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Visual Commonplacing in My Zibaldone

I’ve decided I don’t like the words ‘art journal’ anymore. Art journals have expectations. They want you to fill them with beautiful works of art. Sometimes I’m okay with that but sometimes I’m not.

‘Sketchbook’ doesn’t work for me because I don’t sketch.

I don’t do ‘scrapbooking’ because all those pictures of my family just got in the way of what I was trying to create. 

 ‘Notebook’ isn’t the word I want either. Those have lines in them and want you to write important stuff on their pages.

I think Strathmore made a wise marketing decision with their ‘Visual Journals‘. That phrase doesn’t have the same expectations as ‘art journal’ or ‘sketchbook. I can glue a picture of a dog wearing dentures into a visual journal.

But I’m still bothered by the ‘journal’ part of it. That word makes me think of a diary…a written account of thoughts, events, plans, dreams, etc. I journal on occasion but not regularly and seldom do I combine it with art. I just don’t want to, it’s not my thing.

And speaking of art…if I make an art journal does that make me an artist? Does scrapbooking make me a crafter? Where do I stand on the artist vs. crafter debate? I stand firmly planted on the I-don’t-give-a-crap side of that debate. Sometimes I call myself an artist. Sometimes I call myself a crafter. Sometimes I’m a crafter who makes art. Lately I’ve been calling myself an arter or a craftist just so I can thumb my nose at the ridiculousness of it all.

Recently I stumbled upon commonplace books. These books are part journal, part notebook, part sketchbook, part scrapbook but not wholly any of those things. Early commonplace books from the 14th and 15th centuries contained medical recipes, poems, prayers, proverbs, notes on the best time of year for blood letting, etc.

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The invention of the printing press started overwhelming people with information so they used commonplace books to keep track of it. By the mid 17th century everybody was doing it. Commonplacing was the Pinterest of the Age of Enlightenment. Since books were where it was at back then, most commonplace books contained literary quotes, thoughts, sketches, lists and similar marginalia related to the books being read at that time. I just learned “marginalia” today and wanted to hurry up and use it before I forget it.

Unlike a diary or journal, commonplacing is not chronological nor is it written as a narrative. Often times the writing is organized by categories throughout the book. A commonplace book is not a notebook because it may contain sketches or pasted in articles, receipts, letters, etc. It is not a sketchbook or art journal because it usually contains significantly more words than pictures. Although a commonplace book may contain photographs or ephemera, it is not a scrapbook because scrapbooks are “outward”. They are meant to be shared or displayed or available for others to see. Commonplace books are “inward”. They are for their creator only.

In 15th century Italy a new type of commonplace book was developed. It was called a zibaldone which means hodgepodge. Zibaldones contained the same type of information found in most commonplace books but they weren’t as organized, the information was much more random or scattered. They also contained more sketches, poetry, and creative elements than the typical commonplace book.

Because of my newly acquired distaste for the words ‘art jounal’, I have decided to replace them with ‘visual commonplace book’ or ‘visual zibaldone’. I haven’t decided for sure which one I like better. Visual commonplace book would probably be easier to use since commonplacing is a legitimate verb that I can use with it, despite the dreaded red spell checker dots that usually accompany it. Since zibaldones were a form of commonplace book, I suppose it would be accurate to say I’m commonplacing when I’m working in my zibaldone since zibaldoning just doesn’t really work at all.

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So from now on I will be doing some visual commonplacing in my zibaldone instead of art journaling. How is that going to be different from the art journaling I was doing before? It’s not. It’s just a mental thing. But it does make me feel way cooler than everyone else.

Huge thanks to Google and Wikipedia for supplying me with all of this newfound useless knowledge that I spent hours and hours acquiring and will lose after one short nap.

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