Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Neil Gaiman + Chip Kidd = "Make Good Art"

Full title: Neil Gaiman's 'Make Good Art' Speech

Authors: Neil Gaiman & Chip Kidd
Genre: Non fiction, speech
Attributes: 80 pages, hard cover

Publisher: William Morrow (2013)

On the scale of Zero to OneZero (i.e. borrowed from local library)


This little book is an ambitious exercise in typography, based on a lecture given by Neil Gaiman at the University of the Arts, in Philadelphia, at the beginning of the university year in 2012. The speech was received with ear-piercing acclaims, as Gaiman touched on a topic very likely to have visited university students at some point in their lives: rules. As would be expected from someone who hasn’t been quite orthodox about the employment of rules, Neil Gaiman managed to make a good point about life in a rebellious state – which is the state of the artist. His motivational speech encourages creative approaches to life, to work, to emotions, to desires. And for easier persuasion, he used his own example:
“When I was asked by editors who I’d worked for, I lied. I listed a handful of magazines that sounded likely, and I sounded confident, and I got jobs. I then made it a point of honour to have written something for each of the magazines I’d listed to get that first job, so that I hadn’t actually lied, I’d just been chronologically challenged…”
The speech is an achievement in itself – an event with an enviable reception. But the little book that resulted from the collaboration of Neil Gaiman and Chip Kidd (a graphic designer and author with his own respectability and originality) is more than just a transcript. Every page is a typographic surprise. It does carry the text along (as all pages should), but does so unexpectedly, through the material presence of the typographic sign. It is curious to see, as a reader, how lines flow from one page to the one next to it. Linear progression is interrupted and the text becomes more interesting. There are no ‘normal’ pauses, at the end of sentences, or in places where ideas have reached their terminus. Instead, interruptions appear everywhere: after a handful of words, in the middle of a sentence, at an arbitrary moment in the development of a concept. Any spot is a good spot for these interruptions, and Chip Kidd made good use of the freedom he gained (to keep within the scope of Gaiman’s speech) from not following typographic rules.

The actual speech (2012)

After encountering these original solutions, one grows aware of the limitations of a page; one also understands how deeply regulated the very notion of typography is. The typographic sign doesn’t appear in its usual place, filling the page like a block with one point of entry and one point of exit. Single lines, severed sentences, are often the only things featuring on a given page, and that, indeed, generates a feeling of surprise when the sentence needs to be sought-for. What’s really interesting is that Neil Gaiman’s text becomes secondary. Secondary not in the sense of becoming insignificant, but in the sense of becoming the support, the material enunciation needed for this display of typographic prowess to unfold freely.