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Robert Bringhurst talk in Edmonton | DesignNotes by Michael Surtees

Robert Bringhurst talk in Edmonton

Some people are not people, but shells walking around pretending to be people… and then there’s Robert – a builder of humanity spoke Jorge Frascara in Robert Bringhursts introduction. Before the introduction as people strolled into the lecture hall to find a seat, they were welcomed with a quick nod of the head, or a simple hello from Robert. That continued on until there was a steady stream of people and it was no longer possible to give a personal gesture to each individual. With the dramatic “builder of humanity” comment, it was hard to find anyone in the room that was going to disagree with the statement. And with that pronouncement Robert began his prose.

It should come as no surprise that Robert has a way with words. Anyone who knows anything about typography will include the book “Elements of Typographic Style” in their list of must reads. The book is a standard, something that students take in as an introduction to passion and a reference for professionals needing to be reminded as to why they should care about details.

Doctors. Albrecht Durer, 1506

People familiar with the work of Robert were not disappointed with his lecture. His choice words were deliberate, well thought out and driven with a veracity that you would expect from a poet. He started the performance with an avid description of Christ among the Doctors. Albrecht Durer, 1506. As he talked about hands, proportions, methods, techniques, philosophies and motivations, I really wondered if my eyes have ever been open to really seeing. By the time the second slide flashed on the screen, only ten minutes had passed.

We were asked to consider if gestures carry the message or does the message carry the gesture? We saw other paintings that had examples of Arabic text from the Koran that were made into patterns. It just happened that those patterns were on religious figures from Christianity. It was expressed how the hand should not be separated from the text. Why create order when it doesn’t exist? The important stories are not clean.

If there was one minor disappointment for me, it came with the questions and answers at the end of the talk. It seemed that Robert was able to anticipate some of the questions, and had great responses for those. However with other questions that he was not able to predict, the responses were sometimes circular. If I can paraphrase from memory, it was asked if a person were to follow along the same path as Robert to find patterns and so forth, how should they go about it? He admitted that he wasn’t sure – that’s ok, but then he went on about something else that had nothing to do with the question.

The one word of advice at the end that seemed to sum things up, Robert suggested to see the great books in person, not from slides. And when you have the book in front of you and no one is looking, touch it!

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