een Hand Gebonden Kunstenaarsboek '(The) Dutch tradition(s) and the freedom of the arts, in the Artist's-Books Workshop,Vilnius 2009 a hand-bound Artist's-Book / le Livre d'Artist / ein handgebundenes Künstler Buch / Mahler Buch


"De Vrijheid van Drukpers, als onderdeel van de vrijheid van meningsuiting."

"It must be possible to have a printing press in your bedroom.
If not, the freedom of putting your ideas on paper and in to the open is limited."

Somehow the Dutch have a tradition of claiming this idea, but I believe it to be deeply European.

Freedom of Speech is Freedom of the Press.

After some hundreds of years of more or less fruitful alliancies between the 'traditionally powerful' amongst themselves, and the later added 'undeniably growing power of burghers' (which is, certainly not in the beginning, the same as citizens) The Netherlands as a free nation with free citizens have been built during the reign of Charles V (is Carlos I of Spain, who lived 1500 - 1558) by (his more or less foster-child) Willem van Oranje, when the overall repression under Charles's son Philip II got out of hand. (and yes, 'free' is an idea that makes long conversation; sad is if it makes no conversation).

It is the mentioned relationship between the men that created the sentence "The King of Spain I have always Honoured" (Den Coninck van Hispaengien - Heb ick altijt gheeert) in the national anthem.
Charles V was well aware of the impossible combination of fractions in 'his, the Holy Roman Emperor's' lands. He was born in Gent (Flandres), raised by his aunt Margret of Austria in Mechelen (Flandres) in the (French) court of Savoy - his Spanish mother (Joan of Castille) and his younger brother and sister he would not see until he was 17 - he was practically raised by William of Croy (French) and (the later pope) Adrian of Utrecht (Dutch) who both tried to teach him the new humanistic values, whilst Jean le Sauvage taught him politics and social administration (French and Italian), he was of the Habsburg family (German), he married Isabel of Portugal, and had the famous Don Juan as a son by his German mistress Barbara Blomberg; all this he frased in: "I speak Spannish to God, Italian to women, French to men, Dutch to boys, and German to my horse." His real power was very restricted since the 'Great Interregnum', the change (within the legislation) of power between the Hohenstaufen and Habsburg families.

Willem van Oranje had a very succesful strategy in which he actively used fly-leaves (prints with songs and cartoons), a common practise at the time for all groups that disagreed with all other groups in a Europe that was deeply devided into very small sections.

- music from movable type has been printed since 1501, first in Italy. Hence fast travelling tunes like the famous political (thus often misused) fly-leave song 'O Nederland, let op u saeck', identical to: 'Snachts doen een blauw gestarde kleed', are found in Italy at about the same time as Tarquino Merula's 'Chi vuol ch'io m'inamori'. Typical to hear is the functional, up-tempo, lively march of the fly-leave song, later, when loosing the function, to change into a numbed dull protestant church-hymne, and by Merula as one could expect in free arts an almost early belcanto frivolty -

For printers/publishers there was always a nobleman, country, or free town to be found to harbour a press which printed ideas that would cost one one's neck at the neighbour's - never for long as 'a sharp tongue is not restricted to displeasing the ennemy' - and the pleasure or need to insult a neighbour might change easily when the neighbour was needed against some other neighbour; mind you there were a lot of neighbours with a lot of different powers.
Thus rules about what were acceptable and what were unacceptable in texts and pictures were endlessly discussed.
Whereas the Greeks and Romans had their "Quod licet Jovi, non licet bovi" (What is permitted to Jupiter is not permitted to the ox), which is only possible with one section of society in absolute power, Europe, the Europe that staggered from one war or uprising into another, developed a new idea:
law should be reciprocal:
if one group had the right to print it's thoughts the other group might just do the same.
'up till some point'
Where such point is has been discussed since, up till present day.

The idea as such came from influential people like Mary of Hungary who went before the religious tollerance acts in Transsilvania, where the principal was laid down in 1550/51. And later in the Netherlands Cornelis Pieterszoon Hooft ("how should one have religious freedom if one could not study books of other religions" - in fact an older idea already that one would find best advocacy for by Reuchlin 1455 -1522)

In the Netherlands where more or less every vilage had it's own special community, as in moments of danger one could easily hide behind any amount of water, to be brought in on request, printers/publishers had great succes inviting 'unwanted ideas' from elsewhere and make a fortune printing them. From everywhere in Europe ideas came to The Netherlands to be printed (as Descartes suggested, it was certainly not because these agreed on, or indeed understood in the first place).
There was neat practise of printers to have books secretly devided in quires being of possible Catholic nature, being of possible Protestant (any sort of protestantism) nature, or being of Jewish, and any-etcetera nature, and handing them out to the customer according to their known nature, which kept everyone happy and the printer's pockets filled.
Such practise cannot but come to a point of valuable exchange of ideas, 'truths' if you like, between the different groups which, together with the practical idea of law being reciprocal makes some acceptence of 'the wild ideas of the others' simply necessary, and made printing booming business.
That booming business made good and well practising craftsmen and artists; and it made them think about what they were printing, and how to tell what they considered worth telling, or to show what were worth showing, as they knew how limited that freedom might become when reaching the point where 'the others' might get 'bloody' angy: it could come down to the point where it were one's very own blood.

It is against this background that a 'playful' freedom of the arts in the Netherlands has been greatly valued.
And with the prices of materials well below those of medieval times, when 'the rich' alowed/forced the artist to use xx-grams of lapis lazuli, and xx-grams gold oxide to paint 'this and that' (and scratched the lapis lazuli off when it were needed for whatever) we now face the opportunity to do whatever we - personally - like, or think necessary.
When I use gold-leafe I may respect the workmen that made it, but as I pay them properly for that job, I am free to use it in whatever way I want. 'My' gold may be next to any worthless material, and glued on to a recycled paper of the worst quality, if I think fit - as 'fit' (as in 'fitting in the expression of my opinion') is all that counts. It should not just be there in order to let the owner (by the way, that is me nowadays) shine on his surrounding, and then of course minor, fellow men.
As in music all musical notes are equal (since Arnold Schönberg), and certainly no tone-scale is 'worthy or un-worthy' to God (or Stalin for that matter), society, or even my neighbour.
Every colour, every line is free in the hands of an artist. The artist is there only to help it celebrate its very own being, or help it 'fit in and be with' any other existing free 'being'.

And for 'quality'? The quality of art today is in what the artwork is as an entity.


09.10.2009, Joseph Joh'n' Visser


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