10 years ago, The Art of Looking Sideways by Alan Fletcher was published, a seminal book contemplating the differences between pictures as words (and vice versa), the pleasing incongruities and “serious science” behind perception, process and the imagination that fills in the gaps. The anniversary is being celebrated in the exhibition Mind over matter at Kemistry Gallery opening this week. Featured here are images of the original materials with excerpts from the book, their plastic cases and page numbers betraying the Herculean archiving endeavour, and hinting at why it took 20 years to compile.
The passages that follow are taken from the book relating to a few of Fletcher’s original materials, but they are just a minuscule cross-section of the prolific references – a personal compendium of visual language. The late, very great graphic designer could draw literally, rationally and metaphorically on the history of all humanised communication to excellent effect, one such quote from Goethe used by Fletcher states quite appropriately: “He who cannot draw on three thousand years is living from hand to mouth.’”
“As his most famous statement had it, Klee took a line for a walk. It snaked, looped, wandered off, and turned back on itself as it made its fitful journey through the worlds of his invention. A line can run dead straight, be wildly crooked, nervously wobbly, make sensuous curves or aggressive angles. It can meander, wander, track or trace. Be a scribble, doodle, scratch, hatched, dashed, dribbled or trickled. It can be precise or fuzzy, hard or soft, firm or gentle, thin or thick. It can be smudged, smeared, erased – or just fade away. You can push a line, drag it, manipulate and manoeuvre it, make it delineate, accentuate, attenuate, emphasize. A line may be imperious or modest, authoritative or servile, brutal or seductive, passive or active, weak or strong, thick or thin. A line is born, and dies, in a point.” (Frank N. Furter, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, 1975)
“Note. Goethe thought thinking more interesting than knowing, but not so interesting as looking. Certainly when confronted by a boring conversation my concentration is inclined to fold its arms and divert itself by observing the visual dialogues of my surroundings: the chit-chat between dappled sunlight and a chintz fabric, the point of contact between the edge of a near chair and the silhouette of a far lampshade, the dissolving outline of a face as it passes in front of a bright light. As Georgia O’Keeffe pointed out: ‘Nobody sees a flower – really – it is so small – we haven’t time – and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.’ "
“We don’t think in words. The temptation to equate thinking with language is because words are more palpable than thoughts. After all – I’m thinking – if I couldn’t talk to myself how would I know what I was thinking? Thinking is hard work; few engage in it.”
“‘Seeing is forgetting the name of the thing one sees;’ Paul Valéry.”