January 18, 2008

"Complex, Subtle Thoughts in Legible Handwriting"
©JAL, 2008
The Friday Illo theme this week is PLAIN. There's a variety of ways one could go with that. I decided to have a look at the dictionary definition of plain:
Function: adjective
Date: 14th century
1archaic : even level
2: lacking ornament : undecorated
3: free of extraneous matter : pure
4: free of impediments to view : unobstructed
5 a (1): evident to the mind or senses : obvious <it's perfectly plain that they will resist> (2): clear <let me make my meaning plain> b: marked by outspoken candor : free from duplicity or subtlety : blunt <plain talk >
6 a: belonging to the masses : common b: lacking special distinction or affectation : ordinary
7: characterized by simplicity : not complicated <plain home-cooked meals>
8: lacking beauty or ugliness

That done, I thought it would be interesting to look up quotes using the word "plain". I found over a hundred (there might have been more, but I quit searching), and picked two that intrigued me:

QUOTATION: "Take pains ... to write a neat round, plain hand, and you will find it a great convenience through life to write a small and compact hand as well as a fair and legible one."
ATTRIBUTION: Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826), U.S. president. Letter, April 16, 1810, to his grandson, Thomas Jefferson Randolph. The Family Letters of Thomas Jefferson, p. 395, eds. E.M. Betts and J.A. Bear, Jr. (1966).

QUOTATION: "It is always a mistake to be plain-spoken."
ATTRIBUTION: Gertrude Stein (1874–1946), U.S. author. (Written 1923). “As Eighty,” Bee Time Vine, Yale University Press (1953).
BIOGRAPHY: Columbia Encyclopedia.
WORKS: Stein Collection.

I have great trouble with attaining a "neat, round, plain hand". The only "F" I ever got in school was for fourth grade penmanship. But I struggle, and what I can't attain for my drawings, I try to fix by digital means.

Stein's quote is enigimatic, until one looks more closely at the dictionary definition. She wishes language to have subtlety and special distinction. To give further clue to this, I found an interesting paragraph about her at Wikipedia:

"Gertrude attended Radcliffe College from 1893-1897, and studied under the psychologist William James who first discovered, and then encouraged, her great capacity for automatic writing, a stream of consciousness technique in which the conscious mind is suspended and the unconscious directly evoked. Her studies with James, in psychological experimentation (Mellow, 1947, pp. 31-34), would later resurface in her numerous word portraits. The exaltation of the unconscious mind at the expense of the sophisticated conscious mind was to become an important principle in Stein's work and is manifest in most of her writing."

This is a technique I've found useful. It is a way to get at what one's core Self is thinking and feeling. But the results are not always 'plain', as the imagery comes out often rich with symbols and layers of meaning.

I found it amusing for my illustration to sketch both Jefferson and Stein, and their quotes. Oddly, they have similar appearances, being both long of nose and narrow of lip.


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