicians and entertainers in the past three decades.

Musicians' Autobiographies: An Annotated Bibliography of Writings Available in English, 1800 to 1980, compiled by John L. Adams (McFarland, 1982).

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Beyond Isadora: Bay Area Dancing, the Early Years 1916-1965

The Art, Music & Recreation Center is pleased to present Bay Area author, dance critic and historian, Joanna Gewertz Harris. On Wednesday, December 16, 2009 from 2 to 4 PM she will speak about her book Beyond Isadora: Bay Area Dancing, the Early Years 1916-1965 in the Koret Auditorium located in the Lower Level of the Main Library.

As she writes in her introduction, Beyond Isadora "is a history of performers, choreographers and teachers, pioneers of today's dance community. It is also women's history, since the prime movers were almost all women... This history, offered here as short biographical and chronological sketches, seeks to detail the regional development of ballet and of modern, ethnic and folk dance, from the era of Isadora Duncan, San Francisco's dance legend, who is regarded as the pioneer revolutionary and the mother of modern dance, to the mid 1960s."

Her presentation will discuss the rich range of innovative dance that flourished in the Bay Area. Her richly illustrated book unearths valuable archival programs, images, and reviews. In addition to professional dance and ballet companies she also examines street and folk performance in the Bay Area dance community.

Joanna Gewertz Harris studied dance with Duncan Dance Guild and the New Dance Group in New York City, then came to the Bay Area to study at Mills College. For many years she taught, choreographed and performed at UC Berkeley's Department of Drama and Music. She also formed her own company, the Monday Night Group, and founded the Dance/Drama Department at UC Santa Cruz and the Creative Arts Therapy program at Lone Mountain College. She is on the faculty of OLLI Institute, Berkeley and an instructor at the Modern Dance Center, Berkeley. She also writes reviews and essays about dance for websites and print publications.

All programs at the Library are free. This event is supported by the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Encyclopedia of Comparative Iconography

The Encyclopedia of Comparative Iconography: Themes Depicted in Works of Art is an omnibus reference source for the themes and motives of Western art. So much visual art over the millennia has used allegory and symbolism to express emotion and meaning, but not all of this rich thematic material is always readily or fully understood by the uninitiated viewer of art. Much of the artistic symbolism is drawn from Western religious traditions and mythology.

This two volume set consists of around 100 entries written by various scholar about particular themes. As the book’s editor writes in the introduction, the purpose of each entry is to “trace the various interpretations given to a theme during different periods and cultures to account for varying social and political beliefs.”

Many of the chapters relate to the human life cycle –“Birth/Childbirth,” “Marriage/Betrothal,” “Death” – and to eternal aspects of the human condition like “Avarice,” “Betrayal,” “Ecstasy,” “Honor/Honoring,” “Imagination/Creativity,” “Laughter,” Melancholy,” “Misfortune,” and “Sacrifice.” There are also other entries about extremes of human behavior like “Beheading/Decapitation,” “Damned Souls,” “Evil Eye,” “Madness,” “Martyrdom,” “Nightmare,” “Temptation,” and “Witchcraft/Sorcery.”

Each entry includes an essay reviewing the depiction of the concept in antiquity, mythology, religion and up through its contemporary meanings. Representative presentations of the themes are presented in “Selected Works of Art” passage at the end of each chapter. These are grouped by time period and provide information about the location of the art work. “Further reading” provides a bibliography of resources that explain and develop each theme in greater depth.

The end of the second volume includes a number of useful indexes. First there is an “Index of ancient mythological and historical personages, places, and concepts.” This is followed by an “Index of Judeo-Christian Personages, Places and Concepts.” For those looking to find discussion of visual representations from the Old and New Testaments there is also an index to chapters and verse of the Bible and the themes covered in those passages. There is also an “Index of other cultures, religions, and mythologies,” though these receive far less extensive treatment than the Egypto-Greco-Roman / Judeo-Christian traditions in this book.

There are two indexes to creative artists and their works: an “Index of artists and works of art” and an “Index of authors, literary texts, composers, filmmakers, and folktales.” Finally, and perhaps most essentially, there is an “Index to other names and terms.” Here one can find references to the concrete objects, concepts, or types of personages or animals that are subsumed under the wider themes of the book.

Encyclopedia of Comparative Iconography will assist students or art lovers trying to understand the allegory or symbolism of an art work. It may also help the student of psychology realize the variety of meanings and manifestations of human behavior. This is a reference book that repays repeated study and consultation.

"Tailpiece, or the Bathos" by William Hogarth depicting "Order/Chaos." Source: Hogarth's Works, with Life and Anecdotal Descriptions of his Pictures by John Ireland and John Nichols (Oliphant Anderson & Ferrier, 1883).