Magna Charta

Joseph Johannes Visser
The Netherlands

1735, and yes it may be a few years after the Magna Charta, but there we are: in the United Kingdom we find “An Act for the Encouragement of the Arts of designing, engraving and etching historical and other Prints, by vesting the Properties there of in the Inventors and Engravers, during the Time therein mentioned”. Word for word in this first Copyright Act from the people of the law we read clearly what exactly is different from ‘the daily’ and therefore needs protection. Such is ‘Hogarth’s Act’: section One tells us something about the protection: “……..That  ……..every person who shall invent and design, engrave, etch, or work, in mezzotint or chiaroscuro, or from his own works and investigation shall cause to be designed and engraved, etched, or worked, in mezzotint or chiaroscuro, any historical or other print or prints, shall have the sole right and liberty of printing and reprinting the same for the term of fourteen years, to commence from the day of first publishing thereof, which shall be truly engraved with the name of the proprietor on each plate, and printed on every such print or prints……” And what wonderful description of a free artist: “every person who shall invent and design, or from his own works and investigation shall cause to be designed.” That free artist had ancestors: free man in Magna Charta.

This is basis for ‘The Copyright Act’ in the United Kingdom, and it went before the ‘International Copyright Convention’. The German speaking world followed with the ‘Berner Konvention’.

Artist’s-books have their domain in the free arts – other books belong, and only so after they pass judgement, to the domain of the crafts. It may seem so that ‘other books’ have been leading society for many years, but they could not exist without stepping into the footsteps made by artist’s books makers first. And then of course I speak from the books of the ‘brothers Limburgh’ and the like.

Let me give an example: typographers like an ‘even page’ where ‘an apple’ has the same emphases as ‘a gruesome murder’. Artists don’t like that. Their story was original, they told their original story first-hand, it had emotion: it should show that emotion. Expressing emotion in a proper way, thinking about means and matters, is the field of artists. There has been told a lot about this contradiction and is good to know about it: STOYANOV (Koloyan), La protection juridiques des caracte`res typographiques (Gene`ve, Droz, 1981) p.11: “Bien plus qu’un produit industriel, les caracte`res typographiques sont une création artistique. Leur role n’est pas simplement de servir de support de la pensée écrite, mais de l’illustrer. Comme le souligne A.Novarese [in L’esprit de la création en typographie, Paris 1962)] “Le créateur de caracte`res doit donner vie a` ses lettres, afin d’exprimer une idé nouvelle; le dessin de  l’alphabet doit colorer les mots et la pensé moyennant la seule force de sa propre forme, il doit avoir une phisionomie exacte, un propre visage sur lequel peut apercevoir une émotivité”. Le créateur de caracte`res comple`te ainsi l’apport intellectuel de l’auteur par une satisfaction visuelle directe. En sensibilisant le lecteur par la forme extrinse`que qu’il associe a` la valeur intrinse`que du texte, il s’affirme comme un artiste a` part entie`re. -Newton v, Cowie (1827), 4 Bing. 234 (C.P.) Best J., pp 245-246: “An engraver is always a copyist, and if engravings from drawings were not to be deemed within the intention of the legislature, these acts would afford no protection to that most useful body of men, the engravers. The engraver, although a copyist, produce the resemblance by means very different from those employed by the painter or draftsman from whom he copies; -means, which requires great labour and talent. The engraver produces his effects by the management of light and shade, or, as the term of his art expresses it, the chiaro oscuro. The due degrees of light and shade are produced by different lines and dots; he who is the engraver must decide on the choice of the different lines or dots himself, and on his choice depends the success of his prints. If he copies from another engraving, he may see how the person that engraved that, has produced the desired effect, and so without skill or attention become a successful rival. -Brooks v. Dicks (1880), [1880] 15 Ch. 22 (Ch.D.) James J., p.34: “Now, it appears to me that the protection given by the subsequent Acts to the mere engraver was intended to be, and was, commensurate with that which the engraver did, that the engraver did not acquire against anybody in the world any right to that which was the work of the original painter, did not acquire any right to the design, did not acquire any right to the grouping or composition, because that was not his work but the work of the original painter. What, as seems to me, the Act gave him, and intended to give him, was protection for that which was his own meritorious work. The art of the engraver is often of the very highest character as in the print before me. It is difficult to conceive any skill or art much higher than that which has by a wonderful combination of lines and touches reproduced the very texture and softness of the dress, and the expression of love and admiration in the eyes of the lady looking up at her lover. That art or skill was the thing which, as I believe, was intended to be protected by the Acts of Parliament…….”

All that is so wonderfully old fashioned; but it is so bloody true!

My idea is that over the years we have come to see it as odd that an artist is hardly ever seen as a publisher. Fact is: as we do every-thing, the entire process, ourselves (form research and development of the idea, the study of the historic background and literature, the sketches, the typography, printing, and painting, until binding in all its endless new possibilities, and then even the publicizing, exhibiting and selling) it is merely just logical that we see the artist as being a publisher in his own right in the first place.

Now that the future of ordinary publishing seems to develop further away from the book in its traditional ‘crafty’ form, it may seem odd to see bookmakers choose for directions quite opposite of printing on demand and desktop publishing. Or in fact stretching that to an unseen limit. Both these actions and evenly away from spreading the mere content of a text as broad as possible, we see the artist’s-books as an art-form in progress for a minute group of individuals that like a little more than ‘Berlusconi’. This is an art in which a single medium, and its singular development, is not sufficient for an artist to express himself completely. Through the centuries obtained artistical forms and technical means present the artist with a thousand ways of bringing his subject in to real life. The form of the book seems pre-eminenently suited for such purpose; but the spectator may sometimes wander whether or not an object he sees is still a book in the ordinary sense.


© Text:Joseph Johannes Visser

© Circle “Bokartas”, Kestutis Vasiliunas