Guest Post: Joseph Cornell Visual Journal from 1933-1945

Recently, Nick and I had an excuse to go to Philadelphia for his Cousin’s wedding. I looked forward to the wedding, it’s always fun to celebrate someones nuptials, seeing his family, and meeting the family members I hadn’t had the opportunity to yet. However, I was most excited to see the city. I have only been up North once, to New York City a few years ago, and I was looking for a reason to go again. Growing up you learn so much about Philadelphia, the Liberty Bell, the important figures that lived there, there is so much history. I couldn’t wait to be able to see everything in person. After spending a few days outside of the city with family, Nick and I packed up and headed to the city for our own mini vacation.

We did all of the typical things, walked around the city, enjoyed the skyscrapers and smaller, historic buildings. Of course we ran up the “Rocky” steps, which I was excited to discover lead up to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Of course I had to see the museum. We spent some time wandering through the exhibits, and we saw amazing work from Degas, Monet, Van Gogh, and other well known masters. I excitedly continued through the European section and into Modern Art, which is my favorite. My eyes instantly began absorbing all of the amazing paintings and sculptures, when they drifted over to a small podium with a book inside.

I couldn’t believe it, a visual journal! I had never seen one in a museum before, and it was by an artist I have studied, Joseph Cornell. In the past I have looked at sketchbooks by famous artists in museums, but never an altered book, and especially not one from the 1930’s. I read, and re-read the “about the art” plaque on the wall, and was thrilled to learn he worked in this book for 12 years! My astonishment and excitement for such a long project began to fade when I thought about all of the work he put into this book, to only have a single page displayed. I felt my fingers twitching and aching dying to grace the pages of that book, to flip through, touch every page, and feel the layered images.

When looking through journals I enjoy nothing more than running my fingertips across the pages as I look through the book. Your fingers are as much of an information tool as your eyes. When you look at a work of art, you only see the flattened images. You miss the slight depth created by the layered paper, which is where your fingers come in. They can feel, trace around the edge of cut out inspirations. I LOVE to touch artwork, I am trouble in a museum, my hands are constantly flying up, and slowly falling down as my logic quickly takes control and overrides my urge to touch. I longed to see more of this book, but this was all I got, a tease page. If only I lived in Philadelphia, if only I could stay longer. I would visit the museum daily, and slowly take in the entire book as the curators turned each page, a day, two days, a week at a time, until the exhibit closed, and the book moved to another city to tease another viewer.

This post brings me to a question that has plagued me for awhile, how do you display a visual journal? Is it considered interactive art? Should it be put on a podium, available for people to touch and flip through? In a perfect world this is how I imagine displaying my books, but unfortunately that doesn’t exist. Just from passing my books around a couple times a year for my students to look through, they have already shown signs of wear and tear. I can only imagine what a room full of museum patrons would do if they could flip through one of my books over and over again. How would you display a visual journal while still protecting the artwork?

Joseph Cornell creates amazing assemblages and collages. If you have spare time you should google him and see what you find! I tried in vain to find more images from this book, let me know if you happen to stumble across any! If you find any other amazing visual journal images or visual journal examples from other artist, please send them in.

I hope you enjoyed today’s visual journal digest. There is nothing I like more than seeking out other people’s work to inspire my own. You can learn so much from looking at what other people are doing. If you liked my post share it with others! e-mail, like, tweet, and/or subscribe! Help inspire others!

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