My brother is an artist; an artist with a lot of true talent but one who suffers from lack of direction. One day we were driving somewhere, stressing out about the uncertainties of future education plans. In frustration he blurted out a stab at my vocation, along the lines of “At least I create things. All you can do is look at stuff dead people have done in the past.”
My retort went along the lines of “That is exactly what you do every day. You rely on artists before you. Nobody creates in a vacuum.”
He looked at me in stunned silence. “That is honestly the most insulting thing you have ever said to me.”
Hurt that he had misunderstood me so severely, I did some verbal backpedaling. I told him that what I said was meant as a compliment. All artists rely on the techniques championed by former artists. They look to them for inspiration guidance. Whether knowingly or unknowingly, artists have in the back of their heads a measure of the sum total of human artistic expression. Every time my brother sketches a scientifically detailed animal there is an echo of Da Vinci and Audubon’s birds. Every time he pencils a landscape he builds on masters like J.M.W. Turner and Van Gogh. Every time he runs free with his imagination and draws something imagined he is channeling the creative minds of twentieth-century modernism. My comment was not intended to insult. It was intended to encourage.
It is one of my goals for my blog to continually couch our class’ collective efforts in past efforts of a similar nature. I would like to compare and contrast our journey through the writing and publishing process with others throughout history. And this is not just because I am a history major and sincerely don’t know how to do anything else. I genuinely believe this to be an important part of any creative endeavor. Keeping in mind the history of literature can provide fuel for our creativity, inspiration for our writing and encouragement for our bad days.
The title for my blog page became “Gutenberg’s Apprentice” for a couple reasons. Johannes Gutenberg was a German who invented the first movable-type printing press, thus initiating the publishing profession. Goodbye to the days that relegated books to monks with manuscripts in monasteries. Hello to printed materials for the masses. Gutenberg’s work set the foundation for the very thing that we are embarking to do: that is, publish a book to be read by a wide, popular audience of our fellow Man. In many ways we are indebted to this enterprising German of the 15th century. Without the increased availability of reading materials, commoners would never have bothered with it, and instead of writing to impress our creative musings upon a sophisticated and educated public, we would be writing a pictorial almanac for illiterate peasant farmers. Whether we are aware of it or not, we follow in Gutenberg’s footsteps. Maybe in some small way, others will follow our example, as we have followed the example of a previous Publishing class. We are the bearers of a revered tradition and should strive to bear it aloft with courage and dignity.